At 11pm on Monday 4th August 1914 war was declared on Germany ushering in one of the darkest periods of our history.
For my generation, it is difficult to perceive just what that war was like. The joining up, training in barracks, traveling to war, the action, the fighting, losing close friends, life in the trenches, missing loved ones and returning home after the war. We can only imagine what it was like.
Arthur Clutton Brock asserted that “The greatest war of all time should call out the poets” and it did, in their droves and in an age without Twitter or rolling news, poetry was part of everyday life. So Kipling, Newbolt and Austin weren’t simply entertainment or amusement, they were as CK Stead maintained “men who expressed a sound philosophy in verse”
Soldier poets became the equivalent of modern day war journalists, reporting from the front on all aspects of the conflict and if you listen to journalists today, their reports are rich with poetic device, the alliteration, imagery, rhythms and cadences of their reporting voice.
When I am ignorant of a subject or an era, I turn to the poetry and fiction of the time to act as a guide not the history books. To commemorate the declaration of war, I have devoured the rich vein of First World War Poetry to further my knowledge of what war was like and by doing so developed a deeper understanding and appreciation of what the men who fought and fell went through for peace in our time.
On Monday night, 100 years after the declaration of war, LIGHTS OUT will be one of the largest mass participation events of its kind ever seen in the UK and will complement the candlelit service taking place at Westminster Abbey. I shall be commemorating the declaration of war at Stockport Art Gallery and War Memorial at 9pm where I shall be reading a selection of the World War One poetry that I have been reading and most importantly, reading the names of the 2200 from Stockport who died during that war. At 11pm after the poems and the names have been read out and after a few minutes silence, the candle will be blown out.
The foreign Secretary of the time, Sir Edward Grey said
“The lights are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime”
Also as part of this blog, the librarian in me couldn’t resist compiling a list of poems that have stood out during my research some of which I shall be reading on Monday night.
I have tried to focus on the lesser-known poets, yes, the likes of Sassoon, Housman, Kipling and Owen are part of this collection but the majority of these poets were unknown to me a month ago.
If you can’t make it to one of the Lights Out commemorations, why not simply commemorate in your own way by looking at some of the poems listed below.
The Declaration of War
On the Idle Hill of Summer AE Housman
The Eve of War Geoffrey Faber
August 1914 John Masefield
For all we Have and Are Rudyard Kipling
The Call Jessie Pope
The Conscript William Gibson
Rondeau for the Conscientious Objector DH Lawrence
In Barracks Siegfried Sassoon
In Training Edward Shanks
Marching Men Marjorie Pickthall
Fragment Rupert Brooke
On Distant Shores
First Time in Ivor Gurney
Breakfast William Gibson
Exposure & Futility Wilfred Owen
Winter Warfare & Moonrise Over Battlefield Edgell Rickword
The Redeemer Siegfried Sassoon
Grotesque Frederic Manning
Banishment Siegfried Sassoon
Apologia Pro Poemate Meo Wilfred Owen
My Company Herbert Reade
Bombardment Richard Adlington
Before the Charge Patrick Macgill
Gethsemane Rudyard Kipling
Anthem for Doomed Youth Wilfred Owen
I Tracked a Dead Man Down a Trench W S S S Lyons
The Shell H Smalley Sarson
Back to Rest WN Hodgson
The Next War O Sitwell
If We Return F W Harvey
War Girls Jessie Pope
Air Raid Wilfrid Gibson
A War Film Theresa Hooley
I Looked Up From My Writing Thomas Hardy
May 1915 Charlotte Mew
Hospital Sanctuary Vera Brittain
The Veteran Margaret Postgate Cole
Two Fusiliers Robert Graves
Dead and Buried G A Studdert Kennedy
The Cenotaph Charlotte Mew
The Silence John Adcock
Out of the Mouths of Babes F W Harvey
Elegy in an English Church Yard G K Chesterton
The Superfluous Woman Vera Brittain
Men Fade Like Rocks W J Turner
Picture Show Siegfried Sassoon
If Ye forget G A Studdert Kennedy
War Lesley Coulson
Less we forget