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War Poems

Arms and the Boy
     by Wilfred Owen

Let the boy try along this bayonet-blade
How cold steel is, and keen with hunger of blood;
Blue with all malice, like a madman's flash;
And thinly drawn with famishing for flesh.

Lend him to stroke these blind, blunt bullet-leads,
Which long to nuzzle in the hearts of lads,
Or give him cartridges whose fine zinc teeth,
Are sharp with sharpness of grief and death.

For his teeth seem for laughing round an apple.
There lurk no claws behind his fingers supple;
And God will grow no talons at his heels,
Nor antlers through the thickness of his curls.

 

Suicide in Trenches
     by 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.

 

For All We Have And Are
     by Rudyard Kipling

FOR all we have and are,
For all our children's fate,
Stand up and meet the war.
The Hun is at the gate!
Our world has passed away
In wantonness o'erthrown.
There is nothing left to-day
But steel and fire and stone.

Though all we knew depart,
The old commandments stand:
"In courage keep your heart,
In strength lift up your hand."

Once more we hear the word
That sickened earth of old:
"No law except the sword
Unsheathed and uncontrolled,"
Once more it knits mankind,
Once more the nations go
To meet and break and bind
A crazed and driven foe.

Comfort, content, delight—
The ages' slow-bought gain—
They shrivelled in a night,
Only ourselves remain
To face the naked days
In silent fortitude,
Through perils and dismays
Renewed and re-renewed.

Though all we made depart,
The old commandments stand:
"In patience keep your heart,
In strength lift up your hand."

No easy hopes or lies
Shall bring us to our goal,
But iron sacrifice
Of body, will, and soul.
There is but one task for all—
For each one life to give.
Who stands if Freedom fall?
Who dies if England live?

 

Anthem for Doomed Youth
     by Wilfred Owen

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

 

The Charge of the Light Brigade
     by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Half a league, half a league,
  Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
  Rode the six hundred.
'Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns' he said:
Into the valley of Death
  Rode the six hundred.

'Forward, the Light Brigade!'
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldiers knew
  Some one had blunder'd:
Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
  Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
  Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
  Rode the six hundred.

Flash'd all their sabres bare,
Flash'd as they turned in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army while
  All the world wonder'd:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro' the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel'd from the sabre-stroke
Shatter'd and sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
  Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro' the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
  Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
  All the world wonder'd.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
  Noble six hundred!

 

The Ghosts
    by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

There was no wind, and yet the air
Seemed suddenly astir;
There were no forms, and yet all space
Seemed thronged with growing hosts.
They came from Where, and from Nowhere,
Like phantoms as they were;
They came from many a land and place -
The ghosts, the ghosts, the ghosts.

And some were white, and some were grey,
And some were red as blood -
Those ghosts of men who met their death
Upon the field of war.
Against the skies of fading day,
Like banks of cloud they stood;
And each wraith asked another wraith,
'What were we fighting for?'

One said, 'I was my mother's all;
And she was old and blind.'
Another, 'Back on earth, my wife
And week-old baby lie.'
Another, 'At the bugle's call,
I left my bride behind;
Love made so beautiful my life
I could not bear to die.'

In voices like the winds that moan
Among pine trees at night,
They whispered long, the newly dead,
While listening stars came out.
'We wonder if the cause is known,
And if the war was right,
That killed us in our prime,' they said,
'And what it was about.'

They came in throngs that filled all space -
Those whispering phantom hosts;
They came from many a land and place,
The ghosts, the ghosts, the ghosts.

 


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