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Episode

The Poets of World War One

First published on
February 28, 2020
Arts & Culture
-
15
minutes
Poetry
World War I

Today it's time to take a look at how World War One is remembered through poetry.

We look at the words of the young men, and how public feeling towards the war changed over its four-year course.

And of course, we look at some of the most iconic and moving poems written during the period.

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Transcript

[00:00:04] Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to our second members-only English Learning for Curious Minds podcast. 

[00:00:11] I guess by now you probably know who I am, but if you need a reminder, I'm Alastair Budge the founder of Leonardo English and the host of the show. 

[00:00:22] Firstly, thank you very much for your continued membership to Leonardo English. 

[00:00:27] It couldn't be possible without you and I really am truly grateful. 

[00:00:32] Today we are going to be talking about the poets of World War One. 

[00:00:37] We'll talk about why this war inspired such great poetry. 

[00:00:42] We'll talk about the types of poetry it did inspire, how this changed during the four years of the war and the impact it has left behind on how we think about this war and how we think about war in general. 

[00:00:59] And of course we'll read some extracts of some of the most iconic poems from World War One.

[00:01:07] I had tested out the idea for this podcast on my wife who is not a native speaker, and she said she thought it was too niche and too hard, but I thought it was at least worth a shot

[00:01:21] I have faith that you'll be able to understand and you'll have the transcript and key vocabulary there to help if you need.

[00:01:29] What's more, because it is probably a little harder than most, if you have questions about it or there's anything that you didn't understand, please just email me directly and I'll be more than happy to explain things. 

[00:01:45] Plus, there will be another members-only podcast in a couple of weeks about effective ways to memorise and remember vocabulary.

[00:01:54] So that's a slightly easier topic, a slightly less niche podcast. 

[00:02:01] Okay, then. 

[00:02:02] The First World War was, of course, a war like no other. 

[00:02:07] Over 65 million people fought in it, of whom almost 10 million lost their lives. 

[00:02:14] Yes, there were wars before where more people were killed and wars after where more people were killed.

[00:02:22] But the First World War is quite unique in terms of how it exists in our collective memory. 

[00:02:29] And now that anyone who fought in the First World War is dead - the last soldier died in 2012 - one of the main ways in which the war is remembered, in the English language at least, is through the poetry that was left behind.

[00:02:48] While we can't really lump together the British war poets into just one category, what we can do is talk about the poetry that came out of the First World War as a way of understanding how public sentiment, how people felt about the war, changed over its four year course. 

[00:03:09] What we see through the eyes of the young men who were sent to war is that war as a concept quickly goes from this intangible romantic idea  to something that's completely futile, completely without purpose, that only serves to destroy the lives and souls of the youngest and brightest men and women in the world.

[00:03:33] So let's take a little walk through this journey and take a moment to think about what these young men and women had gone through

[00:03:43] On the 28th of June, 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated. 

[00:03:51] And within two months, the entire of Europe was at war. 

[00:03:57] Young British men filled with patriotic ideals, signed up to support the war effort and the general consensus, the general feeling, was that the war would be over by Christmas.

[00:04:14] The poetry that came from the start of this period echoes this sort of feeling. 

[00:04:22] Here's an extract from a poem called The Soldier by Rupert Brooke. 

[00:04:29] 

[00:04:29] If I should die, think only this of me, 

[00:04:33] That there's some corner of a foreign field 

[00:04:36] That is forever England. There shall be 

[00:04:40] In that rich earth, a richer dust concealed.

[00:04:47] 

[00:04:47] So it's completely idealistic, promoting the idea that men should be happy to give their lives for the higher concept of England, that nothing should be more glorious than to give your life in service of your country. 

[00:05:03] Now we'll never know whether Brooke, the, the poet would have turned a little more cynical after he saw the real horrors of war.

[00:05:14] He died of an infected mosquito bite in 1915 at the ripe old ageof 27, just three weeks after the newspaper, The Times, had published that poem. 

[00:05:30] The true horror of the war soon became apparent, and while at the start of the war, the poems had focused on these sentimental ideals of dying for one's country, of the glory of England, as the war continued, the poets wrote more about the futility of war, of the human tragedy, and of the disappointment of an entire generation of young men.

