A collection of First World War Poetry

Page 1



STAGE 6 • Unabridged Text

A Collection of First World War Poetry

In this reader you will find: - The First World War in facts and figures - Poems and verse - Biographical notes about the poets - Background pages: The Poppy, Women and War, The Unknown Soldier, The Lasting Impact - Notes on the poems - Activities to help with technical vocabulary Tags Poetry, War Elementary

600 headwords




800 headwords


Key (KET)



1000 headwords


Preliminary (PET)


Upper Intermediate

1800 headwords


First (FCE)



2500 headwords


Advanced (CAE)



Unabridged Texts


Proficiency (CPE)





tr RS oe DE ar P l. EA W 0 .r. I R ld 3I s EL or 59 EL LT t W 36-1 U rs 5 AD Fi 8G of 8-8 UN on 97 YO ecti BN ll IS Co

Recorded extracts on CD. Download full text as MP3 from www.elireaders.com



Edited by J. Borsbey & R. Swan

A Collection of First World War Poetry

This collection reflects the wide variety of poems written, in the English language, about The War that Will End War (H.G. Wells, 1914). The collection contains poetry written during, or immediately after, the First World War. The poets were influenced by their war experiences in many different ways: some served in the trenches, others drove ambulances, flew planes, fought at sea or wrote propaganda for war offices. Many of the poets were killed or wounded in action and most were extremely young.

Edited by J. Borsbey & R. Swan

Edited by J. Borsbey & R. Swan


Eli Readers is a beautifully illustrated series of timeless classics and specially-written stories for learners of English.

A Collection of First World War Poetry








The ELI Readers collection is a complete range of books and plays for readers of all ages, ranging from captivating contemporary stories to timeless classics. There are three series, each catering for a different age group; Young ELI Readers, Teen ELI Readers and Young Adult ELI Readers. The books are carefully edited and beautifully illustrated to capture the essence of the stories and plots. The Readers are supplemented with ‘Focus on’ texts packed with background cultural information about the writers and their lives and times.


J. Borsbey & R. Swan, Editors

A Collection of First World War Poetry

For H. A. Pitman with love



A Collection of First World War Poetry J. Borsbey & R. Swan, Editors Introduction, background to the text, notes and activities by Janet Borsbey and Ruth Swan ELI Readers Founder and Series Editors Paola Accattoli, Grazia Ancillani, Daniele Garbuglia (Art Director) The authors would like to thank: all the team at Eli, E. Chuther and Mark Pitman Every effort has been made to trace and contact copyright holders of poems included in this anthology. The publisher would be pleased to hear from any unacknowledged copyright holders. Graphic Design Sergio Elisei Layout Diletta Brutti Production Manager Francesco Capitano Photo credits Corbis, Getty Images, Shutterstock Š 2013 ELI s.r.l. P.O. Box 6 62019 Recanati MC Italy T +39 071750701 F +39 071977851 info@elionline.com Typeset in 11,5 / 15 per Monotype Dante Printed in Italy by Tecnostampa Recanati – ERA 603.01 ISBN 978-88-536-1593-0 First edition: February 2013 www.elireaders.com

For this series of ELI graded readers, we have planted 5000 new trees.

The FSC certification guarantees that the paper used in these publications comes from certified forests, promoting responsible forestry management worldwide.

Contents 8

World War One Main European Fronts


The First World War in Facts and Figures

12 Before you Read 16 Poems 128 The Poems – Looking back 130 Focus on ... The Poppy 132 Focus on ... Women and the War 134 Focus on ... The Unknown Warrior 136 Focus on ... The Lasting Impact 138 Index of Authors 139 Index of First Lines 141 Index of Titles 143 Further Reading

This icon indicates the parts of the book that are recorded


This volume contains a cross-section of the type of verse which came out of the First World War. Some poems were written from the front lines while others were written from the home front. The army, navy and air force are represented, as are the auxiliary services. Some poems are written by officers and others by members of the rank and file. Some poems are regarded as fine examples of the art, while others are sentimental, humorous or have been included simply to illustrate the type of verse which was popular at the time. For a reading list of more war poetry and war poetry in other languages, please see page 143.


