ON Remembrance Day we remember the soldiers who fought for Britain during the First World War and World War II.
Armistice Day is commemorated every year on November 11. Here are some of the most powerful poems penned in memory of the fallen.
For the Fallen
Penned by Laurence Binyon, this is probably the most famous war poem in English.
Also known as the Ode of Remembrance, it was first published in the Times on September 21, 1914 – just two months after the First World War began on July 28.
Binyon was too old to enlist as a soldier in the Great War, but he volunteered in hospitals, helping wounded French soldiers.
He wrote For the Fallen in Cornwall shortly after the Battle of Marne:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
In Flanders Fields
This poem by John McRae is written from the perspective of dead soldiers lying in their graves.
McRae was a Canadian doctor and Lieutenant Colonel in the First World War, fighting and overseeing medical care in Boulogne with the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
He died of pneumonia on the battlefield in January 1918.
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.
This poem was written at the beginning of the First World War by Rupert Brooke.
He was part of the British Mediterranean Expeditionary Force and died of an infection in 1915.
The most famous lines from The Soldier are often read in remembrance of those who died far from home while fighting for their country:
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.
And Death Shall Have No Dominion
Penned by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas in 1933, between the two wars.
The poem embraces the theme of remembrance and eternity of the human spirit:
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.
An Irish Airman Foresees his Death
WB Yeats' poem is a soliloquy given by an aviator in the First World War.
The narrator describes the circumstances surrounding his imminent death:
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.
MCMXIV – by Philip Larkin
Written in 1964, Larkin captures the patriotic optimism of young men queuing to enlist in the forces in 1914.
the poem also reflects on the momentous changes in England following the First World War, ending with the line: "Never such innocence again."
Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word – the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages,
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.
Dreamers – Siegfried Sassoon
Soldiers are citizens of death's grey land,
Drawing no dividend from time's to-morrows.
In the great hour of destiny they stand,
Each with his feuds, and jealousies, and sorrows.
Soldiers are sworn to action; they must win
Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives.
Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin
They think of firelit homes, clean beds and wives.
I see them in foul dug-outs, gnawed by rats,
And in the ruined trenches, lashed with rain,
Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats,
And mocked by hopeless longing to regain
Bank-holidays, and picture shows, and spats,
And going to the office in the train.
An extract from Charge of the Light Brigade – Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!” he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder’d.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!
An extract from Dulce et Decorum Est – Wilfred Owen
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
An extract from For the Fallen – Laurence Binyon
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.
Czeslaw Milosz, The Issa Valley
"Praising what is lost makes the remembrance dear."
Harold Nicolson, British delegate to the 1919 Paris Peace Conference
"How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes."
"When our perils are past, shall our gratitude sleep?"
Thomas Bailey Aldrich
"All we have of freedom, all we use or know – / This our fathers bought for us long and long ago."
Rudyard Kipling, The Old Issue
"When you go home, tell them of us and say, for their tomorrow we gave our today."
John Maxwell Edmonds
"The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example."
Benjamin Disraeli, speech to the House of Commons, February 1, 1849
"You remember only what you want to remember. You know only what your heart allows you to know."
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