‘The Oxford Book of War Poetry – edited by Jon Stallworthy *****

I always mark Remembrance Sunday by reading some semblance of war poems.  This year, I decided to read the marvellous Oxford Book of War Poetry for the umpteenth time, focusing solely upon those featured which were written during the First World War.  This book features some of my absolute favourite poets (Alfred Lord Tennyson, John McCrae, Wilfred Owen, etc.), and spans from battles outlined in the Bible and an extract from Homer’s Iliad, to present day conflicts.  It is, I think, the most marvellous and extensive collection of themed poetry which exists.

‘The Oxford Book of War Poetry’, edited by Jon Stallworthy

My favourite poems from the First World War in this collection are: ‘The Soldier’ by Rupert Brooke, ‘Into Battle’ by Julian Grenfell, ‘In Flanders Fields’ by John McCrae, ‘All the hills and vales…’ by Charles Sorley, ‘Range-Finding’ by Robert Frost, ‘Calligram, 15 May 1915’ by Guillaume Apollinaire, ‘Reprisals’ by W.B. Yeats, ‘The Hero’ by Siegfried Sassoon, ‘Glory of Women’ by Siegfried Sassoon, ‘In Memoriam’ by Edward Thomas, ‘The Cherry Trees’ by Edward Thomas, ‘Rain’ by Edward Thomas, ‘As the team’s head brass’ by Edward Thomas, ‘To His Love’ by Ivor Gurney, ‘The Silent One’ by Ivor Gurney, ‘On Receiving News of the War’ by Isaac Rosenberg, ‘Break of Day in the Trenches’ by Isaac Rosenberg, ‘Dead Man’s Dump’ by Isaac Rosenberg, ‘Returning, We Hear the Larks’ by Isaac Rosenberg, ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’by Wilfred Owen, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ by Wilfred Owen, ‘Exposure’ by Wilfred Owen, ‘Insensibility’ by Wilfred Owen, ‘The Send-Off’ by Wilfred Owen, ‘Futility’ by Wilfred Owen, ‘Strange Meeting’ by Wilfred Owen, ‘Two Voices’ by Edmund Blunden, ‘Winter Warfare’ by Edgell Rickword, ‘My sweet old etcetera…’ by e.e. cummings, ‘next to of course god…’ by e.e. cummings, ‘i sing of Olaf’ by e.e. cummings, ‘In the Dordogne’ by John Peale Bishop, ‘For the Fallen’ by Laurence Binyon and ‘Rouen’ by May Wedderburn Cannan.

I shall end with one of the poems I mentioned above, ‘Winter Warfare’ by Edgell Rickword.

Colonel Cold strode up the Line
(tabs of rime and spurs of ice);
stiffened all that met his glare:
horses, men and lice.

Visited a forward post,
left them burning, ear to foot;
fingers stuck to biting steel,
toes to frozen boot.

Stalked on into No Man’s Land,
turned the wire to fleecy wool,
iron stakes to sugar sticks
snapping at a pull.

Those who watched with hoary eyes
saw two figures gleaming there;
Hauptmann Kalte, colonel old,
gaunt in the grey air.

Stiffly, tinkling spurs they moved,
glassy-eyed, with glinting heel
stabbing those who lingered there
torn by screaming steel.

Colonel Cold strode up the Line
(tabs of rime and spurs of ice);
stiffened all that met his glare:
horses, men and lice.

Visited a forward post,
left them burning, ear to foot;
fingers stuck to biting steel,
toes to frozen boot.

Stalked on into No Man’s Land,
turned the wire to fleecy wool,
iron stakes to sugar sticks
snapping at a pull.

Those who watched with hoary eyes
saw two figures gleaming there;
Hauptmann Kalte, colonel old,
gaunt in the grey air.

Stiffly, tinkling spurs they moved,
glassy-eyed, with glinting heel
stabbing those who lingered there
torn by screaming steel.

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