World War One, or The Great War, is considered to be one of the most destructive and horrifying wars in history, the first modern war — and possibly the most literary war ever. The experience of soldiers fighting in the trenches of France, Belgium, and Germany from 1914 to 1918 generated incredibly moving poetry and fiction we still read today. Families left behind on the home front, children growing up without fathers, siblings growing up without brothers: the effect of the “Lost Generation” can be felt in diaries and letters, and even sowed the seeds for a more avant-garde, modernist literature in the 1920s and 1930s.
In honor of the 100th anniversary of the start of The Great War, in 1914, Widener English will be hosting a series of events during National Poetry Month. We’ll begin advancing our events this month, with weekly blog posts featuring poets of the Great War. Check in every week for a new poem, and join us for the following activities (specific dates/places/times TBA):
Week of 3/31: An open mic featuring faculty and students reading poetry of The Great War, and their own work inspired by the literature of World War One
Week of 4/7: A talk by English faculty member Chris Murphy on Irish literary responses to The Great War
Week of 4/14: A book discussion of Rebecca West’s short novella Return of the Soldier. The first ten people to sign up get a free copy of the book. Books will be distributed at the start of our events, to be read over the three weeks; we’ll finish up our series of activities with an informal chat. Sign up here.
To learn more about The Great War, visit the First World War Poetry Digital Archive, hosted by Oxford University in the UK. You can also watch excerpts of the documentary The Great War, produced by the Imperial War Museum, here:
And finally, to kick us off, here is one of the most famous poems to come out of The Great War, “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae (courtesy of the Academy of American Poets):
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.