[00:05:56] It's notable, it's worth remembering, that the enemy in the vast majority of these poems isn't the Germans, the enemy on the battlefield. 

[00:06:08] There are two main enemies. 

[00:06:12] Firstly, the generals, the superiors, the politicians who were sending young men in their millions to their deaths. 

[00:06:22] And secondly, the concept of war itself.

[00:06:26] War was the enemy. 

[00:06:28] War was what was destroying the youth on both sides of the battlefield. 

[00:06:35] Let's take a look first at an example of a poem that talks about the generals as the enemy. 

[00:06:44] This poem is called The General, and it's by Siegfried Sassoon. 

[00:06:51] "Good morning, good morning!" the general said 

[00:06:54] When we met him last week on our way to the line

[00:06:58] Now the soldiers, he smiled at are most of 'em dead 

[00:07:03] And we're cursing his staff for incompetent swine .

[00:07:08] "He's a cheery old card," grunted Harry to Jack 

[00:07:12] As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack

[00:07:17] But he did for them both by his plan of attack. 

[00:07:22] So if you hadn't got that, this is the story of a general who gets two young soldiers killed despite having smiled at them the week before. 

[00:07:33] It's pretty telling that the anger here isn't directed against the battlefield enemy.

[00:07:40] The young men writing these poems know that their opponents across no man's land are in an equally hopeless position, pushed by their own superiors to get upover the top and be slaughtered in exactly the same way. 

[00:08:00] They, in fact have a shared enemy - the generals, the superiors, the politicians who are pushing them forward in this hopeless war. 

[00:08:11] And then this brings us to war itself as the true enemy. 

[00:08:17] There are many poems we could choose from here now, but I think one of the most powerful is called Suicide In The Trenches by probably the most famous war poet Siegfried Sasson, the same poet who wrote The  General

[00:08:34] The vocabulary in this one is a little bit more complicated, but it's such a beautiful, moving one that I think it's worth sharing. 

[00:08:44] So this is called Suicide In The Trenches

[00:08:49] I knew a simple soldier boy 

[00:08:52] Who grinned at life in empty joy, 

[00:08:56] Slept soundly through the lonesome dark, 

[00:08:59] And whistled early with the lark

[00:09:03] In winter trenches, cowed and glum,

[00:09:07] With crumps and lice and lack of rum.

[00:09:11] He put a bullet through his brain. 

[00:09:14] No one spoke of him again. 

[00:09:17] You smug faced cowards with kindling eye 

[00:09:20] Who cheer when soldier lads march by, 

[00:09:25] Sneak home and pray you'll never know 

[00:09:28] The hell where youth and laughter go. 

[00:09:33] I know some of those words may be a little bit unfamiliar, but I hope you get the gist

[00:09:40] Sassoon, the poet, is an example of someone who started out with these patriotic ideals, enlisting in the army at the outbreak of war in 1914 but then became one of the war's greatest critics

[00:09:56] It's also worth pointing out that not all war poetry went this way. 

[00:10:01] There was plenty that continued the patriotic themes talking about the glory of dying for one's country, of the camaraderie of the front line and of the fact that staying at home was the coward's thing to do and brave patriotic men should be going to the front.

[00:10:22] But it's certainly the anti-war war poetry that has captivated our imaginations and that most people now associate with the First World War. 

[00:10:35] Why is this? 

[00:10:36] Well, there's little debate that the anti-war poetry was accurate in its descriptions of life on the front

[00:10:45] It was obviously horrific and there is nothing romantic about being filled with machine gun bullets or killed by nerve gas in a cold, muddy field. 

[00:10:57] An entire generation was destroyed. 

[00:11:00] Those who died on the battlefield didn't return, of course, and those who did return were in many cases, mutilated, damaged, both physically and mentally from their experiences. 

[00:11:16] The cynic might say that the fact that the anti-war poets are now the voice of the First World War is just because that aligns with the post-war view of wars being a negative thing, and because the anti war poems were much more beautifully written and captivating of our imagination than the patriotic stuff. 

