The War Poets
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 tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Extract from 'Dulce et Decorum Est' by Wilfred Owen
"Poetry, more than any other art form, can capture a moment and preserve it forever. Centuries on, poems allow us to understand what people in the past were feeling, and lets us feel it for ourselves", writes the producer and director Sebastian Barfield. This is no truer than the poetry written about the Great War. In fact the term 'war poet' immediately makes one think of the poems written about that conflict, more than any other conflict in history
In Poets' Corner in the South Transept of Westminster Abbey in London, there is a slate stone slab commemorating the Great War Poets. There are sixteen names inscribed on it, all of whom served in uniform during the war. Of these sixteen poets, six died in the war.
Although the conflict started over a hundred years ago, reading poems by these poets, such as 'Dulce et Decorum Est' by Wilfred Owen, 'Two Fusiliers' by Robert Graves, Rupert Brooke's sonnet 'V. The Soldier', 'The General' by Siegfried Sassoon or countless others, it is easy to imagine oneself there, experiencing the war first hand. Taken all together, these poems, many of them written in the trenches, create an extraordinary kind of witness - harrowing as well as humbling and heartening; they present the war as a devastating moment in history, and remind us its resonances never end.
So, it is not too difficult to picture a helmeted Tommy sitting on a battered crate, paper in one hand, pen poised in the other...
Many thanks to Pete Jones for the Text.