War poetry

For the novel The End of Innocence, I learned about war poetry. This essay describes the war poems in the novel and their background.

World War I poetry engaged profound emotions: horror, beauty, despair, hope. In my novel, the characters write poetry that represents the cadence and confusion of their changing culture. War poetry is different from reconciliation poetry.

The poetry emerges along lines the characters would know: Fall comes in Shades of Red(Chapter 2) is an Emily Dickinson styled poem.  What Lachesis, The Fate, Saw is steeped in British Victorian poetry. As the war changes the characters, it changes their poetry. The final lament, A Prayer, is a variation on a poem written by Kuno Francke who was a significant presence at Harvard. The poem which appeared in the Boston Herald  in the early days of the war, is reprinted here:

A Prayer by Kuno Francke

Is this the end of Europe?  – Then, O God

In mercy save the spirit of my folk.

From the dread night that overwhelms the world.

Forth from the rage and wrath of former days

Lead it, renewed, enlightened, purified,

Until its radiance lights the future times.

And the new heaven and earth shall dawn at last.

Soul of my folk, thou canst not turn to dust.

(Compare it to the poem in the novel, and see what you think.)

An important repository for World War I poetry is found at the University of Texas at Austin, in the Harry Ransom Center’s British Literature collection. There I was able to sit with works of Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sasson, Robert Graves, W.H. Auden and others. Thanks to the librarians at this magnificent institution.

In 2017, I learned of a group studying the contributions of pilots at the now shuttered Joyce Green aerodome in England. I wrote Sky Warrior for them.

The most popular poem to emerge from World War 1 was “In Flanders Fields” by Canadian John McCrae. As a result of this poem the red poppy has become the symbol of the British war dead from World War I. The cover image of the novel comes from this poem re-posted here:

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.