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WAR POETRY | 50 Poems about War | Soldier Poems

Updated on May 8, 2014
War Poetry
War Poetry

War Poetry: Poems about War and Soldier Poems

War poetry: This is a collection of poems about war and soldier poems written in combat. Find First World War poems and videos, poetry from nine wars and Vietnam War Songs.

_____________________________

War is the common denominator of civilizations. More than history books are able to do, war poetry captures the essence of wars and transmits emotional legacies to succeeding generations.

This collection represents a range of thoughts and experiences as only poets can capture them.

Every November 11 on Remembrance Day (Veterans Day) and on Memorial Day (May 26, 2014), it is war poetry that people want to find. People search for the poetry that reflects their own emotional experience losing loved ones to military conflict. They don't want history books. They know what happened. What they want are words which share their pain. Remembrance Day and Memorial Day poems about war reflect the special grief for lives lost in war.

These poems about war display the evil and the destruction that war has brought to humanity since the first generation.

"And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him."

– Bible, Genesis 4:8

One quarter of mankind was destroyed on that day.

Poems About War

Induction
Induction

Induction

by Writer Fox™

There are few things worth dying for.
There are few things worth living for.
Land is not enough for either. It's only dust.
And under that
The corpses buried for six thousand years.
And under that
The rock spewed forth
From a thousand suns.
And the sky is full of balls
Like this one.
You could have your pick of them.
There are enough of them
To go around
And then some.
Land is not enough.
There's always something more
Than that to drive the soldier to his duty.
Don't shoot until you know it.
If not, you'll miss the mark.

A child's bedroom in Israel, riddled with shrapnel from a missile launched by the Iranian funded Hamas government in Gaza City, in November, 2012.
A child's bedroom in Israel, riddled with shrapnel from a missile launched by the Iranian funded Hamas government in Gaza City, in November, 2012.
A kindergarten classroom in Israel, targeted by the Iranian funded Hamas government in Gaza City, in November, 2012.
A kindergarten classroom in Israel, targeted by the Iranian funded Hamas government in Gaza City, in November, 2012.
A Soldier's Child
A Soldier's Child

War poetry reflects the shock of the first attack, the reaction of the civilian population, and the angst of military leadership.


Siren-Swell

by Writer Fox™

Siren-swell
This one's for real
It's not a drill
Slip the slurping baby from the breast.

Bombs bellowing
There's no such thing
As sheltering
Beneath the twisting tangle of these times.

Full alert
The cannons spurt
Their total worth
Gyring on the vortices of pi.

Wing-to-wing
The gathering
Exhibiting
There's no place like war.

There's no place like war.

There's no place like war.


General Staff Headquarters, Tel Aviv, Israel
General Staff Headquarters, Tel Aviv, Israel

General Staff Headquarters Tel Aviv

by Writer Fox™

All your life you have trained
for the day ahead of you
and this day is the imagining
of the next day
of the next week
of the next war.
And the budget is never enough
but it has to be
enough.
The draft numbers are never enough
but they have to be
enough
and somewhere between
a line is drawn
stopping short
of the right answer.

Scan the sky and the sea
and the ground,
intercept communications,
speak to the spies,
look for the signs,
prepare the
defensive-offensive-defense,
the retaliation-response-ratio,
the if/then/what.
Write the plan
in the Book of Plans.

Send for the savants
of strategy.
Tell them to forget
the last war,
the weapons have changed
and you shall not
covet your neighbor's
weapon.
You must covet
a better one.
And someone will tell you
the lands have not changed
but you know they have,
you have the photographs.

Calculate, anticipate
the activation of the plan:
How many sorties
can a pilot fly
before he drowns in the sea
of his sweat
and slips
like a fish
through the egg-bubble?
How many rounds
can a young man fire
before his eyes
lose their focus
and mist-over the sights?
How many times
can the sea rock the sailor
till his bones
unbolt
at the joints?

Calculate, anticipate
the activation of the plan:
Send the diplomats
abroad,
send the equipment brokers
abroad,
place your bets on the race.
Who will buy for you
a silver bowl
of Time?

Calculate, anticipate
the activation of the plan:
Who will go door-to-door
to the kingdoms of the earth?
Count your friends,
find one,
find one!
dare someone
to find one.

And God said,
"You shall not fear"1,
but Fear
is your employer,
and the fear of myopia
is the milk
stirred in your morning coffee,
curded to cheese in your lunch,
fed to your meat for your dinner,
dining with Dimona2
in your dreams,
answering the call in the night:
The instruments did not warn,
the sonar did not detect,
the spot on the lung.
Have someone's head for this.


1 The passage is found in Isaiah 41:13, as well as many other Scripture verses.
2 According to foreign media, Dimona, Israel, is one of the locations of Israel's nuclear reactors. Israel's presumed nuclear capabilities are considered a weapon of last resort, also known as The Samson Option.

The War Prayer by Mark Twain

Mark Twain wrote The War Prayer in 1905 as a protest against the Philippine-American War. His publisher refused to publish it and his family objected, too. Twain said, "I have told the whole truth in that, and only dead men can tell the truth in this world. It can be published after I am dead." The poem was published posthumously in 1916, two years after World War I began. It has been in print since that day.

This video is an excerpt from the prose poem and the text appears below.

The War Prayer by Mark Twain
The War Prayer by Mark Twain
The War Prayer
The War Prayer

This classic belongs in your library. Click to look inside.

 

excerpt from The War Prayer

by Mark Twain

O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle
Be Thou near them! With them – in spirit – we also go forth
from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe.
O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells;
help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead;
help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded,
writhing in pain;
help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire;
help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief;
help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended
the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst,
sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter,
broken in spirit, worn with travail,
imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it
for our sakes who adore Thee,
Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives,
protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps,
water their way with their tears,
stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!
We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love,
and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset
and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts.

Soldiers in Military Parade
Soldiers in Military Parade
The People, Yes
The People, Yes

The complete work. Click to look inside at contents.

 

Soldier Poems

Soldier poems speak to every generation, for the underlying emotions are the same no matter what the war. In this collection of war poetry, you will find poems about soldiers and you find poems written by solders.


excerp from The People, Yes

by Carl Sandburg

The little girl saw her first troop parade and asked,
"What are those?"
"Soldiers."
"What are soldiers?"
"They are for war. They fight and each tries to kill as many of the other side as he can."
The girl held still and studied.
"Do you know . . . I know something?"
"Yes, what is it you know?"
"Sometime they'll give a war and nobody will come."


Verdun destroyed in World War I
Verdun destroyed in World War I

And They Obey

by Carl Sandburg (written in 1916)

Smash down the cities.
Knock the walls to pieces.
Break the factories and cathedrals, warehouses
and homes
Into loose piles of stone and lumber and black
burnt wood:
You are the soldiers and we command you.

Build up the cities.
Set up the walls again.
Put together once more the factories and cathedrals,
warehouses and homes
Into buildings for life and labor:
You are workmen and citizens all: We
command you.


A Dead Statesman

by Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936)


I could not dig; I dared not rob:
Therefore I lied to please the mob.
Now all my lies are proved untrue
And I must face the men I slew.
What tale shall serve me here among
Mine angry and defrauded young?

George Washington Crossing the Delaware
George Washington Crossing the Delaware | Source
Memorial at Concord, Massachusetts
Memorial at Concord, Massachusetts

American War of Independence Poetry

America's War of Independence from British rule (1775 – 1783) is also called the American Revolutionary War. That war not only gave America a place on the map of nations, but it changed the course of Western Civilization.

