WWI Poetry

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SING A SONG OF WAR-TIME

Sing a Song of War-time,
Soldiers marching by,
Crowds of people standing,
Waving them ‘Good-bye’,
When the crowds are over,
Home we go to tea,
Bread and margarine to eat,
War economy!

If I ask for cake or
Jam of any sort,
Nurse says, “What, in War-time?
Archie, cert’nly not!
Life’s not very funny
Now, for little boys,
Haven’t any money.
Can’t buy any toys.

Mummie does the housework,
Can’t get any maid,
Gone to make munitions,
‘Cause they’re better paid,
nurse is always busy,
never time to play,
sewing shirts for soldiers,
nearly ev’ry day.

Ev’ry body’s doing
Something for the War,
Girls are doing things,
They’ve never done before.
Go as ‘bus conductors,
Drive a car or van,
All the world is topsy-turvy
Since the War began. 

Nina Macdona

war girls

'There's the girl who clips your ticket for the train,
And the girl who speeds the lift from floor to floor,
There's the girl who does a milk-round in the rain,
And the girl who calls for orders at your door.
Strong, sensible, and fit,
They're out to show their grit,
And tackle jobs with energy and knack.
No longer caged and penned up,
They're going to keep their end up
'Til the khaki soldier boys come marching back.

There's the motor girl who drives a heavy van,
There's the butcher girl who brings your joint of meat,
There's the girl who calls 'All fares please!' like a man,
And the girl who whistles taxi's up the street.
Beneath each uniform
Beats a heart that's soft and warm,
Though of canny mother-wit they show no lack;
But a solemn statement this is,
They've no time for love and kisses
Till the khaki soldier boys come marching back.

Jessie Pope

This poem is perhaps the best-known example of Jessie Pope’s jingoistic war poems, exhorting young men to enlist and save England, or be labeled cowards. Her reputation was such that Wilfred Owen originally entitled “Dulce et Decorum Est” as “To Jessie Pope.”

THE CALL (1915)

Who’s for the trench—
Are you, my laddie?
Who’ll follow French—
Will you, my laddie?
Who’s fretting to begin,
Who’s going out to win?
And who wants to save his skin—
Do you, my laddie?

Who’s for the khaki suit—
Are you, my laddie?
Who longs to charge and shoot—
Do you, my laddie?
Who’s keen on getting fit,
Who means to show his grit,
And who’d rather wait a bit—
Would you, my laddie?

Who’ll earn the Empire’s thanks—
Will you, my laddie?
Who’ll swell the victor’s ranks—
Will you, my laddie?
When that procession comes,
Banners and rolling drums—
Who’ll stand and bite his thumbs—
Will you, my laddie?

Jessie Pope

Very little seems to have been written about this woman. Writing at the time of the “Great War” 1914-1918 she is most often remembered as the writer of one particular, much anthologised, poem “Munitions Wages” [1917] although she published an entire collection entitled “The Young Captain” (1917). The only reference so far found simply refers to her as “a middle class woman”! She lived in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

MUNITION WAGES

Munition Wages
Earning high wages?
Yus, Five quid a week.
A woman, too, mind you,
I calls it dim sweet.

Ye'are asking some questions -
But bless yer, here goes:
I spends the whole racket
On good times and clothes.

Me saving? Elijah!
Yer do think I'm mad.
I'm acting the lady,
But - I ain't living bad.

I'm having life's good times.
See 'ere, it's like this:
The 'oof come o' danger,
A touch-and-go bizz.

We're all here today, mate,
Tomorrow - perhaps dead,
If Fate tumbles on us
And blows up our shed.

Afraid! Are yer kidding?
With money to spend!
Years back I wore tatters,
Now - silk stockings, mi friend!

I've bracelets and jewellery,
Rings envied by friends;
A sergeant to swank with,
And something to lend.

I drive out in taxis,
Do theatres in style.
And this is mi verdict -
It is jolly worth while.
Worth while, for tomorrow
If I'm blown to the sky,
I'll have repaid mi wages
In death - and pass by.

Madeline Ida Bedford

Other than the fact that she had a brother who fought in the 1914-18 World War, little is known of this poet. Her only poem that seems to have survived is the 1915 offering 'Over The Top', a description of a soldier waiting to go "over the top" . Presumably this was based on stories of her brother's experiences. JS

OVER THE TOP

Ten more minutes! – Say yer prayers,
Read yer Bibles, pass the rum!
Ten more minutes! Strike me dumb,
'Ow they creeps on unawares,
Those blooming minutes. Nine. It's queer,
I'm sorter stunned. It ain't with fear!

Eight. It's like as if a frog
Waddled round in your inside,
Cold as ice-blocks, straddle wide,
Tired o' waiting. Where's the grog?
Seven. I'll play yer pitch and toss –
Six. – I wins, and tails yer loss.