World War One Main European Fronts

The First World War in Facts and Figures

The Powers The First World War broke out in the summer of 1914. The major Empires of the time lined up against each other. The Allies, which included Britain, France, Italy (1915), Russia and the United States (1917) fought against the Central Powers of Austria-Hungary, Germany and Turkey. The system of diplomatic alliances at the time, involved most other European countries, as well as many countries from Australasia, the Indian subcontinent, Africa and South America. The Armistice was signed on 11th November 1918. The Fronts The battle lines were quickly established. The Western Front ran through France and part of Belgium, with soldiers facing each other in trenches. Various offensives were launched, little land was gained, but enormous losses were sustained on both sides. On the Eastern Front, Russian forces fought Germany and Austria in Prussia and Poland and then back in Russia as the Central Powers gained ground. The Russian Empire lost a huge number of people. Other fronts included the Dardanelles, North Africa, the Middle East and Northern Italy.


Lives Lost It is impossible to say how many civilians lost their lives through conflict, malnutrition or the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic. Of the estimated 65 million members of the armed forces who took part in the First World War, more than 10 million are thought to have been killed. The number of those missing, but presumed killed, stands at almost 8 million. Estimates put the number of wounded at around 21 million. Unlike previous conflicts, the majority of those killed died in battle; in previous wars, most men died from disease. Animal Casualties Besides human loss, there was a massive loss of animals. Although tanks and other motorised vehicles were introduced during the war, most transport was horse-drawn. Eight million horses are thought to have been killed in the conflict. The experience of two countries illustrates this: Britain sent a million horses to the war and only 62,000 were returned, while only one of the estimated 136,000 Australian horses was returned home. Dogs were also casualties of war: they were used for laying telegraph wires and for sending messages, both dangerous occupations. Other animals used in the First World War include carrier pigeons, which were very successful messengers and glow-worms, used for map reading in the dark. Gas The First World War saw the first use of poison gas in battle. It was used by various forces in about thirty different forms. Clouds of gas drifted across trenches and caused many casualties. There are no reliable statistics on gas use, although it is estimated that more than


a million soldiers were gassed and as many as 90,000 may have died from the effects of gas. It was, of course, much feared in the trenches. In the early stages of the war, soldiers were told to cover their mouths with cloths soaked in urine to protect themselves. By 1918, effective gas masks were routine issue. Chemical weapons are now largely outlawed by international treaties. Technology Submarines had already been used in the American Civil War, but technology had improved. The German fleet of 274 U-boats was very effective sinking 6,596 ships. There were a number of advances in the size of weapons: the Germans had a number of 48 tonne Howitzers, nicknamed Big Bertha, which could fire a 930 kg shell over a distance of 15 km. The French had a gun which the German soldiers called the Devil Gun as it could fire extremely accurately over a distance of 6.4 km. Mines got larger and larger throughout the war and it was said that explosions from the Messines Ridge in 1917 could be heard in London. Perhaps the most important innovation was the harnessing of air power; for the first time, planes were used in conjunction with ground forces in coordinated attacks. Medicine The treatment of so many wounded brought about advances in medicine. The triage system for dealing with mass casualties was introduced by the French and is still used today. The first skin grafts were carried out on wounded soldiers during the war and advances were made in emergency surgery and in the setting of broken bones.


Before you Read

War Vocabulary 1

Weapons and Ordnance. Match these nouns to their dictionary definitions.

■ bayonet /"beI´nIt/ 2 ■ eighteen-pounder 1

/ÆeI"t…n "paUnd´“r‘/

a the standard British field gun b a metal container with explosives inside

3 ■ mine /maIn/

c a long gun used to shoot animals or people

4 ■ shrapnel /"Srœpn“´‘l/

d a long blade attached to the end of a long gun

5 ■ shell /Sel/

e a bomb which is hidden underground or put in the sea

6 ■ rifle /"raIf“´‘l/

f a small piece of metal which is shot from a gun

7 ■ bullet /"bUlIt/

g the small pieces of metal inside an explosive device

2 Army Ranks. This is a selection of ranks from the British Army


in alphabetical order. Put them into order of rank! Number one is the highest ranking and has been done for you.

■ ■ 1 ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■

captain corporal field marshal general lieutenant major private sergeant


The Anatomy of a Trench. During the First World War, trench warfare was used on several fronts. Read the descriptions of parts of the trench and label the diagram.

a barbed wire: Miles of barbed wire were used by each side. It was used to protect your trench as it was difficult to break through. b bolt hole: A place where a person could hide if they were in immediate danger. c firing-step: A raised area in a trench. Soldiers stood on this step to fire their rifle. d no man’s land: The area of land between two opposing front line trenches. e parados: A protective bank at the back of a trench. f parapet: A protective bank at the front of a trench. To the enemy

To the enemy

4 _____________

2 _____________


6 _____________


1 _____________

5 _____________

3 _____________

4 Discussion. Consider/discuss the following points 1 What problems would you expect to come across if you lived for a month in a trench on the front line? 2 How do you think you would feel? 3 What would you say in your letters home? Would you tell the truth or would you hide it from them?