American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote his famous poem about the war for the completion of a monument commemorating the war's fallen soldiers.

In the video below, former U.S. President William Jefferson Clinton reads this poem, 'Concord Hymn.'

The Spirit of '76
The Spirit of '76 | Source

Concord Hymn

by Ralph Waldo Emerson (written in 1836)

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set today a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.

Civil War Poetry

Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, during the U.S. Civil War
Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, during the U.S. Civil War

Fort Sumter was the scene of the first shot fired in the U.S. Civil War, when Confederate soldiers attacked the Federal fort. After a 34-hour battle, Fort Sumter surrendered to the Confederate forces.

Poetry written during the American Civil War is mostly considered doggerel today, but it is the authentic poetic style of the 1860s. The poetry that has survived in popularity represents the early explorers of free verse poetic style. In this form, Walt Whitman is considered a master of poems about war.

Following are free verse poems about the Civil War.

Civil War at Ft. Sumter
Civil War at Ft. Sumter

Jacob Goodpasture

by Edgar Lee Masters (from Spoon River Anthology)

When Fort Sumter fell and the war came
I cried out in bitterness of soul:
"O glorious republic now no more!"
When they buried my soldier son
To the call of trumpets and the sound of drums
My heart broke beneath the weight
Of eighty years, and I cried:
"Oh, son who died in a cause unjust!
In the strife of Freedom slain!"
And I crept here under the grass.
And now from the battlements of time, behold:
Thrice thirty million souls being bound together
In the love of larger truth,
Rapt in the expectation of the birth
Of a new Beauty,
Sprung from Brotherhood and Wisdom.
I with eyes of spirit see the Transfiguration
Before you see it.
But ye infinite brood of golden eagles nesting ever higher,
Wheeling ever higher, the sun-light wooing
Of lofty places of Thought,
Forgive the blindness of the departed owl.


Read more about the Battle at Ft. Sumter.

Civil War Battle of Missionary Ridge
Civil War Battle of Missionary Ridge
Spoon River Anthology
Spoon River Anthology

This American poetry classic has been in continuous publication since 1915.

 
Storming Missionary Ridge
Storming Missionary Ridge

Knowlt Hoheimer

by Edgar Lee Masters (from Spoon River Anthology)

I was the first fruits of the battle of Missionary Ridge.
When I felt the bullet enter my heart
I wished I had staid at home and gone to jail
For stealing the hogs of Curl Trenary,
Instead of running away and joining the army.
Rather a thousand times the county jail
Than to lie under this marble figure with wings,
And this granite pedestal
Bearing the words, "Pro Patria."
What do they mean, anyway?


Lydia Puckett

by Edgar Lee Masters (from Spoon River Anthology)

Knowlt Hoheimer ran away to the war
The day before Curl Trenary
Swore out a warrant through Justice Arnett
For stealing hogs.
But that's not the reason he turned a soldier.
He caught me running with Lucius Atherton.
We quarreled and I told him never again
To cross my path.
Then he stole the hogs and went to the war –
Back of every soldier is a woman.


Civil War Hospital
Civil War Hospital

Civil War Poetry

Civil War Poetry (Dover Thrift Editions)
Civil War Poetry (Dover Thrift Editions)

The 75 best poems from the U.S. Civil War

 

Walt Whitman worked throughout the war as a volunteer nurse in primitive, battlefield tent hospitals. His Civil War poetry often reflects on the pain of wounded and dying soldiers.


excerpt from The Wound-Dresser

by Walt Whitman

Bearing the bandages, water and sponge,
Straight and swift to my wounded I go,
Where they lie on the ground after the battle brought in,
Where their priceless blood reddens the grass, the ground,
Or to the rows of the hospital tent, or under the roofed hospital,
To the long rows of cots up and down each side I return,
To each and all one after another I draw near, not one do I miss,
An attendant follows holding a tray, he carries a refuse pail,
Soon to be filled with clotted rags and blood, emptied, and filled again.

I onward go, I stop,
With hinged knees and steady hand to dress wounds,
I am firm with each, the pangs are sharp yet unavoidable,
One turns to me his appealing eyes – poor boy! I never knew you,
Yet I think I could not refuse this moment to die for you, if that would save you.

On, on I go, (open doors of time! open hospital doors!)
The crushed head I dress, (poor crazed hand tear not the bandage away,)
The neck of the cavalry-man with the bullet through and through I examine,
Hard the breathing rattles, quite glazed already the eye, yet life struggles hard,
(Come sweet death! be persuaded O beautiful death!
In mercy come quickly.)

From the stump of the arm, the amputated hand,
I undo the clotted lint, remove the slough, wash off the matter and blood,
Back on his pillow the soldier bends with curved neck and side falling head,
His eyes are closed, his face is pale, he dares not look on the bloody stump,
And has not yet looked on it.

I dress a wound in the side, deep, deep,
But a day or two more, for see the frame all wasted and sinking,
And the yellow-blue countenance see.

I dress the perforated shoulder, the foot with the bullet-wound,
Cleanse the one with a gnawing and putrid gangrene, so sickening, so offensive,
While the attendant stands behind aside me holding the tray and pail.

I am faithful, I do not give out,
The fractured thigh, the knee, the wound in the abdomen,
These and more I dress with impassive hand, (yet deep in my breast a fire, a burning flame.)

Civil War Battle
Civil War Battle
Storming Ft. Wagner
Storming Ft. Wagner
The Complete Poems (Penguin Classics)
The Complete Poems (Penguin Classics)

Includes all of Walt Whitman's war poetry.

 

An Army Corps On The March

by Walt Whitman

With its cloud of skirmishers in advance,
With now the sound of a single shot snapping like a whip, and now an
irregular volley,
The swarming ranks press on and on, the dense brigades press on,
Glittering dimly, toiling under the sun--the dust-cover'd men,
In columns rise and fall to the undulations of the ground,
With artillery interspers'd – the wheels rumble, the horses sweat,
As the army corps advances.


Year That Trembled And Reel'd Beneath Me

by Walt Whitman

Year that trembled and reel'd beneath me!
Your summer wind was warm enough, yet the air I breathed froze me,
A thick gloom fell through the sunshine and darken'd me,
Must I change my triumphant songs? said I to myself,
Must I indeed learn to chant the cold dirges of the baffled?
And sullen hymns of defeat?


To A Certain Civilian

by Walt Whitman

Did you ask dulcet rhymes from me?
Did you seek the civilian's peaceful and languishing rhymes?
Did you find what I sang erewhile so hard to follow?
Why I was not singing erewhile for you to follow, to understand – nor
am I now;
(I have been born of the same as the war was born,
The drum-corps' rattle is ever to me sweet music, I love well the
martial dirge,
With slow wail and convulsive throb leading the officer's funeral;)
What to such as you anyhow such a poet as I? therefore leave my
works,
And go lull yourself with what you can understand, and with
piano-tunes,
For I lull nobody, and you will never understand me.

British Military Cross
British Military Cross

First World War Poems

In the summer of 1914, the war known as The Great War began. It was named World War One when its sequel arrived in 1938. The war killed more than 35 million people before it ended in November of 1918.

Wilfred Owen

Many First World War poems were written by soldier poets, that is, soldiers who wrote poetry while in action rather than poets who wrote about soldiers. Chief among the remembered World War I soldier poets is Wilfred Owen.

A British son, Wilfred Edward Salter Owen was killed in action in northern France in 1918, fighting a courageous battle that posthumously earned him the Military Cross. He was 25 years old. His death came one week before the Armistice.

