Front bookcover

Best of WW1 poetry in a single book

The First World War produced an extraordinary flowering of poetic talent. Its poets mark the conflict in ways that are both intensely personal and as enduring as any monument.

A new anthology edited by Professor Tim Kendall from the University of Exeter provides a definitive record of the achievements of the Great War poets and offers a fresh assessment of the work, as we approach the centenary of the War’s outbreak.

The book includes generous representation of the best-known poets, such as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, as well as incorporating less well known writing by civilian and women poets. During the First World War, poetry became established as the barometer for the nation’s values:the greater the civilisation, the greater its poetic heritage. The work of each poet is prefaced with a biographical account that sets the poems in their historical context by providing information about the poet, the circumstances of composition, and connections with other poets of the period. The anthology also includes music hall and trench songs which provide a lyrical perspective on the War. A general introduction explains how the war poets were received and the prevailing myths about their progress from idealism to bitterness.

Professor Kendall said:“When editing the anthology, I knew that I should have to accommodate ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, ‘The Soldier’, and ‘For the Fallen’. Whatever their qualities, these poems have become so inextricably part of our understanding that to omit them would be perverse. Yet I wanted to believe that other poems, no less worthy, have been unfairly neglected, either because they tell the kinds of truths which we are unwilling to hear (such as that war can occasionally be enjoyable or exhilarating), or because they have endured the simple bad luck of never having been brought to public attention.”

He added:“No war poet better illustrates this fact than Ivor Gurney, who fought in the War, was shot, gassed, and invalided out. Gurney spent the last fifteen years of his life from 1922 in an asylum, suffering from acute schizophrenia. In the early asylum years, writing with unprecedented intensity, he returned to war experiences as a way of escaping the misery of his incarceration.”

The anthology includes two previously unpublished poems by Gurney. Although the War has now passed out of living memory, its haunting of our language and culture has not been exorcised. The close identification of war poetry with a British national character persists to the present day. Its origins can be found in the belief that the writing of verse was a patriotic act because it celebrated and enhanced the nation’s cultural ascendency.

The poets represented in the anthology are as follows:

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

A E Housman (1859-1936)

May Sinclair (1863-1946)

W B Yeats (1865-1939)

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)

Charlotte Mew (1869-1928)

Robert Service (1874-1958)

Edward Thomas (1878-1917)

Wilfrid Wilson Gibson (1878-1962)

Mary Borden (1886-1968)

Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967)

Rupert Brooke (1887-1915)

Julian Grenfell (1888-1915)

T P Cameron Wilson (1888-1918)

Patrick Shaw Stewart (1888-1917)

Ivor Gurney (1890-1937)

Isaac Rosenberg (1890-1918)

Arthur Graeme West (1891-1917)

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

Margaret Postgate Cole (1893-1980)

May Wedderburn Cannan (1893-1973)

Charles Sorley (1895-1915)

Robert Graves (1895-1985)

David Jones (1895-1974)

Edmund Blunden (1896-1974)

Edgell Rickword (1898-1982)

Music Hall and Trench Songs

Date: 4 November 2013

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