Madeline Ida Bedford Very little is known about Madeline Ida Bedford, except for the fact that she published a collection of poetry in 1917, called The Captain. The following two poems are taken from that collection. It is clear from the poems that her aim is to mimic the dialect or Cockney accent of her subjects. In the first poem, that subject is a woman working in a munitions factory. It grew increasingly common for women to leave domestic service and their work in the home for better-paid work in factories, as more and more men were called to the fronts. In the second poem, the woman seems to be giving a clergyman a hard time as she deals with her new status as a widow.

Munition Wages


Earning high wages? Yus, Five quid a week. A woman, too, mind you, I calls it dim sweet*. Ye’are asking some questions – But bless yer, here goes: I spends the whole racket On good times and clothes. Me saving? Elijah! Yer do think I’m mad. I’m acting the lady, But – I ain’t living bad. dim sweet – damned sweet


I’m having life’s good times. See ’ere, it’s like this: The ’oof come o’ danger*, A touch-and-go bizz. We’re all here today, mate, Tomorrow – perhaps dead, If Fate tumbles on us And blows up our shed. Afraid! Are yer kidding? With money to spend! Years back I wore tatters, Now – silk stockings, mi friend! I’ve bracelets and jewellery, Rings envied by friends; A sergeant to swank with, And something to lend. I drive out in taxis, Do theatres in style. And this is mi verdict – It is jolly worth while. Worth while, for tomorrow If I’m blown to the sky, I’ll have repaid mi wages In death – and pass by. The ’oof come o’ danger – the money comes from the dangerous job


The Parson’s Job


What do you want Coming to this ’ere ’ell? Ain’t it enough to know he’s dead, Killed by a bit o’ German lead? What! – the Lord means well? I guess ye’ are daft! He’s one o’ the good’uns, Jim; Nature’s gentleman, rough but true. He didn’t know ’ow to sin, But – what is that to you? You make me sick. Why should he die, When forger Wright wins a V.C. And criminal Kelly catches a spy? That don’t spell Justice to me. Get out, or I’ll strike you down. I’m carrying his kid. Do you call that fair? Gawd – no wonder I wants to gib; Our first-born, and his father – where?


You hold yer tongue. What he said of our child Ain’t for you to be teaching me. He called it ‘Our little blossom wild’. Why – can’t yer let me be! I hate your religion; I don’t want gold; I only want my man. What? It’s in me to enfold Jim in my babyland? Gawd bless yer, Parson, I’ll try to think right Upon my widowed way. So Jim ain’t quite out o’ sight? Teach me – ow – to pray.


Mackenzie Bell 1856-1930

Mackenzie Bell was not in the armed forces during the First World War, but this poem to a war horse has been included as an example of the type of poem which was extremely popular on the home front. It would have been read aloud as part of a lantern slide show and Mackenzie Bell toured the country with just such a show during the war. Estimates vary, but somewhere near a million horses were sent to the war from the United Kingdom alone, and as few as 65,000 are thought to have been brought back.

Good-bye, Old Man


Good-bye, old man, I seem to see The meadow where, how happily, You grazed, at first, a happy foal Harmless in happiness. The whole Green country-side had scarce another Creature more joyous – gladsome brother To streams, and winds and soaring-birds. Then, later, would that halting words Of mine, could paint my Nellie’s* ride With laughing eyes, and legs astride, Her first ride on your friendly back. E’en now I see yon woodland track, Soft with the fallen russet leaves. Nellie – a classic pet name for a horse


Alack! alack! my poor heart grieves To quit you, tortured. By what right Are you made victim in a fight It is not yours to comprehend? Yea; men are hard; some day, good friend, May we judge differently; and think, May we judge differently; and shrink From torture given without appeal. For me, I know not, yet can feel. Good-bye, old man, may Death come soon For you, I crave that only boon – And, yet another would I seek; May no dog scent afar your sleek And well-kept flesh before you die; And with his hot and famished breath, Pollute you in the pangs of death.



1 Essay Topics. Choose an essay topic and develop your answer. Support your answer with examples from the poems. 1 If you could choose three poems which best represent the First World War to you, what would they be and why? 2 What different aspects of war are highlighted in the poems written by women? 3 Look again at Rupert Brooke’s sonnets. Why do you think Charles Sorley described his poems as sentimental? 4 What themes do you think run through many of the poems written by service personnel?