His poems survived in letters written to his mother, in his diaries, and in hand-written manuscripts found with his body. Only a handful of his poems were published prior to his death.

In May, 1918, he wrote a preface for his collection of poetry that he hoped to publish. This is an excerpt:

"This book is not about heroes. English poetry is not yet fit to speak of them. Nor is it about deeds, or lands, nor anything about glory, honor, might, majesty, dominion, or power, except War. Above all I am not concerned with Poetry. My subject is War, and the pity of War.

"The Poetry is in the pity. Yet these elegies are to this generation in no sense consolatory. They may be to the next. All a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true Poets must be truthful."

His poem, Dulce Et Decorum Est, reflects on the Latin poet, Horace. The phrase "Dulce et Decorum est/ Pro patria mori'" translates as:

"It is sweet and right to die for one's country."

– Horace, Odes, III. ii 13.

It is one of the most famous First World War poems and is a war poetry classic.


World War 1 Victims of Chemical Weapons
World War 1 Victims of Chemical Weapons

Dulce Et Decorum Est

by 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 tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped 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 floundering 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
.

In Wilfred Owen's Anthem for a Doomed Youth, there is the haunting premonition that Owen himself would soon fall in action.


World War 1 Soldiers
World War 1 Soldiers
The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen (New Directions Book)
The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen (New Directions Book)

Acclaimed as the greatest war poet in British history. These poems were all written during World War One. Owen died in battle.

 

Anthem For Doomed Youth

by 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.


Isaac Rosenberg

Isaac Rosenberg was killed in action in Fampoux, France, in 1918. He is one of the 16 poets from World War One who are recognized in the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey.

His poem, Break of Day in the Trenches, is one of his most famous.


World War 1 Poppies
World War 1 Poppies

Break Of Day In The Trenches

by 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.


John Alexander McCrae

John Alexander McCrae was a Canadian medical doctor and artillery veteran of the Second Boer War, fighting for the British in South Africa. He served in World War 1 as a surgeon at the Canadian hospital set up in northern France, where he died of pneumonia in 1918. He once remarked to a friend,

"All the goddamn doctors in the world will not win this bloody war: what we need is more and more fighting men."

He wrote In Flanders Fields, perhaps the most famous of all World War 1 poems, when a close friend died in battle.


Poppies between crosses
Poppies between crosses

In Flanders Fields

by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.


Siegfried Sassoon

Siegfried Sassoon wrote many of the famous First World War poems. He wrote as a combat soldier poet. Because he survived the war, he is known as one of the most prolific poets of the war. Following are just a few of his most loved war poems.

Manuscript of 'The General', a War Poem by Siegfried Sassoon
Manuscript of 'The General', a War Poem by Siegfried Sassoon

The General

by Siegfried Sassoon (written in 1917 while serving in World War I)

'Good-morning; good-morning!' the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of 'em dead,
And we're cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
'He's a cheery old card,' grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.
But he did for them both by his plan of attack.


World War I Generals
World War I Generals

Base Details

by Siegfried Sassoon

If I were fierce, and bald, and short of breath,
I'd live with scarlet Majors at the Base,
And speed glum heroes up the line to death.
You'd see me with my puffy petulant face,
Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel,
Reading the Roll of Honour. "Poor young chap,"
I'd say – "I used to know his father well;
Yes, we've lost heavily in this last scrap."
And when the war is done and youth stone dead,
I'd toddle safely home and die – in bed.


Dreamers

by Siegfried Sassoon

Soldiers are citizens of death's grey land,
Drawing no dividend from time's tomorrows.
In the great hour of destiny they stand,
Each with his feuds, and jealousies, and sorrows.
Soldiers are sworn to action; they must win
Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives.
Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin
They think of firelit homes, clean beds and wives.
I see them in foul dug-outs, gnawed by rats,
And in the ruined trenches, lashed with rain,
Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats,
And mocked by hopeless longing to regain
Bank-holidays, and pictures shows, and spats,
And going to the office in the train.


Suicide in the Trenches War Poem Sung by Peter Doherty

Siegfried Sassoon's famous World War I poem is put by music by Peter Doherty.


Suicide In The Trenches

by Siegfried Sassoon

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.


War With Swords
War With Swords

Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg (1878 – 1967) was an America poet who wrote poems about war during World War I and World War II. His war poetry is among the most famous in American literature.


Wars

by Carl Sandburg (written in 1916)

In the old wars drum of hooves and the beat of shod feet.
In the new wars hum of motors and the tread of rubber tires.
In the wars to come silent wheels and whirr of rods not
yet dreamed out in the heads of men.

In the old wars clutches of short swords and jabs into faces with spears.
In the new wars long range guns and smashed walls, guns
running a spit of metal and men falling in tens and twenties.
In the wars to come new silent deaths, new silent hurlers
not yet dreamed out in the heads of men.

In the old wars kings quarreling and thousands of men following.
In the new wars kings quarreling and millions of men following.
In the wars to come kings kicked under the dust and
millions of men following great causes not yet
dreamed out in the heads of men.


Killers

by Carl Sandburg (written in 1916)

I am singing to you
Soft as a man with a dead child speaks;
Hard as a man in handcuffs,
Held where he cannot move:

Under the sun
Are sixteen million men,
Chosen for shining teeth,
Sharp eyes, hard legs,
And a running of young warm blood in their wrists.

And a red juice runs on the green grass;
And a red juice soaks the dark soil.
And the sixteen million are killing . . . and killing
and killing.

I never forget them day or night:
They beat on my head for memory of them;
They pound on my heart and I cry back to them,
To their homes and women, dreams and games.

I wake in the night and smell the trenches,
And hear the low stir of sleepers in lines--
Sixteen million sleepers and pickets in the dark:
Some of them long sleepers for always,

Some of them tumbling to sleep to-morrow for always,
Fixed in the drag of the world's heartbreak,
Eating and drinking, toiling . . . on a long job of
killing.
Sixteen million men.


Fighting in France in World War 1
Fighting in France in World War 1
The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry (Penguin Classics)
The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry (Penguin Classics)

This is the most comprehensive collection of poems from the First World War. Click to look at contents.

 

Joyce Kilmer

Fighting in France in 1918, American poet Joyce Kilmer wrote this poem upon losing 21 comrades in battle. The poem was read at their burial.

Five months later, the poem was read at Kilmer's own grave when he was killed in action at the age of 31.

Rouge Bouquet

by Joyce Kilmer

In a wood they call the Rouge Bouquet
There is a new-made grave to-day,
Built by never a spade nor pick
Yet covered with earth ten meters thick.
There lie many fighting men,
Dead in their youthful prime,
Never to laugh nor love again
Nor taste the Summertime.
For Death came flying through the air
And stopped his flight at the dugout stair,
Touched his prey and left them there,
Clay to clay.
He hid their bodies stealthily
In the soil of the land they fought to free
And fled away.
Now over the grave abrupt and clear
Three volleys ring;
And perhaps their brave young spirits hear
The bugle sing:
"Go to sleep!
Go to sleep!
Slumber well where the shell screamed and fell.
Let your rifles rest on the muddy floor,
You will not need them any more.
Danger's past;
Now at last,
Go to sleep!"

