Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Up The Line To Death: The War Poets 1914-1918

It is not often that an opportunity is found to reflect on small things of life in the midst of a raging war. This is because of the incompatibility of emotional and physical demands during the war. War is physically demanding and in the process little or no time is given to emotional demands. Just as little or no time is given to emotional demands during the war, so do few ever contemplate at all of translating those emotions into an intellectual work; certainly not in the midst of a raging war. Think of the coalition soldiers engaging in an intellectual work in the midst of the Taliban and Al Qaeda threats in Afghanistan and Iraq. That could be foolhardy because intellectual work demands a high level of concentration and devotion and therefore would demand an extraordinary ability to combine it-especially the art of crafting of a poem-with the intricate demands of the art of warfare. But a group of poets, despite all odds against them, defied all obstacles facing them and crafted poems that have been described as outstanding and among the best in the genre of war poems.

‘Up The Line To Death’ collected and arranged by Brian Gardner is an anthology of these heartrending, beautiful and moving poems. The poets who made it in this anthology includes already known and widely celebrated poets such as W.B. Yeats, Rudyard Kipling, Siegfried Sassoon and e.e. cummings, amongst others. Most of the poems were written in the midst of the First World War which lasted from 1914-1918 and which was orchestrated by the brutal murder of the Archduke Ferdinand of the Austria-Hungarian Empire. Some of the poems were also written not within this period but before the war and others, after the war.

The poems featured in this collection are unique in their messages to their intended readers. For instance in ‘Mesopotamia’, Rudyard Kipling lamented the fact that the young men being sent forth to die for the nation shall not return. They are aware of this fate but then the love of their nation pushes them.

“They shall not return to us, the resolute, the young,
The eager and whole-hearted who we gave:”

The fact that they shall not return never deterred the resolute young men from volunteering to defend their nation. The reason for this is because of their absolute belief in their country and the conviction and belief that it is worth dying for the nation. This is a belief aptly put in one of the poems in the collection titled ‘Happy is England now’ by John Freeman.

“There is not anything more wonderful
Than a great people moving towards the deep
Of an unguessed and unfeared future;”

The same courage was also exhibited by W.B. Yeats in his masterpiece titled ‘An Irish airman foresees his death’

“I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;”

Despite knowing his fate, he still went ahead to join the war and he met his fate somewhere among the clouds.

The collection is very interesting and I encourage you to read them.

Cover Photograph Courtesy Of Methuen Publishing.


  1. This is good work you're doing here, keep it up. You may check out my debut novel, A Heart to Mend.

  2. Is the basis of your article true? Were the poems crafted during the emotional intensity of war? Owen's were not. Did all poets urge the nobility of death for their country? Many of the great war poems did not support such patriotic beliefs. Both Owen and Sassoon adopted a biting, ironical distance from the "dying is sweet" approach.

  3. I'm not convinced that the patriotic clamour for war at the outset was down to 'bravery'. This review has little to say about the really great poets like Sassoon and Owen who opposed the war.

  4. study this I agree your view is rather patriotic towards the war and lacks the bitter satire and grapical imagry presnted with in lets say Exposer by Owen or 'dulce decorum est pro patria mori'-"It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country." where owen presnts that the pastorl imagy; patriotic ideologies offered in the begining of the war are lies and are far from the bathos of 'The Great Adventure' being nothing more than sitting in a grave -like hole waiting for death.

    Within his introductory note gadner says that the book consits of differnt poets who tell part of the intal war so it could be argued that by placing the poets not in cornogical order but in the revlace of the time gives a narrative peice that gives a narrative story of beggining,middle and end.