World War I Poems Themes

World War I Poems Themes

Compare and contrast the representation of one of the following themes in two of the assigned World War I poems:

  • Early enthusiasm for the Great Warà sense of chivalric ideals of heroism vs. growing objection to mounting atrocities
  • Evidence of the industrial revolution–imagery of technological progress
  • The “alternative reality” of the trench and No-Man’s Land
  • Function of popular imagery à rats, lice, flowers, birds
  • Sunrise/sunset as “fully freighted with implicit aesthetic and moral meaning”(Fussell, p.55)–appropriation of pastoral conventions
  • Endlessness of battle
  • Focus on particular body partsà corporeal specificity
  • Layers of revolution/rebellion: Industrial Revolutionà WW1 itself à Revolt against war’s violence
  • Dichotomizing–Us vs. them, demonizing of the enemy–“the drama of the binary” (Fussell, p.80).

Break of Day in Trenches

–Isaac Rosenberg

The darkness crumbles away.

It is the same old druid Time as ever,

Only a live thing leaps my hand,

A queer sardonic rat,

As I pull the parapet’s poppy

To stick behind my ear.

Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew

Your cosmopolitan sympathies.

Now you have touched this English hand

You will do the same to a German

Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure

To cross the sleeping green between.

It seems you inwardly grin as you pass

Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes,

Less chanced than you for life,

Bonds to the whims of murder,

Sprawled in the bowels of the earth,

The torn fields of France.

What do you see in our eyes

At the shrieking iron and flame

Hurled through still heavens?

What quaver—what heart aghast?

Poppies whose roots are in man’s veins

Drop, and are ever dropping;

But mine in my ear is safe—

Just a little white with the dust.

Returning, We Hear the Larks

–Isaac Rosenberg

Sombre the night is: 

And, though we have our lives, we know 

What sinister threat lurks there. 

Dragging these anguished limbs, we only know 

This poison-blasted track opens on our camp— 

On a little safe sleep. 


But hark! Joy—joy—strange joy. 

Lo! Heights of night ringing with unseen larks: 

Music showering on our upturned listening faces. 


Death could drop from the dark 

As easily as song— 

But song only dropped, 

Like a blind man’s dreams on the sand 

By dangerous tides;

Like a girl’s dark hair, for she dreams no ruin lies there, 

Or her kisses where a serpent hides.Dulce et Decorum Est–Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,

And towards our distant rest began to trudge.

Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,

But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;

Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots

Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.


Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling

And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—

Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.


In all my dreams before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.


If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace

Behind the wagon that we flung him in,

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,

His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.

Anthem for Doomed Youth

–Wilfred Owen



What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?

      — Only the monstrous anger of the guns.

      Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle

Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells; 

      Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—

The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;

      And bugles calling for them from sad shires.


What candles may be held to speed them all?

      Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes

Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.

      The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,

And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

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