[00:11:43] But to those people, I'd definitely say that it's no bad thing that we are constantly reminded of the horrors of war, of the human cost, and of the scale of the tragedy so that we can do everything we possibly can to avoid it happening again.

[00:12:02] Nobody really wants to go to war if it's not necessary, and the words of these young men just remind us quite the horrors that were faced when people had to do so. 

[00:12:16] Well, I hope that this has at least been an interesting look into the world of the British war poets. 

[00:12:23] I know this might have been not the most upbeat, the most joyous, of our episodes, but the words of these poets are just so powerful. 

[00:12:33] I also know that poetry in a foreign language is something that's particularly difficult, but I hope that if you have the transcript and key vocabulary in front of you, this has been a bit easier than it might have been otherwise. 

[00:12:49] Let me just finish by reading what is perhaps the most famous war poem, and that's one that's read every November the 11th, Armistice Day,as a way of remembering the loss of life suffered by these young men and women. 

[00:13:04] It's called "In Flanders Fields", and it's written by John McCrae. 

[00:13:10] In Flanders fields the poppies blow 

[00:13:14] Between the crosses row on row, 

[00:13:16] That Mark our place; and in the sky, 

[00:13:20] The larks, still bravely singing, fly 

[00:13:23] Scarce heard amid the guns below.

[00:13:27] We are the Dead. Short days ago 

[00:13:30] We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, 

[00:13:35] Loved and were loved, and now we lie 

[00:13:39] In Flanders fields. 

[00:13:42] Take up our quarrel with the foe

[00:13:44] To you from failing hands we throw 

[00:13:47] The torch; be yours to hold it high. 

[00:13:51] If ye break faith with us who die, 

[00:13:54] We shall not sleep, though poppies grow 

[00:13:57] In Flanders fields.

[00:14:00] Quite something, right? 

[00:14:03] 

[00:14:03] Again, this was a little bit of a test, this podcast. 

[00:14:07] I know that today's one might've been quite a bit harder than usual, but I hope you have enjoyed it and found it interesting. 

[00:14:15] We'll have another members-only podcast for you in a couple of weeks, and I promise that this will be a lot less niche.

[00:14:24] Let me know though. 

[00:14:25] I'd love to know what you thought of this one. 

[00:14:28] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English. 

[00:14:33] I'm Alastair Budge and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF PODCAST]


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[00:00:04] Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to our second members-only English Learning for Curious Minds podcast. 

[00:00:11] I guess by now you probably know who I am, but if you need a reminder, I'm Alastair Budge the founder of Leonardo English and the host of the show. 

[00:00:22] Firstly, thank you very much for your continued membership to Leonardo English. 

[00:00:27] It couldn't be possible without you and I really am truly grateful. 

[00:00:32] Today we are going to be talking about the poets of World War One. 

[00:00:37] We'll talk about why this war inspired such great poetry. 

[00:00:42] We'll talk about the types of poetry it did inspire, how this changed during the four years of the war and the impact it has left behind on how we think about this war and how we think about war in general. 

[00:00:59] And of course we'll read some extracts of some of the most iconic poems from World War One.

[00:01:07] I had tested out the idea for this podcast on my wife who is not a native speaker, and she said she thought it was too niche and too hard, but I thought it was at least worth a shot

[00:01:21] I have faith that you'll be able to understand and you'll have the transcript and key vocabulary there to help if you need.

[00:01:29] What's more, because it is probably a little harder than most, if you have questions about it or there's anything that you didn't understand, please just email me directly and I'll be more than happy to explain things. 

[00:01:45] Plus, there will be another members-only podcast in a couple of weeks about effective ways to memorise and remember vocabulary.

[00:01:54] So that's a slightly easier topic, a slightly less niche podcast. 

[00:02:01] Okay, then. 

[00:02:02] The First World War was, of course, a war like no other. 

[00:02:07] Over 65 million people fought in it, of whom almost 10 million lost their lives. 

[00:02:14] Yes, there were wars before where more people were killed and wars after where more people were killed.

[00:02:22] But the First World War is quite unique in terms of how it exists in our collective memory. 

