Archive for ‘Second World War’

Friday, 24 April 2020

The Meaning of War by Katherine Gallagher

(i.m. Robert Phelan)

I remember you, soldier-uncle
on your first leave.
1942. Your homecoming
had turned the house upside-down:
Just arrived from Milne Bay—1
no garlanded Hector arguing loud
against the waste, though we made you
our own hero for your lucky escapes.

At that stage, peace seemed further away
than forever: behind your eyes
was the pain of going back.
You tried jokes,
wagered your nine lives,
drew the mad, mad terror—
‘In the beginning, half the time
we bloody fought with axes.’

Fought with axes …
You were the first to teach me
the real meaning of war.

1. Milne Bay—Port in Paua New Guinea, from which the Japanese advance in the South Pacific was first halted in World War II.


Date: 1985

By: Katherine Gallagher (1935- )

Saturday, 17 November 2018

It Is Not You, Pale Lonely Star by Timothy Corsellis

It is not you, pale lonely star,
Nor you, wan weary moon,
With whom I wrestle.
Not with the delicate petal of a rose
Nor with the fantasy of a composer’s tune
Do I match mettle.

It is not death I must fear
For equally I care to live or die
But my struggle is against world’s life
Love beauty? Love nature? I might
If time were granted in this living strife.

My soul was not shaped in hands which chose
The preselection of authority
I cannot live in abstract entities
Comfortable in the canons of convention.

Oh damn the stars,
If I had time enough
I’d turn my music to their praise
But as my limit is the span of living days
I must untune the rhythms of a torpid past
To trace the stern reality of present
Before the future’s eyes.

I will not sing the song of others
In other people’s words;
I will not see the world of others
Through other people’s eyes.
But blue, far into space,
I’ll hurl my judgment of the human race
Upwards to the unassuming sky,
Farther than any bird can fly.

August 22, 1941.

From: Goethals, Helen, The Unassuming Sky: The Life and Poetry of Timothy Corsellis, 2012, Cambridge Scholars Publishing: Cambridge, p. 179.

Date: 1941

By: Timothy Corsellis (1921-1941)

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Cologne by John Bate

To-day my heart is heavy
with the sorrows of Cologne,
the city reaps the bitter
harvest its enemies have sown,
and I, that enemy, am
consumed with their bitterness.

How can the June sun shine
adding its pitiful glory
to the cruel glare of the flames,
casting shadows with a jagged line,
this page of the city’s story
lighting, which is dark with shames.

The dry confetti blossoms
in this village street, where tramp
off-duty airmen, lie like the sun’s
small, coloured tears, and here
where Cologne is a word city,
articulated in the cultured drone
of radio announcers, thinking
they have news to match the gospel,
but sounding in their voice no pity,
our hardened, revengeful will,
of which mine is a part, will suffer,
for the victor cities always discover,
unaware of it before it grows,
the interacting sorrow of their foes.

June 1942.

From: Rexroth, Kenneth (ed.), The New British Poets: An Anthology, 1947, New Directions: London, pp. 296-297.

Date: 1942

By: John Bate (1919-2015)

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Commando by John Stanier Waller

He was too young to know the world they knew
Who were its movers; he was only
A child in their terrible hands. When he dreamt
It was of a knight wandering lonely
Through a dark forest. They used his dreams
For their own deeds of moonlight and peril.

He remained cheerful but always dreadfully alone
As he learnt how to throw bombs, gouge eyes, or find
How with a certain twist one can break a man’s neck.
Raids were his joy; he would return almost blind
With the feel of blood, go home and drink
In a kind of forgetfulness; he was envied for that.

You see, all these things were like dreams.
Each horror had its own particular place
In his nightmare; and there at the end
Stood the fair lady, the savior of his race.
That is how it should have ended; but he died, with love
The only frontier that now he could never cross.


Date: 1945

By: John Stanier Waller (1917-1995)

Friday, 14 July 2017

Liberty by Paul Éluard (Eugène Émile Paul Grindel)

On my schoolboy’s notebook
On my desk and on the trees
On the sand on the snow
I write your name

On all the pages read
On all the blank pages
Stone blood paper ash
I write your name

On the gilded images
On warriors’ weapons
On the crown of the kings
I write your name

On the jungle the desert
On nests on reeds
On the echo of my childhood
I write your name

On the night’s wonders
The white bread of days
On the linked seasons
I write your name

On each blue scrap of noon
On the pond moldy sun
On the lake living moon
I write your name

On the sky on the meadows
On the wings of birds
On the millwheel of shadows
I write your name

On the foam of the clouds
On the sweat of the storm
On the rain thick and bleak
I write your name

