Literatures of the Great War Term 1, Week 2

Literatures of the Great
Term 1, Week 2
English Poetry
Wilfred Gibson, ‘Breakfast’
We ate our breakfast lying on our backs,
Because the shells were screeching overhead.
I bet a rasher to a loaf of bread
That Hull United would beat Halifax
When Jimmy Strainthorpe played full-back instead
Of Billy Bradford. Ginger raised his head
And cursed, and took the bet; and dropped back dead.
We ate our breakfast lying on our backs,
Because the shells were screeching overhead.
(Kendall, p. 65)
Jessie Pope, from ‘The Call’
When that procession comes,
Banners and rolling drums—
Who’ll stand and bite his thumbs—
Will you, my laddie?
(lines 21–24; handout, p. 5)
Thomas Hardy, ‘In Time of “The
Breaking of Nations’’’
Only a man harrowing clods
In a slow silent walk
With an old horse that stumbles and nods
Half asleep as they stalk.
Only thin smoke without flame
From the heaps of couch-grass;
Yet this will go onward the same
Though Dynasties pass.
Yonder a maid and her wight
Come whispering by:
War’s annals will cloud into night
Ere their story die.
(Kendall, p. 8)
Edward Thomas, from ‘As the Team’s
As the team's head-brass flashed out on the turn
The lovers disappeared into the wood.
I sat among the boughs of the fallen elm […]
The lovers came out of the wood again:
The horses started and for the last time
I watched the clods crumble and topple over
After the ploughshare and the stumbling team.
(lines 1–3, 32–36; Kendall, pp. 61–62)
Ivor Gurney, ‘To His Love’
He’s gone, and all our plans
Are useless indeed.
We’ll walk no more on Cotswolds
Where the sheep feed
Quietly and take no heed.
His body that was so quick
Is not as you
Knew it, on Severn River
Under the blue
Driving our small boat through.
You would not know him now…
But still he died
Nobly, so cover him over
With violets of pride
Purple from Severn side.
Cover him, cover him soon!
And with thick-set
Masses of memoried flowers—
Hide that red wet
Thing I must somehow forget.
(Kendall, pp. 121–22)
Rupert Brooke, ‘The Soldier’
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever 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 the suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
(Kendall, p. 106)
Siegfried Sassoon, ‘The General’
‘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.
(lines Kendall, pp. 96–97)
‘[War poetry] provides no facts which we cannot
learn better from elsewhere […]. But it does
what nothing else can do. It not only gives a
coherent form to moods [… of] the time […] but
incidentally provides a criticism of them […]
through the character of its approach & the
power of insight with which it gives them shape.’
(C. M. Bowra, Poetry and the First World War
(Oxford: OUP, 1961), p. 3)