There is on earth no worthier grave
To hold the bodies of the brave
Than this place of pain and pride
Where they nobly fought and nobly died.
Never fear but in the skies
Saints and angels stand
Smiling with their holy eyes
On this new-come band.
St. Michael's sword darts through the air
And touches the aureole on his hair
As he sees them stand saluting there,
His stalwart sons;
And Patrick, Brigid, Columkill
Rejoice that in veins of warriors still
The Gael's blood runs.
And up to Heaven's doorway floats,
From the wood called Rouge Bouquet,
A delicate cloud of buglenotes
That softly say:
"Farewell!
Farewell!
Comrades true, born anew, peace to you!
Your souls shall be where the heroes are
And your memory shine like the morning-star.
Brave and dear,
Shield us here.
Farewell!"


Other First World War poems can be found at the First World War Poetry Digital Archive, maintained by the University of Oxford.

War Poetry from Spanish Civil War

Guernica Painting by Pablo Picasso
Guernica Painting by Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso painted Guernica in reaction to Nazi Germany's bombing of Guernica, Spain, on April 26, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War. The air strike killed 1,654 civilians. Picasso's painting is the emblem of war's innocent victims.


In Guernica

by Norman Rosten

In Guernica the dead children
Were laid out in order on the sidewalk,
In their white starched dresses,
In their pitiful white dresses.

On their foreheads and breasts
Are the little holes where death came in
As thunder, while they were playing
their important summer games.

Do not weep for them, Madre.
They are gone forever, the little ones,
Straight to heaven to the saints,
And God will fill the bullet holes with candy.

World War Two Poetry

Many people ask why there are fewer poems from World War II, compared to the First World War. The answer is simply that most of the poets and their poems did not survive the conflict.

What we do have for World War Two poetry is no less remarkable and documents the struggles of a different generation. Many of the World War Two poets were children of World War One soldiers and grew up with stories of the Great World War all around them.

Following are three poems from soldier poets who served in the war.

Fighting World War 2 on Horseback
Fighting World War 2 on Horseback

Keith Douglas

Keith Douglas was already a published poet while studying at Oxford when the war began. He served almost three years before he was killed in action at Normandy.

He was 24.

Aristocrats

by Keith Douglas

The noble horse with courage in his eye,
clean in the bone, looks up at a shellburst:
away fly the images of the shires
but he puts the pipe back in his mouth.
Peter was unfortunately killed by an 88;
it took his leg away, he died in the ambulance.
I saw him crawling on the sand, he said
It's most unfair, they've shot my foot off.
How can I live among this gentle
obsolescent breed of heroes, and not weep?
Unicorns, almost,
for they are fading into two legends
in which their stupidity and chivalry
are celebrated. Each, fool and hero, will be an immortal.
These plains were their cricket pitch
and in the mountains the tremendous drop fences
brought down some of the runners. Here then
under the stones and earth they dispose themselves,
I think with their famous unconcern.
It is not gunfire I hear, but a hunting horn.


Alun Lewis, a Soldier Poet in World War II
Alun Lewis, a Soldier Poet in World War II

Alun Lewis

A Soldier Poet, Alun Lewis saw combat against the Japanese in Burma. He died there from a gunshot wound in 1944. He was 29.

Two volumes of World War Two poetry survive as well as many short stories.


All Day It Has Rained

by Alun Lewis

All day it has rained, and we on the edge of the moors
Have sprawled in our bell-tents, moody and dull as boors,
Groundsheets and blankets spread on the muddy ground
And from the first grey wakening we have found
No refuge from the skirmishing fine rain
And the wind that made the canvas heave and flap
And the taut wet guy-ropes ravel out and snap,
All day the rain has glided, wave and mist and dream,
Drenching the gorse and heather, a gossamer stream
Too light to stir the acorns that suddenly
Snatched from their cups by the wild south-westerly
Pattered against the tent and our upturned dreaming faces.
And we stretched out, unbuttoning our braces,
Smoking a Woodbine, darning dirty socks,
Reading the Sunday papers – I saw a fox
And mentioned it in the note I scribbled home;
And we talked of girls and dropping bombs on Rome,
And thought of the quiet dead and the loud celebrities
Exhorting us to slaughter, and the herded refugees;
– Yet thought softly, morosely of them, and as indifferently
As of ourselves or those whom we
For years have loved, and will again
Tomorrow maybe love; but now it is the rain
Possesses us entirely, the twilight and the rain.
And I can remember nothing dearer or more to my heart
Than the children I watched in the woods on Saturday
Shaking down burning chestnuts for the schoolyard's merry play
Or the shaggy patient dog who followed me
By Sheet and Steep and up the wooded scree
To the Shoulder o' Mutton where Edward Thomas brooded long
On death and beauty – till a bullet stopped his song.


Poets of World War II (American Poets Project)
Poets of World War II (American Poets Project)

There are 62 American poets featured in this collection, edited by the soldier poet Karl Shapiro.

 
Troop Train in World War 2
Troop Train in World War 2

Karl Shapiro

Karl Shapiro served for the U.S. in the Pacific during World War Two. He died at the age of 86 in the year 2000, leaving behind a full body of poetic works. He is commended for his collection of World War Two poetry (Poets of World War II) which remains as the definitive poetry legacy of the war. I encourage you to get a copy.


Troop Train

by Karl Shapiro

It stops the town we come through. Workers raise
Their oily arms in good salute and grin.
Kids scream as at a circus. Business men
Glance hopefully and go their measured way.
And women standing at their dumbstruck door
More slowly wave and seem to warn us back,
As if a tear blinding the course of war
Might once dissolve our iron in their sweet wish.

Fruit of the world, O clustered on ourselves
We hang as from a cornucopia
In total friendliness, with faces bunched
To spray the streets with catcalls and with leers.
A bottle smashes on the moving ties
And eyes fixed on a lady smiling pink
Stretch like a rubber-band and snap and sting
The mouth that wants the drink-of-water kiss.

And on through crummy continents and days,
Deliberate, grimy, slightly drunk we crawl,
The good-bad boys of circumstance and chance,
Whose bucket-helmets bang the empty wall
Where twist the murdered bodies of our packs
Next to the guns that only seem themselves.
And distance like a strap adjusted shrinks,
Tightens across the shoulder and holds firm.

Here is a deck of cards; out of this hand
Dealer, deal me my luck, a pair of bulls,
The right draw to a flush, the one-eyed jack.
Diamonds and hearts are red but spades are black,
And spades are spades and clubs are clovers – black.
But deal me winners, souvenirs of peace.
This stands to reason and arithmetic,
Luck also travels and not all come back.

Trains lead to ships and ships to death or trains,
And trains to death or trucks, and trucks to death,
Or trucks lead to the march, the march to death,
Or that survival which is all our hope;
And death leads back to trucks and trains and ships,
But life leads to the march, O flag! at last
The place of life found after trains and death –
Nightfall of nations brilliant after war.


Piles of shoes found at Auschwitz
Piles of shoes found at Auschwitz

The Holocaust

World War Two Poetry also includes poetry about the Holocaust, the world's most disturbing memory of this war. So profound was its effect on humanity, that it has its own remembrance day and has become a literary genre as well.


Touring Poland

by Writer Fox™

Yes, I have seen the great caches,
Rooms full of shoes and eyeglasses
Inside the barbed fence of Auschwitz.
And in Treblinka1, plowed in rows,
The tiny little shoes and clothes.
Where is the field of teddy bears?
"They did not come this far with those,
They only came here with their clothes."
One million little girls and boys
Would not have come without their toys.
They must have come with teddy bears
Held tightly with little fingers.
Would not have come without their toys.
"They did not come this far with those,
They only came here with their clothes."
Where is the room where you keep those
Ten million little child-fingers
And the ten million tiny toes?
"In Poland now, nobody knows."
You're wrong, I said, GOD knows. GOD knows!


