Revision:World war i - poetry and prose quotes

Pre-WWI literature

  • The Charge of the Light Brigade, by Alfred Lord Tennyson.
  • "Honour the Charge they made!" "While horse and hero fell" - patriotic, presents war positively.
  • "Someone had blunder'd" - blames Generals - interesting as it is before WWI, about the Crimean War (The Battle of Balaklava), a war with extensive trench warfare and more modern artillery use- a precursor to World War One in many tactical respects. So perhaps realistic in this sense?
  • Vitai Lampada, by Sir Henry Newbolt
  • Compare war to a game, "But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks, 'play up! play up! and play the game!'"
  • Realistic, "The sand of the desert is sodden red/Red with the wreck of a square that broke/The gatling's jammed and the colonel dead/And the regiment blind with dust and smoke". Despite this, see above point; the euphemism of war as a game enters here, comparing it to cricket - idealised.
  • Henry V, by William Shakespeare.
  • Ok, so at first glance it seems increbily stupid. But, IIRC, this did come up in an exam paper once, so hey....
  • Idealises war
  • Theme of comradeship, "We band of brothers" - this can also be seen in some WWI poetry such as Owen's "Greater Love" and "In Memorium" by E. A. Mackintosh.

The Volunteer- Herbert Asquith 1912

This poem suggests that war is a glorious thing, and that it helps many people to achieve their life ambitions.

  • “Here lies a clerk who half his life had spent Toiling at ledgers in a city grey.”
  • “And now waiting dreams are satisfied…his lance is broken but he lies content…”

Early War literature (1914-1915)

  • Julien Grenfell is a good example; "we are all awfully well, except those who have stopped something", he wrote in a letter. "Stopped something" was slang for being shot!
  • Jessie Pope (a.k.a Owen's arch-nemesis! ) is another good one - incredibly pro-war.
  • "Who's for the trench - are you, my laddie? Who'll follow the French - will you, my laddie?" (The Call, Pope)
  • And Rupert Brooke's famous "The soldier" is also in this period, and rather idealised; "some corner of a foreign field that is forever England"


For the Fallen- Laurence Binyon 1914

This poem is anti war, which is unusual, although not unique for the time it was written. Unlike other anti war poems however, it shies away from the reality of war.

  • “England mourns for her dead across the sea.”
  • “They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted. They fell with their faces to the foe.”
  • "They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them.”

Later literature (1916-1918)

  • The poets that everyone knows, and I won't go into detail on - Sassoon and Owen. Glory of Women, *Dulce et Decorum Est, "They", The General, Disabled, Greater Love and Survivors are all good poems by these two.
  • "In Flander's fields" by John McCrae, while written in 1915, is still more realistic than its contemporaries, "We are the Dead. Short days ago we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow" - it's more in line (in themes etc.) with the later war poetry, but feel free to disagree with me
  • Isaac Rosenberg - "Returning, we hear the larks" - "but hark! joy - joy - strange joy" "Death could drop from the dark as easily as song, but only song fell"


Glory of Women - Siegfried Sassoon 1917

Criticises those at home, particularly the women.

  • “You love us when we’re heroes, home on leave…”
  • “Trampling the terrible corpses, blind with blood”
  • “O German mother…while you are knitting socks to send your son His face is trodden deeper in the mud.”


War Girls- Jessie Pope 1916

Very jingoistic, praises the role of women during war time whilst the men were fighting.

  • “No longer caged and penned up, they’re going to keep their end up ‘Til the khaki soldier boys come marching back. “
  • “Beneath each uniform, beats a heart that’s soft and warm”


A Dead Boche Robert Graves 1916

Wirtten from an anti war perspective, graphic descriptions show the true horror of war.

  • “’War’s hell’”
  • “Sat a dead Boche, he scowled and stunk”
  • “Big-bellied, spectacled, crop haired, Dribbling black blood from nose and beard”

Suicide in the trenches - Sassoon

  • Written in a simple rhyming scheme (AABBCC etc) which suggests innocence (or the loss of) as it reminds us of a nursury rhyme.
  • Very anti war - "You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye Who cheer when soldier lads march by,"
  • Portrays the loss of youth and innocence gradually through each verse, which is a major typicality of anti-war poetry. - "I knew a simple soldier boy
  • Who grinned at life in empty joy," at the beginning becomes "In winter trenches, cowed and glum"


Disabled- Wilfred Owen 1917

Shows a strong anti-war view, criticises those at home who cannot see past the 'glory' of war. Poem shows a young boy who has been disabled by the war.

  • “Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer a goal”
  • “The women’s eyes passed from him to the strong men that were whole”
  • “Why don’t they come?”


Dulce et Decorum Est- Wilfred Owen 1917

Again anti-war, satirises the view that war is a glorious thing, and that it is an honour to die for ones country.

  • “Bent double, like beggars under sack, knock kneed and coughing like hags.”
  • “As under a green sea, I saw him drowning... gargling from the froth corrupted lungs”
  • “The old lie: Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori”


Base Details- Siegfried Sassoon

This poem criticises those in charge of the war.

  • “if I were fierce and bald and short of breath…speed glum heroes up the line to death. “
  • “I’d toddle safely home and die- in bed


The Send Off- Wilfred Owen 1917

This poem has a melancholic tone, which has a sinister effect as the poem focuses on the death and destruction caused by war.

  • “lined the train with faced grimly gay”
  • "Their breasts were stuck all white with wreath and spray, as mens are, dead.”
  • “like wrongs hushed up they went”
  • “A few, too few for drums and yells may creep back, silent… up half known roads.”

Post-WWI literature

Yes, there's more!

  • Blackadder Goes Forth was used in an exam paper, and is good to quote, e.g. General Melchett (or General Insanity Melchett, as Blackadder calls him): "Anyone can see he's as sane as I am! Baaaaah!"
  • A quick google will bring up the script, and pretty much throughout there are links to later war poetry - the insanity of the generals, greater love, etc.
  • Journey's End is a very good play, with references to war as a game, with Raleigh's "rugger", love between officers and men when Osborne & Raleigh die, and realism through the deaths, Stanhope's alcohol problem, etc. Like Blackadder, open it at almost any page and you'll find a good quote to use.
  • Oh What a Lovely War. Another play, this is much more humorous than JE, but still as hard-hitting and good to use, "Ye Gods! What's that?' 'Oh, it's a Jerry, sir' 'what?' 'It's a leg, sir' 'well, get rid of it man. You can't have an obstruction sticking out of the parapet like that!' 'Hartcastle, remove the offending limb' 'Well, we can't do that sir; it's holding up the parapet!"
  • Recent books like Birdsong, Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy ("shotvarfet!"), Strange Meeting, etc. can all be used as well.


These notes are aimed at A Level English Literature students at A2 level.

Originally written by Forgotmytea, *~vicky~* and Manalishi on TSR Forums.