By: Lorelei Kenny

Today, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month marks ninety-eight years since the end of World War I.

On this day we take time to reflect on all those who have suffered and died because of war and to acknowledge the courage and the sacrifices of the men and women affected by war. On this day we remember them.

Many of us attend a local remembrance day ceremony at a local cenotaph at 11:00 am where we pay our respects, but then go home not knowing what else to do. Yet there are many ways to continue your meditation; consider reading war poetry.

These eleven poems below are worth reading as they are raw, bloody, and horrific which by in large is the reality of war. The selection proposed below gives a glimpse into the terror of the trenches of WWI, the horrors of the Holocaust in WWII, and the long fought war in Vietnam. However, some of these poems address other realities of war. The fact that war does not end when someone claims victory as it can take years for a country to rebuild and heal. Another touches on the psychological effects that soldiers and war victims suffer after war. Another on how easy it is for us to forget the tragedies that have taken place if we don’t make an effort to remember. These poems address a variety of aspects stemming from war, and most importantly these poems are honest.

Dulce et Decorum Est

Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,

And towards our distant rest 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

Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling

And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—

Dim through the misty panes 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, 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

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.

Marching Men

Marjorie Pickthall

Under the level winter sky

I saw a thousand Christs go by.

They sang an idle song and free

As they went up to calvary.

Careless of eye and coarse of lip,

They marched in holiest fellowship.

That heaven might heal the world, they gave

Their earth-born dreams to deck the grave.

With souls unpurged and steadfast breath

They supped the sacrament of death.

And for each one, far off, apart,

Seven swords have rent a woman’s heart.

To Germany

Charles Hamilton Sorley

You are blind like us. Your hurt no man designed,

And no man claimed the conquest of your land.

But gropers both through fields of thought confined

We stumble and we do not understand.

You only saw your future bigly planned,

And we, the tapering paths of our own mind,

And in each other’s dearest ways we stand,

And hiss and hate. And the blind fight the blind.

When it is peace, then we may view again

With new-won eyes each other’s truer form

And wonder. Grown more loving-kind and warm

We’ll grasp firm hands and laugh at the old pain,

When it is peace. But until peace, the storm

The darkness and the thunder and the rain.

Grass

Carl Sandburg

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.   
Shovel them under and let me work—   
           I am the grass; I cover all.   
  
And pile them high at Gettysburg   
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.   
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:   
           What place is this?   
           Where are we now?   
  
           I am the grass.
           Let me work.

The End and the Beginning

Wislawa Szymborska

After every war

someone has to clean up.

Things won’t

straighten themselves up, after all.

Someone has to push the rubble

to the side of the road,

so the corpse-filled wagons

can pass.

Someone has to get mired

in scum and ashes,

sofa springs,

splintered glass,

and bloody rags.

Someone has to drag in a girder

to prop up a wall.

Someone has to glaze a window,

rehang a door.

Photogenic it’s not,

and takes years.

All the cameras have left

for another war.

We’ll need the bridges back,

and new railway stations.

Sleeves will go ragged

from rolling them up.

Someone, broom in hand,

still recalls the way it was.

Someone else listens

and nods with unsevered head.

But already there are those nearby

starting to mill about

who will find it dull.

From out of the bushes

sometimes someone still unearths

rusted-out arguments

and carries them to the garbage pile.

Those who knew

what was going on here

must make way for

those who know little.

And less than little.

And finally as little as nothing.

In the grass that has overgrown

causes and effects,

someone must be stretched out,

blade of grass in his mouth

gazing at the clouds.

On the Anniversary of Her Grace

Bruce Weigl

Rain and low clouds blown through the valley,

rain down the coast raising the brackish

rivers at their high tides too high,

rain and black skies that come for you.

Not excellent and fair,

I wake from a restless night of dreams of her

whom I will never have again

as surely as each minute passing

makes impossible another small fulfillment

until there’s only a lingering

I remember, a kiss I had imagined

would come again and again to my face.

Inside me the war had eaten a hole.

I could not touch anyone.

The wind blew through me to the green place

where they still fell in their blood.

I could hear their voices at night.

I could not undress in the light

her body cast in the dark rented room.

I could keep the dragons at the gate.

I could paint my face and hide

as shadow in the triple-canopy jungle.

I could not eat or sleep then walk all day

and all night watch a moonlit path for movement.

I could draw leeches from my skin

with the tip of a cigarette

and dig a hole deep enough to save me

before the sun bloodied the hills we could not take

even with our lives

but I could not open my arms to her

that first night of forgiveness.

I could not touch anyone.

I thought my body would catch fire.

Killing Fields

John Taylor Jones

Like white shadows

On the black earth

They came to gather their dead.

I knew the dead

Where unknown to us

But every mothers dread.

It took two days

For them to pick them up;

To let their families know–

Back in Manchuria,

In Peking,

In hamlets throughout China–

Your son is dead,

Your only son,

He never will come home.

September Song

Goffrey Hill

born 19.6.32—deported 24.9.42

Undesirable you may have been, untouchable  

you were not. Not forgotten  

or passed over at the proper time.

As estimated, you died. Things marched,  

sufficient, to that end.

Just so much Zyklon and leather, patented  

terror, so many routine cries.

(I have made

an elegy for myself it  

is true)

September fattens on vines. Roses  

flake from the wall. The smoke  

of harmless fires drifts to my eyes.

This is plenty. This is more than enough.

Holocaust

Alf Hutchison

The rain how it fell; the cadaver smell

My eyes transfixed on that pit of Hell,

Vapid flesh foul, horrendously bland.

But why this carnage, I don’t understand;

Retching, gagging, holding back the bile.

I turn from the evil to rest for a while,

From decomposing mothers, fathers and child;

Satan’s work, merciless, callously wild.

Laid out in graves grotesquely remorse,

Lucifer’s carnage has taken its course

In a dance of death, contorted and thin,

Thousands of bodies, bound together by skin.

Now sixty years passed, will I ever forget.

That day when in person, with Satan I met;

He showed me firsthand his evil, his sin.

Flames of contempt still burn deep within.

Wise men instruct us ‘we must never, forget’,

Upon the memory of them, ‘let the sun never set’;

For six million Jews paid the ultimate cost,

I know, I was there, at the great Holocaust.

Mortars

Curt Bennett

The Scout on point has raised his hand

And flashed the signal to his band

ENEMY IN SIGHT GET DOWN!

But in the distance, sickening sounds,

The deadened “thunk” of mortar rounds

Leaving hollow tubes.

The men melt to the ground,

Scrambling, crabbing leaving the trail

High, thin-screamed, louder, whistling wail

Of incoming!

           The men cower, cringing low

The clench their necks, await the blow

That erupts with such a smashing “crack”,

That rings the ears and slams the back

That bleeds the nose, that aches the head,

That takes the breath, and kills them dead.

In Flanders Field

John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders Fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

Lest we forget.