On every shining form
On the bells of the colors
On physical truth
I write your name

On the paths awakening
On the roads unwinding
On the crowded places
I write your name

On the lamp that is bright
On the lamp that goes dark
On my united houses
I write your name

On the fruit cut in two
Of my mirror and chamber
On my bed’s hollow shell
I write your name

On my fond greedy dog
On his pricked ears his paws
As clumsy as thumbs
I write your name

On my doorway’s springboard
On the familiar objects
On the blest hearthfire
I write your name

On all flesh yielded
On the foreheads of friends
On each hand that extends
I write your name

On the pane of surprise
On the lips that listen
Well above the silence
I write your name

On my refuge that crumbles
My beacon-tower that falls
On ennui’s walls
I write your name

On absence on nude
Solitude on each tread
Of the stair of the dead
I write your name

And on health rekindling
On danger dwindling
On hope without remembrance
I write your name

And by the power of a word
My life returns to me
I am born again to know you
And to name you


Note: This poem, written during the German Occupation of France in World War II, was dropped over Occupied France by the RAF.


Date: 1942 (original in French) 1945 (translation in English)

By: Paul Éluard (Eugène Émile Paul Grindel) (1895-1952)

Translated by: George Hill Dillon (1906-1968)

Friday, 17 July 2015

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.


Date: 1941

By: Alun Lewis (1915-1944)

Saturday, 13 June 2015

War Poet by Sidney Arthur Kilworth Keyes

I am the man who looked for peace and found
My own eyes barbed.
I am the man who groped for words and found
An arrow in my hand.
I am the builder whose firm walls surround
A slipping land.
When I grow sick or mad
Mock me not nor chain me;
When I reach for the wind
Cast me not down
Though my face is a burnt book
And a wasted town.


Date: 1942

By: Sidney Arthur Kilworth Keyes (1922-1943)

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Epilogue to War by Emanuel Litvinoff

For shame the waters of my sorrow quicken,
My grief hides from discovery.
I am a land of fallen cities, towers
Betrayed to ruin and the thief of time.
And I am dumb of all my voices
Singing the tragic wish away,
And I am blind to all my glory
The crumbled riches of the past proclaim.
For like a trumpeter turned to an echo
The gallant shadow of rny youth turns pale,
Leaving a handful of words like brittle leaves,
The hollow memory of praise.

For shame the melody of love is hushed,
Blood beating the passionate request,
I crush my power and desire
Into a casual phrase, destroy my potency
With passive and resentful living.

For shame my yesterdays grow sour,
Scanning the dust and spittle for a sign
Or symptom of the malady,
Finding only tattered souvenirs of loss
To torment the raw and patient heart.
But underneath the waters of my soul
The drowned and final image of disaster
Recedes to sea and sand, dissolves away,
And all the world’s shame dwindles.

June 1942.

From: Litvinoff, Emanuel, “Epilogue to War” in Poetry (London), Vol. 2, No. 7, 1942, pp. 31-32.

Date: 1942

By: Emanuel Litvinoff (1915-2011)

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Gallipoli Peninsula by Alistair Te Ariki Campbell

It was magical when flowers
appeared on the upper reaches –
not that we saw much of the upper reaches.
But when we did,
we were reminded of home
when spring clothed the hills with flowers.
The dead lying among them
seemed to be asleep.
I can never forget the early mornings,
before the killings started up,
when the sea was like a mirror
under little wisps of cloud
breathing on its surface, so dazzling
it hurt the eye.
and the ships, so many of them,
they darkened the sea.
But the evenings too were magical,
with such hues in the sky
over Macedonia,
so many colours, gold bars,
green, red, and yellow.
We noticed these things,
when the firing stopped and we had respite.
It was good to feel,
during such moments,
that we were human beings once more,
delighting in little things,
in just being human.


Date: 1999

By: Alistair Te Ariki Campbell (1925-2009)

Friday, 16 January 2015

Letter from Italy by Robert Gairoch Sutherland

From large red bugs, a refugee,
I make my bed beneath the sky,
safe from the crawling enemy
though not secure from nimbler flea.
Late summer darkness comes, and now
I see again the homely Plough
and wonder: do you also see
the seven stars as well as I?
And it is good to find a tie
Of seven stars from you to me.
Lying on deck, on friendly seas,
I used to watch, with no delight,
new unsuggestive stars that light
the tedious Antipodes.
Now in a hostile land I lie,
but share with you these ancient high
familiar named divinities.
Perimeters have bounded me,
sad rims of desert and of sea,
the famous one around Tobruk,
and now barbed wire, which way I look,
except above—the Pléiades.


Date: 1942-1945

By: Robert Garioch Sutherland (1909-1981)