Favourite First World War poems

17th January 2003 at 00:00
Jerome Monahan asks writers and historians to select the First World War poem which has made the deepest impression on them

Michael Morpurgo, children's author

John McCrae "In Flanders Fields"

The poem was written early in the war by the Canadian surgeon John McCrae, having witnessed the death of one of his students in battle. Published in Punch, it became hugely popular, establishing the link between poppies and remembrance. My granddaughter Eloise learned the poem at school and I heard her speak it. She did it without any sentimentality and it really brought home the waste involved in that conflict.

Brian Bond, emeritus professor of military history, Kings College London

Isaac Rosenberg "Returning, we hear the larks"

This is filled with wonderful imagery and a sense of misery and joy. Despite the dangers, for a time larks sing and above the troops' heads there is beauty rather than the threat of death.

Paul Dowswell, author of History Through Poetry of the First World War (Hodder)

August Stramm "Sturmangriff" ("Charge")

This poem captures some of the delirious fear felt by soldiers in the moments when they had to leave the relative safety of their trench and advance towards the enemy. Its stark style (constructed almost entirely from single word lines) contrasts tellingly with the romantic heroism of the early war poets. It is also a reminder that there were some 2000 published poets and writers in the First World War on both sides.

John Cooksey, historian, battlefield guide and editor of Battlefields Review

Edward Thomas "This is No Case of Petty Right and Wrong"

For students brought up on a diet of Owen and Sassoon, Thomas's poem is a sensitive examination of why he fought and how he joined up, not because he hated the Germans but that there was something quintessentially English he felt deserved defending.

Jon Stallworthy, author of the book accompanying the Anthem for Doomed Youth exhibition (Constable)

Edward Thomas "As the team's head brass"

Thomas is important because he wrote about the effect of the war at home and the decline of a traditional rural way of life that it brought about. There is reference in the poem to lovers disappearing into the wood - Thomas was a married man with a family, older at 37 than most at the Front - and so the poem is also a reflection on the impact of loss on women and children too.


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