[00:02:29] And now that anyone who fought in the First World War is dead - the last soldier died in 2012 - one of the main ways in which the war is remembered, in the English language at least, is through the poetry that was left behind.

[00:02:48] While we can't really lump together the British war poets into just one category, what we can do is talk about the poetry that came out of the First World War as a way of understanding how public sentiment, how people felt about the war, changed over its four year course. 

[00:03:09] What we see through the eyes of the young men who were sent to war is that war as a concept quickly goes from this intangible romantic idea  to something that's completely futile, completely without purpose, that only serves to destroy the lives and souls of the youngest and brightest men and women in the world.

[00:03:33] So let's take a little walk through this journey and take a moment to think about what these young men and women had gone through

[00:03:43] On the 28th of June, 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated. 

[00:03:51] And within two months, the entire of Europe was at war. 

[00:03:57] Young British men filled with patriotic ideals, signed up to support the war effort and the general consensus, the general feeling, was that the war would be over by Christmas.

[00:04:14] The poetry that came from the start of this period echoes this sort of feeling. 

[00:04:22] Here's an extract from a poem called The Soldier by Rupert Brooke. 

[00:04:29] 

[00:04:29] If I should die, think only this of me, 

[00:04:33] That there's some corner of a foreign field 

[00:04:36] That is forever England. There shall be 

[00:04:40] In that rich earth, a richer dust concealed.

[00:04:47] 

[00:04:47] So it's completely idealistic, promoting the idea that men should be happy to give their lives for the higher concept of England, that nothing should be more glorious than to give your life in service of your country. 

[00:05:03] Now we'll never know whether Brooke, the, the poet would have turned a little more cynical after he saw the real horrors of war.

[00:05:14] He died of an infected mosquito bite in 1915 at the ripe old ageof 27, just three weeks after the newspaper, The Times, had published that poem. 

[00:05:30] The true horror of the war soon became apparent, and while at the start of the war, the poems had focused on these sentimental ideals of dying for one's country, of the glory of England, as the war continued, the poets wrote more about the futility of war, of the human tragedy, and of the disappointment of an entire generation of young men.

[00:05:56] It's notable, it's worth remembering, that the enemy in the vast majority of these poems isn't the Germans, the enemy on the battlefield. 

[00:06:08] There are two main enemies. 

[00:06:12] Firstly, the generals, the superiors, the politicians who were sending young men in their millions to their deaths. 

[00:06:22] And secondly, the concept of war itself.

[00:06:26] War was the enemy. 

[00:06:28] War was what was destroying the youth on both sides of the battlefield. 

[00:06:35] Let's take a look first at an example of a poem that talks about the generals as the enemy. 

[00:06:44] This poem is called The General, and it's by Siegfried Sassoon. 

[00:06:51] "Good morning, good morning!" the general said 

[00:06:54] When we met him last week on our way to the line

[00:06:58] Now the soldiers, he smiled at are most of 'em dead 

[00:07:03] And we're cursing his staff for incompetent swine .

[00:07:08] "He's a cheery old card," grunted Harry to Jack 

[00:07:12] As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack

[00:07:17] But he did for them both by his plan of attack. 

[00:07:22] So if you hadn't got that, this is the story of a general who gets two young soldiers killed despite having smiled at them the week before. 

[00:07:33] It's pretty telling that the anger here isn't directed against the battlefield enemy.

[00:07:40] The young men writing these poems know that their opponents across no man's land are in an equally hopeless position, pushed by their own superiors to get upover the top and be slaughtered in exactly the same way. 

[00:08:00] They, in fact have a shared enemy - the generals, the superiors, the politicians who are pushing them forward in this hopeless war. 

[00:08:11] And then this brings us to war itself as the true enemy. 

[00:08:17] There are many poems we could choose from here now, but I think one of the most powerful is called Suicide In The Trenches by probably the most famous war poet Siegfried Sasson, the same poet who wrote The  General

[00:08:34] The vocabulary in this one is a little bit more complicated, but it's such a beautiful, moving one that I think it's worth sharing. 

