World War I Poetry

Veterans Day, November 11, 2018, marked 100 years since the end of World War I, which lasted from July 28, 1914, to November 11, 1918, and resulted in an unprecedented amount of destruction. World War I, also known as “The Great War” and “The War to End All Wars,” left more than 16 million soldiers and civilians dead, destabilized the European economy, and caused a large-scale shift of power on the international stage that would ultimately become one of the causes of World War II.
Among the great figures of the war were its documentarians—the poets who served in the war as soldiers or witnessed its effects in their time and responded with their personal accounts. Many of their poems remain well-known today for their unflinching reflections on the tolls of battle, like Wilfred Owen’s "Anthem for Doomed Youth," in which he describes “Only the monstrous anger of the guns. / Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle.”

Read about the poets and poetry of World War I, and also check out essays, lesson plans, ephemera, and other resources.   

Classic World War I Poems

Vicarious Atonement” by Richard Aldington
This is an old and very cruel god …

The Soldier” by Rupert Brooke
If I should die, think only this of me …

Red Cross Work” by Amelia Josephine Burr
Interminable folds of gauze …

Not to Keep” by Robert Frost
They sent him back to her. The letter came …

Drummer Hodge” by Thomas Hardy
They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest …

Wartime Christmas” by Joyce Kilmer
Led by a star, a golden star …

The Spires of Oxford” by Winifred M. Letts
I saw the spires of Oxford …

Convalescence” by Amy Lowell
From out the dragging vastness of the sea …

In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae
In Flanders fields the poppies blow …

Dulce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks …

The Longest Odds” by Jessie Pope
Leonidas of Sparta, years gone by …

Soldier: Twentieth Century” by Isaac Rosenberg
I love you, great new Titan!

Break of Day” by Siegfried Sassoon
There seemed a smell of autumn in the air …

I Have a Rendezvous with Death” by Alan Seeger
I have a rendezvous with Death …

Two Sonnets” by Charles Hamilton Sorley
Saints have adorned the lofty soul of you

Tears” by Edward Thomas
It seems I have no tears left. They should have fallen—

American Boys, Hello!” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Oh! we love all the French, and we speak in French …

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American Poets of World War I

Florence Earle Coates
wrote a collection of World War I poetry called Pro Patria.

E. E. Cummings
volunteered as an ambulance driver in France.

H. D.
wrote three novels inspired by the Great War: Walls Do Not Fall, Tribute to the Angels, and The Flowering of the Rod, referred to as her war trilogy.

Arthur Davison Ficke
served in the Army until 1919, when he was discharged as a lieutenant colonel and judge advocate.

Joyce Kilmer
served in the Army, in the famous “Fighting Sixty-Ninth” Regiment, and died in action.

Amy Lowell
responded to the war with a series of anti-war poems, including the popular “Patterns.”

Archibald MacLeish
volunteered as an ambulance driver and later became a captain of field artillery.

Alan Seeger
joined the French Foreign Legion and was killed in action. His collection of poems about the war was published posthumously.

Gertrude Stein
volunteered driving supplies to hospitals in France.

Amos Wilder
served as a volunteer ambulance driver and later as a corporal in an artillery unit and wrote a poetry collection and memoir about his experiences.

John Allan Wyeth
served in the Army and published This Man’s Army: A War in Fifty-Odd Sonnets about the experience.

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Veterans Day Poems

The Long Deployment” by Jehanne Dubrow
For weeks, I breathe his body in the sheet …

Spoken From the Hedgerows” by Jorie Graham
To bring back a time and place …

Thanks” by Yusef Komunyakaa
Thanks for the tree …

Oceanside, CA” by Marie-Elizabeth Mali
Balancing on crutches in the shallows …

Soldiers Washing (1927)” by Ricardo Pau-Llosa
Even washing is a task, in war and daily …

My Father on His Shield” by Walt McDonald
Shiny as wax, the cracked veneer Scotch-taped …

Blueprint” by Tom Sleigh
I had a blueprint …

Phantom Noise” by Brian Turner
This is this ringing hum    this …

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Poems about War

America” by Adam Clay
In the painting …

Warn the Young Ones” by Jennifer Givhan
First war     She polishes the spine of her own …

The War After the War” by Debora Greger
Where were the neighbors? Out of town?

Firing Squad” by Ilya Kaminsky
On balconies, sunlight. On poplars, sunlight on our lips …

Between Wars” by Joy Ladin
You’ve lost your soul again. Go back …

A Brief History of Hostility” by Jamaal May
In the beginning …

War Catalogues” by Nomi Stone
Soldiers collect & number …

Song of the Cluster Bomblet” by Soul Vang
I am a seed …

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Who’s Who in American War Verse
Read this essay, written by Mary Louise Gardner and originally published in the Journal of Education on May 29, 1919, about some of the prominent American World War I poets of the time.

Preface to Poems by Wilfred Owen
Read the preface to Wilfred Owen’s posthumously published collected Poems.

Siegfried Sassoon’s Introduction to Poems by Wilfred Owen
Read Siegfried Sassoon’s introduction to Wilfred Owen’s posthumously published collection, Poems.

Brooks, H. D., and Rukeyser: Three Women Poets in the First Century of World Wars by Marilyn Hacker
Hacker considers these three poets in the context of the extreme social and political changes that were occurring in the world during the first century of world wars, and how they chose to respond to those changes in their own work.

Teaching Resources

Teach This Poem: “La Chapelle. 92nd Division. Ted.” by Rita Dove
This interdisciplinary lesson plan for K-12 classrooms features a poem by Rita Dove and activities encouraging students to learn more about World War I.

Political Poetry: From A Poet’s Glossary
“Poetry of social concern and conscience, politically engaged poetry.”
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