In Flanders Field, Hasfield Church - - 1551910

"In Flanders Fields," perhaps the most famous war poem, Hasfield Church, Gloucester, UK.Courtesy

A War poet is a poet writing in time of and on the subject of war. The term, which is applied especially to those in military service during World War I,[1] was documented as early as 1848 in reference to German revolutionary poet,[2] Georg Herwegh.[3]

Crimean WarEdit

The 1854 publication of Charge of the Light Brigade allowed Alfred Tennyson to be classified a war poet,[4] and in 1900 Mabel Birchenough published Wanted – a New War Poet: A handful of Crimean war poems.[5]

Anglo-Zulu War Edit

Poet George Frederick Cameron wrote the libretto for Leo, the Royal Cadet, a light opera with music by Oscar Ferdinand Telgmann in 1889.[6] The work centres on Nellie's love for Leo, a cadet at the Royal Military College of Canada who becomes a hero serving during the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879 between the British Empire and the Zulu Empire. The operetta focused on typical character types, events and concerns of Telgmann and Cameron's time.

American poetsEdit

In America Stephen Crane wrote poetry as well as prose after the American Civil War, an example being "War is Kind." [7]

Other American poets wrote about war during this time including Walt Whitman who wrote Dirge for Two Veterans (1900) [8] and Look down Fair Moon, (1900). [9]

Robert FrostRobert Frost's "But not to keep" (1917) was written in the World War I period.[10] Other notable American poets include:

Herman Melville - Shiloh - A Requiem (1868)
Thomas Hardy “In Time of ‘The Breaking of Nations" & "The Man He Killed"(1915)
Carl Sandburg 1916 & 1918
Elizabeth Barrett Browning "Mother & Poet" (1862)

World War IEdit

War Poetry

War Poetry. The English File

It was in English poetry, such as that of Wilfred Owen, that the war poem became an established genre marker and attracted growing popular interest. At the time the term soldier poet was used, but then dropped out of favour. The evolution of the concept was linked to a distinction drawn between poets who were anti-war in attitude and those who wrote more traditional war poetry. What makes a war poet is not well-defined (compare, say, Brooke and Georg Trakl). The public may have seen war poems as reportage creating direct emotional links to the soldier.

Several poets writing in English were soldiers, and wrote about their experiences of war. A number of them died on active service, most famously Rupert Brooke, Edward Thomas, Isaac Rosenberg, Wilfred Owen, and Charles Sorley. Others including Ivor Gurney and Siegfried Sassoon survived, but many were scarred by their experiences, reflected in their poetry.

Canadians contributed notable work; John McCrae wrote In Flanders Fields which is on the Canadian $10 bill. Robert W. Service worked as an ambulance driver for the Canadian Red Cross, as well as working as a war correspondent for the Canadian government. He wrote a number of poems about the war, many appearing in a new book, Rhymes of a Red Cross Man, in 1916.

Many poems by British war poets were published in newspapers and then collected into anthologies. Several of these early anthologies were published during the war and were very popular, though the tone of the poetry changed as the war progressed. One of the wartime anthologies was The Muse in Arms, published in 1917. Several anthologies were also published in the years after the war had ended.

In France the popular poet and song-writer Théodore Botrel was appointed as official "Bard of the armies" in 1915. According to the New York Times he was authorised by the Minister of War "to enter all military depots, camps and hospitals for the purpose of reciting and singing his patriotic poems.".[11] Calligrammes, subtitled Poems of war and peace 1913-1916, is a collection of poems by Guillaume Apollinaire published in 1918.

The Italians had their own war poetry, most notably that of Giuseppe Ungaretti.

According to Patrick Bridgwater in The German Poets of the First World War, the closest comparison to Owen would be Anton Schnack, and Schnack's only peer would be August Stramm.

In Russian literature, Nikolay Gumilyov's war poems were assembled in the collection The Quiver (1916). Alexander Blok's The Twelve is a culmination of apocalyptic broodings during the war years. During the First World War, Ilya Ehrenburg became a war correspondent for a St. Petersburg newspaper. He wrote a series of articles about the mechanized war that later on were also published as a book ("The Face of War"). His poetry now also concentrated on subjects of war and destruction, as in "On the Eve", his third lyrical book. Nikolay Semenovich Tikhonov volunteered for the army at the outbreak of World War I and served in a hussar regiment; he entered the Red Army in 1918 and was demobilized in 1922. He began writing poetry early; his first collection, Orda (The horde, 1922), "shows startling maturity" and "contains most of the few short poems which have made him famous."[12]

Robert H. Ross[13] characterises 'war poets' as a subgroup of the Georgian Poetry writers: those who were in uniform (including therefore Robert Graves, Isaac Rosenberg, Robert Nichols, Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon).

Robert Graves and David Jones both served in the trenches and survived. Graves did not use his war experience as poetic material, instead recounting it as autobiography in Goodbye to All That, whereas Jones postponed its use, incorporating it into modernist forms.

