20TH CENTURY POETRY AND WAR

 
     
     

 

 

CONTENTS
  the first world war
  the 1930s
  the second world war
  crimes against humanity
  the nuclear age
  other wars
  responsibility
  women's voices
  list of poems

Prepared by:
Margaret Melicharova


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INTRODUCTION

Poetry written in the English language has a long and fascinating history. Like other creative arts, poetry began in service to communities. Its function was to aid the memory and enshrine in its rhythmic diction the history of the tribe. Over the centuries it became a way in which people could communicate not only stories but also ideas and emotions in an imaginative and expressive way. One characteristic has remained: throughout the history of poetry-making, poems have provided a commentary - often critical - on what people, communities and nations do. And in the 20th century, the horrors and irreversible changes created by modern warfare changed poetry for good.

The thirty or so poems in this selection (written between 1914 and 1998) demonstrate - among many other things - this change. After the First World War it was clear that the subject of war could no longer be treated as though its slaughter was solemn and glorious. But how could war now be written about by poets? The following poems illustrate the diversity of answers to that question, in a variety of ways expressing the fundamental unacceptability of war. They also show that poets have not found the subject easy.

poem: composition in verse, usually characterised by concentrated and heightened language in which words are chosen for their sound and suggestive power as well as for their meaning, and using such techniques as metre, rhyme and alliteration.' Collins Dictionary

ABOUT THIS COLLECTION

The poems are divided into eight groups, roughly chronologically where possible:
1. THE FIRST WORLD WAR
2. THE 1930S
3. THE SECOND WORLD WAR
4. CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY
5. THE NUCLEAR AGE
6. OTHER WARS
7. RESPONSIBILITY
8. WOMEN'S VOICES

Each poem is followed, where it might be helpful, by INFORMATION (clarification of words and references), HISTORY (background information), and IDEAS (critical commentary).

We hope that anyone visiting the website will find the poems interesting. But the poems are also presented for use by teachers of English Language and Literature, History, Citizenship, and general studies in schools, and by tutors in English Literature and Creative Writing anywhere. Reading groups, now springing up in communities across the UK, might also like to make the collection a basis for discussion.

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