A child's shoe and chess piece found at Treblinka
A child's shoe and chess piece found at Treblinka

1Dr. Adolf Berman, a survivor of the Warsaw ghetto, was with Soviet troops when they reached the Treblinka concentration camp. The former death camp had been destroyed and plowed under.

Testifying in Jerusalem at the Eichmann Trial (May 3, 1961, session 26), he recalled, "I saw a sight which I shall never forget, a tremendous area of many kilometers, and all over this area there were scattered skulls, bones – tens of thousands; and piles of shoes – among them tens of thousands of little shoes." Berman carried away one of the 'little' shoes. "I brought it as a very precious thing, because I knew that over a million of such little shoes, scattered over all the fields of death, could easily be found." This shoe is now on display at the Yad Vashem Museum of the Holocaust in Jerusalem, Israel. It is the last exhibit.

The Exodus Arriving in Haifa Port in 1947
The Exodus Arriving in Haifa Port in 1947
The Exodus Ship with its 4,515 passengers (1,672 of whom were children) was sent back to the DP camps of Germany.
The Exodus Ship with its 4,515 passengers (1,672 of whom were children) was sent back to the DP camps of Germany.
Jordanian Artillery Fire over Jerusalem, 1948
Jordanian Artillery Fire over Jerusalem, 1948

Israel War of Independence Poetry

At the end of World War I, the victors broke up the Ottoman Empire and the Holy Land was administered by a Mandate given to Britain. On November 2, 1917, the United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour issued a declaration to Britain's Jewish community that called for the establishment of a Jewish nation in the Holy Land.

During the 1930s, when many Jews were fleeing the Nazi takeover of Europe, Britain closed the gates of Jewish immigration. This policy continued until April 1947, when the United States committed its military forces to intervene against the British to allow the resettlement of 100,000 Jewish Holocaust survivors.

Unable to stand against the resistance of Arab governments, the U.K. petitioned the U.N. to take jurisdiction for the Holy Land and to terminate its mandate. By a U.N. vote on November 29, 1947, the Holy Land was to be a nation for Jews and the land on the eastern bank of the Jordan River was appointed as a nation for Arabs. The British Mandate was to be terminated with withdrawal of forces from the territory as soon as possible. Amidst the euphoria of his fellow Jews, future first President of Israel Chaim Weizmann issued a dire warning:

"No state is ever given on a silver platter."

Jewish poet Nathan Alterman published his poem Magash Hakesef (The Silver Platter) in early December, 1947. It is the most famous of all Israeli poems about war.

True to Weizmann's prediction, the U.N. partition plan – which was accepted by the international Jewish Agency on behalf of the Jewish people – was rejected by the Arab Higher Committee and the battle against the Jewish state began. It became a full-blown regional war the day the U.K. military forces left the country on May 14, 1948, the Israel War of Independence.

The Silver Platter is now included in many Jewish Prayer Books.


Young Jewish Woman Throws a Grenade in Israel's War of Independence
Young Jewish Woman Throws a Grenade in Israel's War of Independence

The Silver Platter

by Nathan Alterman (1910 – 1970), and translated from the Hebrew by David P. Stern

…And the land will grow still
Crimson skies dimming, misting
Slowly paling again
Over smoking frontiers

As the nation stands up
Torn at heart but existing
To receive its first wonder
In two thousand years

As the moment draws near
It will rise, darkness facing
Stand straight in the moonlight
In terror and joy

...When across from it step out
Towards it slowly pacing
In plain sight of all
A young girl and a boy

Dressed in battle gear, dirty
Shoes heavy with grime

On the path they will climb up
While their lips remain sealed

To change garb, to wipe brow
They have not yet found time
Still bone weary from days
And from nights in the field

Full of endless fatigue
And all drained of emotion

Yet the dew of their youth
Is still seen on their head

Thus like statues they stand
Stiff and still with no motion
And no sign that will show
If they live or are dead

Then a nation in tears
And amazed at this matter
Will ask: who are you?
And the two will then say

With soft voice: We--
Are the silver platter
On which the Jews' state
Was presented today

Then they fall back in darkness
As the dazed nation looks
And the rest can be found
In the history books.

Vietnam War Songs

Few poems from the Vietnam era have survived in popularity; but the songs remain. There was a moment in musical time – between the surfing songs of the late 1950s and the Beatles' release of their albums Revolver (1966) and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) – when folk-pop emerged. Song lyrics were printed with albums for the first time. The demand was for the poetry. This is the unique mark that Vietnam War songs made on musical history.

Several recordings from the folk-pop music of those years have stood the test of time by retaining their popularity. What follows are favorite war song lyrics from the Vietnam War period. Many of these Vietnam War songs are cultural icons that play in any American war and military conflict.

Where Have All the Flowers Gone? by Pete Seeger and Joe Hickerson

Where Have All the Flowers Gone? shot to the top of the charts when the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary recorded it on their namesake, first album in 1962. The album was #1 in the U.S. for seven weeks and among Billboard Magazine's Top Ten for ten months. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, it became the ultimate protest song for the Vietnam War. The folk singing group – Mary Travers, Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow – continually performed this song until Mary's death in 2009.

"Where have all the young men gone?
Gone for soldiers every one."

Watch this vintage recording of Peter, Paul and Mary in concert and then read the transcription of the lyrics below the video:

'Where Have All the Flowers Gone' Vietnam War Song Lyrics
'Where Have All the Flowers Gone' Vietnam War Song Lyrics
Battle Notes: Music of the Vietnam War
Battle Notes: Music of the Vietnam War

The songs from the Vietnam War.

 

Universal Soldier by Buffy Sainte-Marie

Canadian folk singer Buffy Sainte-Marie wrote the lyrics and music for Universal Soldier and released the song on her first album in 1964. It was picked up by a British folksinger, Donovan, who released his recording in the U.K. in the summer of 1965. Donovan's record scored the hit for this song, and it reverberated back to the U.S. as the Vietnam War hit center stage when the lottery to draft conscripts began in December, 1969.

Sainte-Marie describes writing this poem:

"The 1960s [in the U.S.] for me was about alternatives and students. Students were saying what was on our mind. Everybody and his sister played a guitar and we were talking to each other. Caffeine was the drug and I think it was an incredible, incredible time of spontaneity, and sharing and communication. They were trying to tell us, however, that there was no war in Vietnam [in 1964]. But we knew that there was and we believed that there was.

"There was a night when I was travelling – somehow I was stranded in San Francisco airport – and I had a morning flight on the way to Toronto where I had an engagement in Yorkville at the Purple Onion, which was kind of a hippie place, a student-movement kind of center. It was the middle of the night and some soldiers came in wheeling their buddies on stretchers and wheelchairs. I had never seen anything like that. These guys were all bandaged and shot up. And I got to talking to some of these soldiers and they knew that there was a war.

"But what it did for me: It made me question, who is responsible for war? I mean, was it these guys? You can't just point your finger at them, although they were there. Or, maybe it's generals; maybe it's the generals who make a career of telling these guys what to do. But maybe that doesn't go far enough. I mean, who tells the generals what to do? Who points the generals in the army at somebody else? Ah, it's the politicians. But here I am, flying on the way to Toronto, and it had to go farther.

"By the time I got to the Purple Onion, I said, 'Who elects the politicians?' Ah, it's us. Right. 'His orders come from far away no more. They come from him and you and me. And brothers, can't you see, this is not the way we put an end to war.' So, it's about individual responsibility."