'Nother minute sprinted by
'Fore I knowed it; only Four
(Break 'em into seconds) more
'Twixt us and Eternity.
Every word I've ever said
Seems a-shouting in my head.

Three. Larst night a little star
Fairly shook up in the sky,
Didn't like the lullaby
Rattled by the dogs of War.
Funny thing – that star all white
Saw old Blighty, too, larst night.

Two. I ain't ashamed o' prayers,
They're only wishes sent ter God
Bits o' plants from bloody sod
Trailing up His golden stairs.
Ninety seconds – Well, who cares!
One – No fife, no blare, no drum –
Over the Top – to Kingdom Come
The wind on the Downs
I like to think of you as brown and tall,
As strong and living as you used to be,
In khaki tunic, Sam Brown belt and all,
And standing there and laughing down at me.
Because they tell me, dear, that you are dead,
Because I can no longer see your face,
You have not died, it is not true, instead,
You seek adventure some other place.
I hear you laughing as you used to,
Yet loving all the things I think of you;
And knowing you are happy, should I grieve?
You follow and are watchful where I go;
How should you leave me, having loved me so?

We walked along the towpath, you and I,
Beside the sluggish-moving, still canal;
It seemed impossible that you should die;
I think of you the same and always shall.
We thought of many things and spoke of few,
And life lay all uncertainly before,
And now I walk alone and think of you,
And wonder what new kingdoms you explore.
Over the railway line, across the grass,
While up above the golden wings are spread,
Flying, ever flying overhead,
Here still I see you khaki figure pass,
And when I leave meadow, almost wait,
That you should open first the wooden gate.

Sybil Bristowe

This moving poem was written on May tenth and eleventh 1917, less than a fortnight after Marian Allen had heard of the death of Captain Arthur Tylston Greg, the man she was to have married Arthur. Interestingly it gives a woman's view of the suffering caused by WW1

THE LARK ABOVE THE TRENCHES

All day the guns had worked their hellish will,
And all night long
With sobbing breath men gasped their lives away,
Or shivered restless on the ice-cold clay,
Till morn broke pale and chill
With sudden song.

Above the sterile furrows war had ploughed
With deep-trenched seams,
Wherein this year such bitter seed is sown,
Wherein this year no fruitful grain is strewn,
A lark poured from the cloud
Its throbbing dreams.

It sang - and pain and death were passing shows -
So glad and strong;
Life soared triumphant, though a myriad men
Were swept like leaves beyond the living's ken,
That wounded hope arose
To greet that song.

Marian Allen

Private Charles Davies from Winnipeg, who had served in the 12 Canadian Field Ambulance, wrote the following lines which appeared in a Canadian newspaper in 1919.

SHORNCLIFFE CAMP

Folkestone, though Queen of the Southern Coast,
I'm loath to leave your grassy warren;
Those steep white cliffs that beacon like a genial host
Receding from my eyes night dim with tears.

What soothing hours and happy days so dear does memory recall;
The walk along the Leas, the leafy undercliff, and Oh, that changing sea,
When the rich red sunset sparkles on thy face,
Such are my thoughts of thee picture of grace.

Garden of England! Men of Kent!
Think of your heritage; the flowers sweet scent,
That wooded glade at Seabrook, primrose clad;
The glimpse of moving picture shore to make you glad.

Those verdant meads of Shorncliffe Plain,
Bright green as emeralds after rain.
Deep down in mist of blue lies sleeping Sandgate town,
Whose twinkling lights shine like some fairy's crown.

St. Martin's spire, neath which brave Plimsol sleeps,
Whose noble work the British sailor reaps;
The bugle blasts and all war's grim array,
Much as it did in Moore's fair distant day.


Not even the mists of Passchendaele and its blood strewn duckboard track
Can blot from out my memory the charm of Radnor Park,
Who would not fight for thee, dear land,
For every flower and Kentish maid's fair hand.

Who cares for the muddy trenches and the shrapnel's piercing scream,
The waves of poison and all the ghastly scene?
There are those away in the Golden West dearer than Nelson's name-
Mothers and wives and sisters; it's for them we play the game.

Charles Davies

Thought to have been written between 8 October 1917 and March, 1918

DULCE ET DECORUM EST

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares(2) we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest(3) began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots(4)
Of tired, outstripped(5) Five-Nines(6) that dropped behind.
Gas!(7) Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets(8) just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime(9) . . .
Dim, through the misty panes(10) and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering,(11) choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud(12)
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest(13)
To children ardent(14) for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.(15)

Wilfred Owen

Here we are looking at the role that women played during WWI, but are you sure you know how the war actually started?

If not, read more here!