In November 1985, a slate memorial was unveiled in Poet's Corner commemorating 16 poets of the Great War: Richard Aldington, Laurence Binyon, Edmund Blunden, Rupert Brooke, Wilfrid Gibson, Robert Graves, Julian Grenfell, Ivor Gurney, David Jones, Robert Nichols, Wilfred Owen, Herbert Read, Isaac Rosenberg, Siegfried Sassoon, Charles Sorley and Edward Thomas.[14]

Spanish Civil WarEdit

The Spanish Civil War produced a substantial volume[15] of poetry in English and, of course, Spanish and other languages. There were English-speaking poets serving in the Spanish Civil War on both sides. Among those fighting with the Republicans as volunteers in the International Brigades were Clive Branson, John Cornford, Charles Donnelly, Alex McDade and Tom Wintringham.[16] On the Nationalist side, the most famous English language poet of the Spanish Civil War remains Anglo-African bard Roy Campbell.

World War IIEdit

Template:Category see also By World War II the role of 'war poet' was so well-established in the public mind that 'Where are the war poets?' became a topic of discussion. The Times Literary Supplement ran an editorial 'To the Poets of 1940' right at the end of 1939 (still during the phony war, therefore). Robert Graves gave a radio talk 'Why has this War produced no War Poets?' in October 1941. Stephen Spender also addressed the question at about the same time, as did T. S. Eliot a year later.

Alun Lewis and Keith Douglas are the standard critical choices amongst British war poets of that time, and the American Karl Shapiro made a reputation based on poetry written during the Pacific war. However, there was probably more heavyweight poetry from 1939-1944 written in French than in English. The reason may be to do with the availability of radio journalism and the fact that soldiers spent less of their time sitting in trenches waiting for something to happen.

The expectation of war poetry can be noted in a character from C. S. Forester's novel The Ship who is a poet serving in a Royal Navy ship in the Mediterranean around 1942 and is killed in action. Benjamin Britten's War Requiem made use of war poem texts, as did Robert Steadman's "In Memoriam". In Britten's Requiem some poems by Wilfred Owen are interspersed among the Latin texts.

Later warsEdit

There has been little recognition of war poetry from any subsequent conflict, certainly when compared with novels. That is not at all to say that such conflicts have not affected poets and what they write.

The Korean War produced comparatively few war poets,[17] among them Rolando Hinojosa and William Wantling.

Vietnam war poet Earl E. Martin published A Poet Goes to War[18] in 1970. The blurb reads: "After a few poems about military training and about being stationed first in Korea, more than half of the book deals with Vietnam. It shows particular attention to authentic detail: self-dissociation in a combat setting, Hispanic and black comrades, loss of innocence, ears as trophies, jungle bunkers, piss tubes, rats, insects, monsoons, survival. The poet served in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive in 1968" - Newman

Michael Casey's début collection, Obscenities, which draws on his work as military police officer in Vietnam's Quang Nga province, won the 1972 Yale Younger Poets Award. Other prominent Vietnam War poets are W. D. Ehrhart, Yusef Komunyakaa and Bruce Weigl.[19]

Brian TurnerBrian Turner's début collection, Here, Bullet, based on his experience as an infantry team leader with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team from November 2003 until November 2004 in the 2nd Iraq War, won the 2005 Beatrice Hawley Award.[20] In 2006 Captain Gregory Robert Samuels published War Poems from Iraq, based on his experiences as Company Commander of the 143rd Military Police Company, which was deployed in Baghdad, Iraq, from April 2003 until April 2004.[21]

See alsoEdit

World War One Poetry-0

World War One Poetry-0



  1. "war poet noun" The Oxford Dictionary of English (revised edition). Ed. Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson. Oxford University Press, 2005
  2. Herwegh, Georg, The Columbia Encyclopedia (2008)
  3. The Times, Southern Germany, 29 September 1848
  4. The Times, 1 November 1901; Reviews Of Books
  5. The Times Column Of New Books and New Editions 29 September 1900
  6. George Frederick Cameron
  9. see verses 18 & 19 of "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d"
  11. Botrel, The Trench Laureate, New York Times, July 18, 1915. pdf
  12. R.R. Milner-Gulland in A.K. Thorlby (ed.), The Penguin Companion to Literature: European (Penguin, 1969), p. 762.
  13. The Georgian Revolt, p.166.
  14. Westminster Abbey: Poets of the First World War
  15. The Penguin Book of Spanish Civil War Verse, edited by Valentine Cunningham (Penguin, 1980); see also War Poets Association: Spanish War
  16. Poems from Spain: British and Irish International Brigaders of the Spanish Civil War in Verse, edited by Jim Jump. (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 2006)
  17. W. D. Ehrhart, The Madness of It All: Essays in War, Literature and American Life, (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2002) pp. 141-172.
  18. Earl E. Martin, A Poet Goes to War. (Bozeman: Big Sky Books, Montana State University, 1970). 16mo. Wraps. 78 p.
  19. Unaccustomed Mercy: Soldier-Poets of the Vietnam War, edited by W. D. Ehrhart. (Lubbock, Texas: Texas Tech University Press, 1989)
  20. Lorraine Ash, A Poet Goes to War, September 17, 2006
  21. War Poems from Iraq

External linksEdit

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