This video is Donovan Singing Universal Soldier. Song lyrics are below the video. This is one of the most well-known Vietnam War songs.

'Universal Soldier' Vietnam War Song Lyrics
'Universal Soldier' Vietnam War Song Lyrics

The Universal Coward by Jan Berry

The success of Universal Soldier met with opposition. One opponent of the poem was Jan Berry of the popular musical partnership Jan and Dean. Barry, performing solo, released a song in response to the Donovan hit – The Universal Coward (1965). The war had its supporters and its subtractors. Vietnam War songs reflect both opinions.

This is the original Jan Berry voice recording, with historic and current screen shots. Transcribed lyrics follow the video.

Universal Coward Vietnam War Song Lyrics
Universal Coward Vietnam War Song Lyrics

Eve of Destruction by P. F. Sloan

In 1965, a 19-year-old billed as P. F. Sloan wrote Eve of Destruction. The song was recorded by Barry McGuire and became an instant hit in the U.S., reaching the top of the charts by September, 1965. Some radio stations in America and in Scotland banned the song as an anti-Vietnam War message. In England, the BBC severely censored its airing.

This video, with the original Barry McGuire soundtrack, of the Vietnam War song has been played over 2,000,000 times on YouTube. The transcription of the song lyrics follows, below the video.

Eve of Destruction Vietnam War Song Lyrics
Eve of Destruction Vietnam War Song Lyrics

Ballad of the Green Beret by Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler

This song hit the top of the charts for five weeks in 1966, and has sold over nine million copies. It is continually played in the U.S.

Ballad of the Green Beret Vietnam War Song Lyrics
Ballad of the Green Beret Vietnam War Song Lyrics
Carrying the Darkness, Vietnam War Poems
Carrying the Darkness, Vietnam War Poems

Vietnam War Soldier Poems

These Vietnam War poems are excerpts from the book Carrying the Darkness: The Poetry of the Vietnam War. A review of this book follows.


Guerrilla War

by W. D. Ehrhart

It's practically impossible
to tell civilians
from the Viet Cong.

Nobody wears uniforms.
They all talk
the same language
(and you couldn't understand them
even if they didn't).

They tape grenades
inside their clothes,
and carry satchel charges
in their market baskets.

Even their women fight.
And young boys.
And girls.

It's practically impossible
to tell civilians
from the Viet Cong.

After awhile,
you quit trying.


The 'Napalm Girl'  from the Vietnam War
The 'Napalm Girl' from the Vietnam War | Source

Chemical defoliants and chemical weapons were used in the Vietnam War. The Napalm Girl photo at the right was distributed by The Associated Press and appeared in every major newspaper and magazine in the U.S. It depicts children hit by napalm chemical weapons during the war. At the center is a nine-year-old girl whose clothes were burned off by napalm and she suffered burns over half of her body. The photographer, Nick Ut, saved the little girl's life and won a Pulitzer Prize for this photo.

The horrors of chemical toxins was often a theme in soldier poems from the Vietnam War.


excerpt from Along The Mekong

by John Balaban

1. Crossing on the Mekong Ferry, Reading the August 14 New Yorker

Near mud-tide mangrove swamps, under the drilling sun
the glossy cover, styled green print, struck the eye:
trumpet-burst yellow blossoms, grapevine leaves,
– nasturtiums or pumpkin flowers? They twined
in tangles by our cottage in Pennsylvania.
Inside, another article by Thomas Whiteside.
2, 4, 5-T, teratogenicity in births;
South Vietnam 1/7th defoliated; residue
in rivers, foods, and mother's milk.
With a scientific turn of mind I can understand
that malformations in lab mice may not occur in children
but when, last week, I ushered hare-lipped, tusk-toothed kids
to surgery in Saigon, I wondered, what did they drink
that I have drunk. What dioxin, picloram, arsenic
have knitted in my cells, in my wife now carrying
our first child. Pigs were squealing in a truck.
Through the slats, I saw one lather the foam in his mouth.


Vietnam War Helicopters in Battle
Vietnam War Helicopters in Battle

excerpt from Mau Than

by John Balaban

4.
Out of the night, wounded with the gibberings of dogs,
wheezing with the squeaks of rats,
out of the night, its belly split
by jet whine and mortar blast,
scissored by the claws of children,
street-sleepers, ripping their way free
from cocoons of mosquito netting
to flee the rupturing bursts
and the air dancing with razors
–out, I came, to safe haven.
Nor looked, nor asked further.
Who would? What more? I said.
I said: Feed and bathe me.
In Japan I climbed Mr. Hiei in midwinter.
The deer snuffled my mittens.
The monkeys came to beg.
I met Moses meeting God in the clouds.
The cold wind cleared my soul.
The mountain was hidden in mist. Friend,
I am back to gather the blood in a cup.

The U.S. Vietnam War Memorial Commemorating the Loss of 58,152 Souls in the War
The U.S. Vietnam War Memorial Commemorating the Loss of 58,152 Souls in the War

Vietnam War Poems Anthology Review

For the most part, this anthology of Vietnam War poems is a collection of poetry by soldier poets. It is one of the few volumes of Vietnam War poems that is still available for purchase. This edition was published in 1989 and will probably not be published again. For that reason alone, it's worth owning. It will, no doubt, be a collector's item.

I have a copy of this book. The poetry describes the everyday encounters of U.S. troops sent to Vietnam. You will not find the grand and glorious language of poets from World War I and World War II, nor of the U.S. Civil War. These poems are different because the war was different. American life, America's existence, was not threatened in this war. It was a war of a different duty, but the blood that was spilled was the same American blood.

Last Lambs: New & Selected Poems of Vietnam
Last Lambs: New & Selected Poems of Vietnam

Riveting collection of Vietnam War poems and stories.

 

Vietnam War Quiz


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Answers: The Vietnam war began in November, 1955.

The U.S. entered the war with combat troops on March 8, 1965.

The Paris Peace accords were signed on January 27, 1973.

The U.S. cancelled its involvement in the war on August 15, 1973.

The largest helicopter evacuation in history began on April 29, 1975, and Saigon fell to the communists the next day.

Ball Turret Gunner in World War 2 Plane
Ball Turret Gunner in World War 2 Plane

Air Force War Poetry

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner is the most famous poem of World War Two. It's American author attached this note to the poem when it was published in 1945:

"A ball turret was a Plexiglas sphere set into the belly of a B-17 or B-24, and inhabited by two .50 caliber machine-guns and one man, a short small man. When this gunner tracked with his machine guns a fighter attacking his bomber from below, he revolved with the turret; hunched upside-down in his little sphere, he looked like the fetus in the womb. The fighters which attacked him were armed with cannon firing explosive shells. The hose was a steam hose."


The Death Of The Ball Turret Gunner

by Randall Jarrell

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

John Magee holds a special place in the hearts of pilots the world over. An American, he joined the Canadian Air Force before the U.S. entered World War Two and was killed in flight over Lincolnshire, England. He was 19 years old.

He wrote the most famous air force war poem ever written, High Flight. He wrote the poem in the cockpit while flying at 30,000 feet and mailed it to his parents upon landing.


World War Two planes over England
World War Two planes over England

High Flight

by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew.
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Israel Air Force F151 Pilot
Israel Air Force F151 Pilot

Below is modern air force war poetry.


