World War 2 Poets – Were there any?
” The real always fades into the meaning
From cone to thread some grave perception drives
The twisted failures into vast fulfilments
After the holocaust of shells and knives,
The victory, the treaty, the betrayal,
The supersesession of a million lives
The hawk sees something stir among the trenches,
The field mouse hears the sigh of what survives. ”
Alun Lewis ( 2nd Lieutenant , South Wales Borderers )
Killed in an accident whilst on active service, March 1944
‘The Assault Convoy’- final verse .
‘ Selected Poems of Alun Lewis, – Jeremy Hooker and Gweno Lewis’
‘The War Poetry Review – Journal of the War Poets Association 2014–2015 ‘ features some excellent articles. One of the highlights is a feature ‘War Poetry: A Conversation with Michael Longley, Andrew Motion and Jon Stallworthy -Edited by Santanu Das ‘.
Doctor Das raised the question :
“What then is ‘war poetry’ ? When does a poem become a ‘war poem’? Are there particular pressures in writing war poetry’ ? ”
Michael Longley responded “First of all, it has to be a good poem. Tens, hundreds, thousands of poems were written in 1914-18, and most of them are ghastly ….”
Jon Stallworthy’s answer was ” Yes, more than 2,000 poets- most of them were hopeless. I think we make too much of some of the minor poets of the First World War because they were fine courageous people. But not all their poems are as good. Many are less good than those of the underrated poets of the Second World War. ”
First I was dismayed when I read this. Their view seemed snooty and elitist . The concept of what makes a ‘good’ poem is incredibly loaded. I had been busy constructing a website and blog for the ‘Great War at Sea Poetry’ . Who would be qualified to judge what is a ‘good ‘ poem in respect of World War 1 at Sea? Is it the most literary ? Or a poem that confines to various technical forms ? A poem that reinforces our preconceived ideas about the ethics of War? Perhaps a poem that seems to offer us authentic impressions of what it must have been like to be under fire?
Also wouldn’t it be dishonest to weed out work written by such poets as ‘Klaxon’ and Captain , later Admiral Hopwood , because their work would not meet with approval today on the basis of their patriotism and ‘triumphalism’ , and seemingly ignoring the horror of war? They were examples of what was circulating and popular at the time.
But after a time I came round to the point of view expressed in the article, albeit from a different angle. Not because World War 1 poetry is so ‘hopeless’ or ‘ghastly’ , but simply because the more World War 2 poetry I read, the more impressive it is. Offering both literary quality and an insight to the dilemma of how an individuals deals with something to massive, ferocious and impersonal as World War 2.
3rd September 2016
A Letter To The Moon
love dances under mountains
where never the waves fall
her arms are columns of memory
o spell this wilful liberty
for sailors clad in weed
how can she ever be proud?
tell these tears like beads
for airmen bridling the sky
their faces are broken cloud
and bind up the branches of slaughter
for soldiers in shackles of water
whose scythe flows over history ?
whole armies march under seas’
crumpled up horizon
my eyes are drowned in dice
a whirlwind strikes owls freeze
swords fall out of the sun
“who’ll carves the rose from the ice?”
in a helmet plumed with fountains
the hero shouts in the hall ”
J.F. Hendry , (Cadet , Intelligence Corps)
‘More Poems from the Forces
A Collection of Verses By Serving Members of the Navy, Army and Air Force
Edited by Keidrych Rhys , published 1943
See all articles relating to World War 2 here…