2a Literary Devices. Match the devices to their definitions. a (usually) repeating the same vowel sound: the moon rose over an open field b comparing two things using like or as: ■ assonance 2 as nutty as a fruit cake c a word which imitates the sound of something: the cat meowed for her breakfast ■ half-rhyme 3 d words or letters with a hissing sound: silly sausage ■ simile 4 e a rhyme where the vowel sounds aren’t identical: up rhyming with step or peer ■ irony 5 rhyming with pare f using the same consonant or vowel sequence, ■ onomatopoeia often at the beginning of words: run, rabbit, run 6 g using humour or mild sarcasm to highlight something: saying good evening, when ■ metaphor 7 someone is late in the morning h creating an image by using a word or phrase ■ personification applied to something that it doesn’t usually 8 denote: she’s a mouse! i attributing human characteristics to things or ■ sibilance 9 ideas: the popcorn jumped out of the pan 1 ■ alliteration


2b Which devices are used in these lines from Wilfred Owen’s poems? a Only the stuttering rifles rapid rattle (Anthem for Doomed Youth) b The shrill demented choirs of wailing shells (Anthem for Doomed Youth) c Through granites which titanic wars had groined. Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned, (Strange Meeting) d He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. (Dulce et decorum est) e Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, (Dulce et decorum est) f Down some profound dull tunnel long since scooped (Strange Meeting) g The old lie: Dulce et decorum est per patria mori (Dulce et decorum est) h Our brains ache, in the merciless iced east winds that knive us ... (Exposure) i And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin; (Dulce et decorum est)

3 Your View. Give an opinion of one of the poems in this collection. Consider the different literary devices used by that poet. How does the poet express emotion? Quote from the text. Notes:


Focus on ...

Women and the War Voices of women who lived through the First World War resonate today. Some historians credit the war with revolutionising attitudes to women, while others think the case is overstated.

Munitions Before the First World War, most women in the UK workforce were employed in domestic service. Reliable figures for other types of work are few and far between, but there were certainly some women working in factories, too. In some areas, for example the cotton and woollen industries of Lancashire and Yorkshire, large numbers of women were already employed before the outbreak of war. However, by the end of the war, there was a large increase in the number of women who were working in factories, specifically munitions factories, and not only in Lancashire and Yorkshire, but all over the country. It is estimated that about 80% of munitions for the British army was being made by women by 1917. Women were also employed in munitions in Australia and Germany. It was a dirty and dangerous job and accidents were frequent. 132

The largest loss of life from a single explosion during World War One didn’t happen on the battlefields, but happened in a munitions factory. It was in Nottingham in 1915 and more than 130 people died, many of them women. Illness was also a common problem; a lot of the munitions workers became ill from the effects of the chemicals they used. One common illness was jaundice; this made workers’ skin go yellow and gave the women workers the nickname Canary Girls. Historians disagree on whether women working during World War One had a major long-term impact on female employment globally. Whilst some historians say it had a major influence, many argue that women moved temporarily from employment in other areas to munitions and that the impact was therefore minor.

Other Jobs


There were certainly a large number of women employed in what would have traditionally been regarded as male jobs. Secretarial work, for example, had largely been the preserve of men until the war, and women began to take on heavier jobs on farms as men enlisted. Canadian women delivered milk and worked in canning factories. British women worked on buses and on the land and German and Italian women worked in factories and on farms.

A large number of women from countries at war joined voluntary nursing organisations. As non-professionals, many did menial tasks and were looked down upon by the professional nurses. For example, British VADs from the Volunteer Aid Detachment were often employed in cleaning work in hospitals. Initially they weren’t allowed to serve abroad, although, from 1915, they were needed at the fronts. It is estimated that about 15,000 women from the USA and Canada served as front line nurses and about 450 were killed.

Combat and Execution Very few women fought in the war, except for a number of Russian battalions made up entirely of women. A few enlisted by disguising themselves as men and a number were trained to serve as home guards. Some women worked under cover and some were executed for treason or for espionage; two of the most famous to be executed were Mata Hari, for espionage, and Edith Cavell, for treason. Their stories were used as propaganda by various governments to stir up nationalistic sentiments.

Suffrage In 1918, in Britain, some women were finally granted the right to vote. They had to be over 30 years old and to have a certain amount of property or wealth in order to qualify. It used to be thought that one effect of the First World War was to bring about women’s suffrage, particularly in Britain. The reasoning

Edith Cavell (1865-1915)

was that the vote was given as a ‘reward’ for the sacrifices made during the war. Some historians now argue that the process of change towards universal suffrage in Britain had started before the war and would have continued regardless: after all, it was not until 1928 that women were granted the same voting rights as men. 133

Turn static files into dynamic content formats.

Create a flipbook
Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.