Pilot

by Writer Fox™

Rise in the dark
And in the dark spirit
Of the purpose
Zip the war suit
Shut up your heart
To do your part
Briefed in the routine of it
Mount the war-bird
Belly full of bombs
And on the tarmac
Wait. Hold back.
Pause.
Because birds gliding on
The gilded wings of dawn
Deliver their ordnance of song
Then go
Fly your swift mission of sorrows
So birds may sing
In our land of tomorrows.

Bird on Israeli Soldier's Boot
Bird on Israeli Soldier's Boot
Israel Jet Surveillance Flight Takeoff
Israel Jet Surveillance Flight Takeoff

Surveillance Flight

by Writer Fox™

Frisk the long sides of the night
For the hidden weapon
Concealed in a dark fold,
Unsuspected, undetected.
It is there. Find it.

Slice through the black air
With a swooshing of steel
And chop up the night like a geode,
Until you find it.
It is there.

Israel Air Force Sky Valentine
Israel Air Force Sky Valentine
Takeoff from Tel Nof Air Force Base in Israel
Takeoff from Tel Nof Air Force Base in Israel

Tel Nof1

by Writer Fox™

New love
Scramble start
Twin throttles
Into afterburner
White spill
Of jet spew
The sky speaking
Wind shears
Already the signs:
Hard landing.


1Tel Nof is an Air Force base in central Israel. The photo is an Israeli Air Force F-15I Ra'am/Eagle fighter jet, in takeoff from Tel Nof.

Poetry in Motion

Did you know that poets and pilots use the same part of the brain when they ply their crafts? Below is a poem written by pilots on the air instead of on paper.

How To Make a Heart in the Sky:

Israel Air Force Pilot, Flying Higher
Israel Air Force Pilot, Flying Higher

How long does it take to fly the width of Israel in a fighter jet?


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Israel Gas Mask 1990
Israel Gas Mask 1990
Israeli children receiving gas masks.
Israeli children receiving gas masks.
Israeli children running to bomb shelter when air raid siren is sounded.
Israeli children running to bomb shelter when air raid siren is sounded.
Iran: The Nuclear Challenge
Iran: The Nuclear Challenge

The present threat to Israel and the world. Click to look inside.

 

First Gulf War Poetry

First Gulf War Poetry represents a brief period of actual combat. This was the first war that had live, 24-hour coverage thanks to CNN. On the other side of the planet, people watched in disbelief at what looked like a surreal, magnificent fireworks display. On the ground, those near the conflict had a much different experience.

This Gulf War poem was written as Israel prepared for the 40 Iraqi Scud missiles that were soon to hit the nation.


Simultaneous Transmission

(from Jerusalem, August 26, 1990, three weeks after Iraq invaded Kuwait and the First Gulf War began.)

by Writer Fox™

The Lord

The Civil Defense Authority

is my Shepherd;

issued guidelines
for the protection against
chemical warfare

I shall not want.

Be prepared
to protect yourself.

He maketh me to lie down

Your building's shelter
will protect you against

in green pastures:

bombing and shelling.

He leadeth me
beside the still waters.

. . . plastic jerry cans
of water, hermetically sealed . . .

He restoreth my soul:

. . . personal items
such as reading glasses . . .
books . . .
for each family member . . .

He leadeth me in the paths
of righteousness

. . . inoculation booklet . . .

for His Name's sake.

Allow anyone
to take cover
in your shelter.

Yea, though I walk
through the valley
of the shadow

In case of chemical attack

of death,

place the mask
over your face.

I will fear no evil:

In case of injury
by gas

for Thou art with me;

use the atropine syringe

Thy rod and Thy staff

and the purifying powder

they comfort me.

in accordance
with the instructions.

Thou preparest a table
before me

Keep enough food
to last for two weeks.

in the presence

In the case

of

of attack,

mine enemies:

the warning signal –
a rising and falling siren
will be sounded.

Thou anointest my head with

You should have a
first-aid kit
which includes bandages,
dressings,

oil;

iodine,

my cup runneth over.

triangles of cloth
and gauze pads.

Surely

In an emergency situation

goodness

help neighbors,

and

children

mercy

old people

shall

and the disabled

follow me

Keep in contact with them,
talk to them,
help them,

all the days

Be prepared
for the possibility

of my life:

of an extended stay.

and I will dwell

In case of a large fire

in the house

be ready to leave the house
immediately.

of the

When the all-clear
signal is heard,

Lord

you may
cautiously

for-

leave
the shelter.

ever.

Oil fires that burned in Kuwait during the First Gulf War, 1990-1991
Oil fires that burned in Kuwait during the First Gulf War, 1990-1991

One of the many tragedies of the First Gulf War was the effect on the environment.


Black Dove

by Writer Fox™

Before the war we knew the enemy
We knew his face
But when it began
The war became the enemy
And its face was every face:

It was the waiting of the worried mother;
It was the face of fear
The young man wore as a new uniform;
It was the wrench of wild eyes
Looking for food;
It was the stupor of eyes
Looking for sleep;
It was the child whose eyes were burned,
And she could no longer cry;
It was the face of a thousand children
Who could do nothing but cry;
It was the man who came back
Without a face
And his is the face we remember
When we remember the war.

And when peace came
We were told
That it was a ream of fine paper
Blotting the black ink
Of so many black scrawls
Of so many men who did this to us.

And the radio gave the report
And sang us a song:

See this great peace
A dove released
Look to the skies
See the dove rise

But we could not see it
Because the skies were black
And so was the dove.

Kuwait on Fire During the First Gulf War
Kuwait on Fire During the First Gulf War
Clamor (Cleveland State University Poetry Center New Poetry)
Clamor (Cleveland State University Poetry Center New Poetry)

This poet's first book of poetry won the Cleveland State University First Book Prize. These poems were written while Fenton's husband was deployed as a medic in Baghdad. "They marry with lyric ferocity the personal and the political in an examination of language and love in 21st century wartime."

 
Corkscrew Landing in Baghdad
Corkscrew Landing in Baghdad

Second Gulf War Poetry

The following poem is an excerpt from a new collection from an American poet, Clamor by Elyse Fenton. It represents one of the few from the genre of Second Gulf War poetry. Surely more poems will surface

Word From The Front

by Elyse Fenton

His voice over the wind-strafed line
drops its familiar tone to answer,
Yes, we did a corkscrew landing down
into the lit-up city
, and I'm nodding

on my end, a little pleased by my own
insider's knowledge of the way
planes avert danger by spiraling
deep into the coned center of sky

deemed safe, and I can't help but savor
the sound of the word – the tracer round
of its pronunciation – and the image –
a plane corkscrewing

down into the verdant green
neck of Baghdad's bottle-glass night
so I don't yet register the casual solemnity
of newscaster banter

falling like spent shells
from both our mouths, nor am I
startled by the feigned evenness
in my lover's tone, the way

he wrests the brief quaver
from his voice like a pilot
pulling hard out of an engineless
plummet, but only at the last minute

and with the cratered ground
terrifying, in sight.


_________________________________________________________________

2014 Poet's Market
2014 Poet's Market

Write Your Own Poetry for Payment -Thousands of poetry publishers are listed with writers guidelines, contact information and payment scale. Get paid this year for writing poetry.

 

Author Bio

Writer Fox™ war poetry on this page appears for the first time online. All poems were previously published in North American and international literary publications, such as Nexus (of Wright State University), I Speak for Peace (Wellesley College), Sri Chinmoy Spiritual Poetry Awards, Bitterroot, The Harbinger (University of South Alabama), Response/A Contemporary Jewish Review (University of Oxford), Writer's Journal Magazine, Midwest Poetry Review, and anthologized in The Gulf War: Many Perspectives (Vergin Press), and Out of Season (Amagansett Press).

