I haven’t covered poetry since my post on John Keats (almost a year ago!), so I am excited to kick off the new year with some poems that are close to my heart (and those of millions more), and are responsible for inspiring my love of literature.
Because there are many different war poetry anthologies, I will not be referring to a specific one. Some poems are so well-known that they appear in nearly every collection I have viewed, and I truly think they are underrated in the face of other, more polished, planned works.
Reading Between the Lines
The first World War, or the “Great War,” was the catalyst for a large amount emotion-driven art that highlighted the immediacy of the terrifying global conflict. The war, which took place from 1914 to 1918, became a hugely significant source of literary inspiration, whether positive or negative, and had such as impact on soldiers that it would haunt them for the rest of their lives – if they were lucky enough to survive.
The first of the three poems I will be covering today is incredibly patriotic and beautiful, and potentially one of the best-known of all war poems. It was written by Rupert Brooke in the first year of the war, before he had ever entered combat.
The second, by the equally celebrated Wilfred Owen, represents a dark turn to pessimism and cynicism after the war turned out to be much more violent and harrowing than anyone had anticipated.
The final poem, by Herbert Read, who is perhaps better-known for his contributions to art history, was written after the end of the war. It focuses on Armistice Day celebrations, and emphasizes the symbolism of the red poppy, which is still one of the most important symbols of the war.
1. The Soldier
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.
There shall be In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
This first half of Brooke’s poem contains some of the most recognizable lines of poetry in the English language, and is beautiful in its patriotic praise and imagery of nature and harmony. I love floral prints as well as earthy color palettes, so despite it still being winter, I chose to incorporate them into this romantic outfit.
The overt elegance of this outfit speaks to the almost-ceremonial glory of war in the first year, when war was still largely romanticized and dying for one’s country was a sacrificial honor. The shape of the dress is classic and a statement piece, and the pearl choker and quilted white bag are similarly visually plotted. The look speaks to the grandeur of war, although the heels, sunglasses, and jacket prevent it from looking like formal ball attire.
2. Dulce et Decorum Est
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
This poem is also incredibly famous, so I couldn’t omit it from this broad overview of meaningful war poems. The poem's brutal emotion and honesty is just as compelling as the youthful hope of “The Soldier.”
This passage, from the middle of the poem, is incredibly powerful and hard-hitting and I thought most appropriate for fashion inspiration, rather than the parts of the poem dealing with disease and gradual physical degradation.
The use of green in this outfit is a reference to the “green sea” that refers to the use of poison gas as a weapon of advanced technology in World War 1. The hazy quality of the “dreams” that he describes twice led me to select loose, un-structured silhouettes in the top and cardigan.
The darker colors also represent the turmoil, despair, and loss of hope during the second half of the war, and is also a bit of a homage to Wilfred Owen, who was tragically killed just before the end of the war. This outfit also has an obvious military influence, as seen in the hat and boots, with distressed detailing on the jeans to further toughen up the other casual look.
3. Short Poem for Armistice Day
One eye one leg one arm one lung
A syncopated sick heart-beat
The record is not nearly worn
That weaves a background to our work
I have no power therefore have patience
These flowers have no sweet scent
no lustre in the petal no increase
from fertilizing flies and bees
This poem deals with artificiality versus reality in the most poignant of ways, by looking back on the memorialization of the soldiers that fought in the war with a critical look at the mechanical poppies that were manufactured for Armistice Day. Naturally, the fake poppies fail to truly embody the blood, flesh, and lost potential of the sacrifice of millions of men, and the mechanization of it all is haunting.
I knew I had to include red, because of the visual impact of the poppy as well as its connotations of blood and sacrifice. The discomfort of the outfit is intentional, however, with over the knee boots and a faux leather skirt contrasting with the lace shirt - all materials that are not traditionally considered comfortable or compatible.
The hair is conspicuously put-together (rather than free flowing waves), which also evokes a level of artificiality in the attempts of maintaining appearances, and does not entirely fit with the feeling of the rest of the outfit: the rebelliousness of the skirt and boots, for example. It does not actually clash, however, in the same way that the artificial poppies do, for the most part, suffice for Armistice Day celebrations.
And as a final touch, I included a keychain with poppies, as another reference to modernization and technology during and after WW1.
What do you prefer – poetry or prose? Let us know what you want to see more of in the comments below!