Three Poems You Should Read This Armistice Day

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October is over, Halloween has come and gone, the shops are already playing Christmas music; Michael Buble season is upon us. But before we all get carried away with Christmas fever and the inevitable consumerist overload that comes with it, we are offered the chance to reflect on the people without whom we would not be here to enjoy it. On November 11th we commemorate Armistice Day, remembering on “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” the peace that was finally made on the Western Front of the First World War in 1918. At 11am we take a moment of silence to remember the fallen, to mourn the waste of lives full of potential, and to ultimately contemplate the nature of war itself. In this vein, poetry offers the perfect opportunity for contemplation and reflection. Here we can see that literature is enduring; it gives us a chance to remember. With this in mind, here are my choices for the best poems to read on Armistice Day:

Anthem For Doomed Youth, Wilfred Owen (1917)

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?

What candles may be held to speed them all?

      Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes

Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.

Read the full poem here.

Written during the war, when Owen was hospital-bound with shell shock, Anthem For Doomed Youth explores the inhumane nature of warfare and its ability to make men view one another as nothing more than ‘cattle’. This poem is a eulogy for those who died needless deaths. It does not glorify war but glorifies life; it itself is a ‘candle’ held up for the lost ‘boys’.

This Is No Petty Case Of Right Or Wrong, Edward Thomas (1915)

This is no case of petty right or wrong  

That politicians or philosophers  

Can judge.  I hate not Germans, nor grow hot  

With love of Englishmen, to please newspapers.  

But with the best and meanest Englishmen  

I am one in crying, God save England, lest 

We lose what never slaves and cattle blessed. 

Read the full poem here.

An interesting poem written by Thomas in the aftermath of an argument with his conventionally patriot father, This Is No Petty Case Of Right Or Wrong presents a version of patriotism which values the fight for England’s freedom over the demonization of Germans. Thomas claims that war cannot be simplified in the way that politicians would have us believe.

And Death Shall Have No Dominion, Dylan Thomas (1933)

And death shall have no dominion.

Dead man naked they shall be one

With the man in the wind and the west moon

… 

Though lovers be lost love shall not;

And death shall have no dominion.

Read the full poem here.

Writing in-between World War I and World War II, Dylan Thomas presents life as enduring beyond death. Therefore, our fallen soldiers are not ‘lost’ but have progressed beyond us. Regardless of differing views on the afterlife and religion, we can all agree that a kind of immortality can be granted through remembrance. Poetry, and literature in general, can help to ensure this.

Armistice Day will take place on the 11th November, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.

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