Writer Fox™ received the 2002 Israel Immigrant Artist grant for creative writing for the epic poem, Combat Veteran, which is a fictionalized account of the Yom Kippur War and the actual Battle of the Israeli Seventh Brigade in the Valley of Tears (Emek Habacha).

Connect with Writer Fox™ on Google+.


_________________________________________________________________

Peace Now
Peace Now

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Read a narrative poem about peace and the definition of peace. Find 20 poetic definitions of peace from war, first published in The Journal of New Jersey Poets:

Poem About Peace | Definition of Peace

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Divorce Poems
Divorce Poems

Read poems about divorce, including poems from a Pulitzer Prize winning collection in this online resource:

Divorce Poems

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Jerusalem Poems
Jerusalem Poems

Read famous poems about the most spiritual city on earth and relive its history in poetry.

Poems about Jerusalem

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Winter Poems
Winter Poems

Find more than 50 poems about the winter season in this poetry collection, which includes poems by the world's most famous poets as well as winter poems written by children.

Winter Poems

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Spring Poems
Spring Poems

Read more than 60 best spring poems and spring poems for kids in this illustrated, online collection:

Spring Poems and Spring Poems for Kids

_____________________________

Share don't copy.

Some photos are courtesy of U.S. Library of Congress, U.S. Air Force, Israel Air Force, Israel Defense Forces, and used with permission.

You can leave your own favorite war poetry in the Comments section below. Scroll down.

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    • whonunuwho profile image

      whonunuwho 3 years ago from United States

      Astonishing display of fine poetry and well received my friend. whonu

    • Writer Fox profile image
      Author

      Writer Fox 3 years ago from the wadi near the little river

      Thank you so very much! I don't know how you found this so quickly. I just hit the publish button!

    • suzzycue profile image

      Susan Britton 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      An awesome collection of war poems. You did an amazing job of putting this together on one page where it really makes a statement. Well done.

    • Writer Fox profile image
      Author

      Writer Fox 3 years ago from the wadi near the little river

      Thank you, Suzzycue. (That rhymed!) Collecting war poetry is something I've done for many years.

    • suzzycue profile image

      Susan Britton 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Yes it did. You are welcome. What a great hobby to have. Glad you shared it with me.

    • brakel2 profile image

      Audrey Selig 3 years ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

      You outdid yourself on this hub. What a great job of putting this collection of poems together. The vibrant associated pics make the poetry stand out. I read part of it before and shared and finished it today. I like the George Bush pics, and the destruction pics sure tell the story of what happened. This hub deserves hub of the day. I know it contains many words of wisdom. Congrats on your traffic. I think every time a hub goes through QAP, it starts out with a low score and slowly rises with traffic and comments. At least mine do. I wish they were based on quality from the beginning. We are not in charge, and must respect those who are. Take care. Audrey

    • Writer Fox profile image
      Author

      Writer Fox 3 years ago from the wadi near the little river

      Thank you so much for your comment, Audrey. Many more people are finding this collection of war poetry and I think it is due to the current crisis in Syria.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      WAR POETRY 50 POEMS ABOUT WAR SOLDIER POEMS such great talent in sharing these poems and the collection is so beautifully displayed and thought of.

    • Writer Fox profile image
      Author

      Writer Fox 3 years ago from the wadi near the little river

      Thank you DDE. The sad thing is that when traffic increases to this webpage, it is a sign that people are expecting war. (It increased again this week!)

    • Billie Kelpin profile image

      Billie Kelpin 3 years ago from Newport Beach

      Amazing collection. I just ordered "Slow Wall" by Leonora Spyer because it had a poem I interpreted in high school (!) - "The Refuge Story".

      "And the black day dawned; They were suddenly there, The conquerors a'swarm in the fallen town, swaggering the streets of the busy town empty of business...

      And Jackie said, "Are they going to stay?" "Tell them to go" my small son said, and his eyes met the steely eyes with dread as old Anna pulled him away...

      And we HATED them all. We hated the colonel, rigid he'd stand and thrust out his hand and say, 'Heil Hitler'....

      And will God hear that ultimate cry, wondering dolorous, Who shall say?... not I.

      I only know the colonel died thus, of a child's light questioning...

      Let him answer as did that other, his red brother. Question of Cain in his dire stress, answer of God and pitiless,

      "Am I my brother's keeper?" "Yes".

      "Am I my brother's keeper?" "Yes".

      Answer of God in it's awesomeness.

    • Writer Fox profile image
      Author

      Writer Fox 3 years ago from the wadi near the little river

      Awesome! Thank you for posting that excerpt.

    • Marie Flint profile image

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Writer Fox, you must have spent hours and hours compiling this hub. (Whew!)

      My grandfather fought in WWI, father in WWII, brother was stationed in Korea (after the war), and my daughter nearly got sent to Iran through the U.S. Army, but was given a medical discharge.

      When I returned to my hometown in 2001, I spent a fair amount of time reading names and dates on cemetery headstones. I was surprised to see the name of a young man I had known. He rode the school bus, same as I, every day, was quiet, well mannered, and usually had a smile on his face--and there he was, killed in the Vietnam war, the war so many Americans hated because, as one of the poems in your hub mentioned, you couldn't tell the enemies from the civilians.

      Kudos on your publications. Me, unfortunately, I write things and throw them away (I'm terrible at enduring rejection slips). I think Hub Pages is the first solid forum I've had for my writing--and I've already deleted a number of those!

      Thank you for your hard work and blessings!

    • Writer Fox profile image
      Author

      Writer Fox 3 years ago from the wadi near the little river

      Thank you so much, Marie, for taking the time to share your personal reflections here. The Vietnam War was a turning point in America's history and the people who remember it first-hand are now grand parents.

    • RachaelOhalloran profile image

      Rachael O'Halloran 2 years ago from United States

      I expected to see some of my favorite poems and I did (I love the Ballad of the Green Beret) - but imagine my surprise when I went to the very first one. I saw "by Writer Fox" and I was amazed! Wow! You are an excellent poet! I enjoyed revisiting poems I've read long ago and getting acquainted with new ones. You are so multi-talented besides being super smart!

      I thoroughly enjoyed this awesome hub. Voted up, awesome, interesting, beautiful and all the rest. Shared on HP.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      Writer Fox, you are such a brilliant poet. Words are simply not enough to convey your limitless talent. Breathless at the raw beauty of it. Pinning. Sharing. Reading again.

    • Writer Fox profile image
      Author

      Writer Fox 2 years ago from the wadi near the little river

      Hi Flourish and Rachael: What a pleasant surprise to find that both of you found this page and enjoyed my poetry. I long for the day when war is just a memory and the way things used to be, like cowboys and Indians. Unfortunately, now it is an ever present plague – contagious and nuclear.

    • colorfulone profile image

      Susie Lehto 2 years ago from Minnesota

      I will be coming back to read more poetry on this hub, thank you for sharing so many of your wonderful war poems. Awesome hub! :)

      I really want to thank you for introducing me to "The War Prayer" by Mark Twain, now that is a poetry prayer. Very powerful.

    • Writer Fox profile image
      Author

      Writer Fox 2 years ago from the wadi near the little river

      Thank you, Colorfulone. The Mark Twain poem is probably his most controversial piece of literature. Even today, teachers shy away from presenting it in classrooms. I think it is a classic statement on war and deserves a place in a collection of war poetry.

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