The Great War Through the Eyes of a Poet

I’ve been perusing my collection of World War One era poetry. I’m sorry to be morbid, bear with me…. I’ll snap out of it, I promise…

Suicide In the Trenches – Siegfried Sassoon

I Knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

100 years have passed since The Great War, World War One. We pay so much more attention to the Second War. Because the villains were more evil? Maybe… but this war, the one that changed the way wars were fought, was surely the work of evil come to earth.

29 thoughts on “The Great War Through the Eyes of a Poet

      1. I completely understand. Let me ask you… As a student (long ago) I don’t remember learning much about WWI, beyond the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. So much more focus was placed on WW2 and now as an adult, I see how one was completely dependent on the other. And additionally from a military standpoint, WWI accomplished almost nothing. They dug in and shot at each other. No great conquests after the initial thrust of the German army into Belgium, a stalemate almost from the beginning… And such a catastrophic loss of life. Why do we not know more about it? Is it because America entered the war so late in the game?

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      2. A question I ask myself often. I think Americans don’t know much about it because it wasn’t really “our” war. Furthermore, there wasn’t a definite “right” or “wrong” such as could be labelled in WW2. WWI just sort of . . happened. And when it was over, the Allies made it almost certain there’d be a WW2.

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      3. That’s kind of what I thought, too. that is was a European conflict that we only went in at the last moment. I’ve read recently ( don’t ask me where) that the conflict would’ve come to end sooner had the US not entered the war. The opposing armies had exhausted themselves…

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  1. WWI Song my grandfather used to sing to me! (I don’t know if you’ve come across this in your research, Meg, but I thought you might appreciate it.)

    I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier,
    I brought him up to be my pride and joy,
    Who dares to put a musket on his shoulder,
    To shoot some other mother’s darling boy?
    Let nations arbitrate their future troubles,
    It’s time to lay the sword and gun away,
    There’d be no war today,
    If mothers all would say,
    I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier.

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  2. It’s interesting how perspectives of WW1 have shifted, from glorious victory and desire to punish the losers, through mud and carnage and lions led by donkeys, to an understanding of how military tactics evolved to effectively counter trench warfare and machine guns. In 1918 the German spring offensive made huge gains but was eventually stopped having lost some of their best men in the process. The allies, specifically the British, found themselves able to push back and keep going. They were practically exhausted but could see Germany was on the ropes; after almost 4 years the war finished in a process that took just 100 days, mainly due to hard won experience. Knowing the US was there in case it went horribly wrong enabled the allies to push on and finish the job. The last year of the war showed the end of trench stalemate and consequently more men died in that year than any of the other 3, including my great grandad.

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    1. Those are hard lessons learned. I haven’t read much about how the war finally ended so thanks for that bit of knowledge. My great-grandad fought in the war, but managed to survive it. But damage to his lungs from the gas ended his life early. It’s one of the reasons I’m interested. My family didn’t come to the US until after.

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  3. We learned quite a lot about WW1 at school (in UK, in the 1960’s/1970’s) but more about WW2, as you say. I assume that this is partly because it is the more recent war, and therefore fresher in the collective memory, but partly, I suspect, also because for most people the contrast of good vs evil is more clear-cut than it was during WW1.

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