[00:08:44] So this is called Suicide In The Trenches

[00:08:49] I knew a simple soldier boy 

[00:08:52] Who grinned at life in empty joy, 

[00:08:56] Slept soundly through the lonesome dark, 

[00:08:59] And whistled early with the lark

[00:09:03] In winter trenches, cowed and glum,

[00:09:07] With crumps and lice and lack of rum.

[00:09:11] He put a bullet through his brain. 

[00:09:14] No one spoke of him again. 

[00:09:17] You smug faced cowards with kindling eye 

[00:09:20] Who cheer when soldier lads march by, 

[00:09:25] Sneak home and pray you'll never know 

[00:09:28] The hell where youth and laughter go. 

[00:09:33] I know some of those words may be a little bit unfamiliar, but I hope you get the gist

[00:09:40] Sassoon, the poet, is an example of someone who started out with these patriotic ideals, enlisting in the army at the outbreak of war in 1914 but then became one of the war's greatest critics

[00:09:56] It's also worth pointing out that not all war poetry went this way. 

[00:10:01] There was plenty that continued the patriotic themes talking about the glory of dying for one's country, of the camaraderie of the front line and of the fact that staying at home was the coward's thing to do and brave patriotic men should be going to the front.

[00:10:22] But it's certainly the anti-war war poetry that has captivated our imaginations and that most people now associate with the First World War. 

[00:10:35] Why is this? 

[00:10:36] Well, there's little debate that the anti-war poetry was accurate in its descriptions of life on the front

[00:10:45] It was obviously horrific and there is nothing romantic about being filled with machine gun bullets or killed by nerve gas in a cold, muddy field. 

[00:10:57] An entire generation was destroyed. 

[00:11:00] Those who died on the battlefield didn't return, of course, and those who did return were in many cases, mutilated, damaged, both physically and mentally from their experiences. 

[00:11:16] The cynic might say that the fact that the anti-war poets are now the voice of the First World War is just because that aligns with the post-war view of wars being a negative thing, and because the anti war poems were much more beautifully written and captivating of our imagination than the patriotic stuff. 

[00:11:43] But to those people, I'd definitely say that it's no bad thing that we are constantly reminded of the horrors of war, of the human cost, and of the scale of the tragedy so that we can do everything we possibly can to avoid it happening again.

[00:12:02] Nobody really wants to go to war if it's not necessary, and the words of these young men just remind us quite the horrors that were faced when people had to do so. 

[00:12:16] Well, I hope that this has at least been an interesting look into the world of the British war poets. 

[00:12:23] I know this might have been not the most upbeat, the most joyous, of our episodes, but the words of these poets are just so powerful. 

[00:12:33] I also know that poetry in a foreign language is something that's particularly difficult, but I hope that if you have the transcript and key vocabulary in front of you, this has been a bit easier than it might have been otherwise. 

[00:12:49] Let me just finish by reading what is perhaps the most famous war poem, and that's one that's read every November the 11th, Armistice Day,as a way of remembering the loss of life suffered by these young men and women. 

[00:13:04] It's called "In Flanders Fields", and it's written by John McCrae. 

[00:13:10] In Flanders fields the poppies blow 

[00:13:14] Between the crosses row on row, 

[00:13:16] That Mark our place; and in the sky, 

[00:13:20] The larks, still bravely singing, fly 

[00:13:23] Scarce heard amid the guns below.

[00:13:27] We are the Dead. Short days ago 

[00:13:30] We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, 

[00:13:35] Loved and were loved, and now we lie 

[00:13:39] In Flanders fields. 

[00:13:42] Take up our quarrel with the foe

[00:13:44] To you from failing hands we throw 

[00:13:47] The torch; be yours to hold it high. 

[00:13:51] If ye break faith with us who die, 

[00:13:54] We shall not sleep, though poppies grow 

[00:13:57] In Flanders fields.

[00:14:00] Quite something, right? 

[00:14:03] 

[00:14:03] Again, this was a little bit of a test, this podcast. 

[00:14:07] I know that today's one might've been quite a bit harder than usual, but I hope you have enjoyed it and found it interesting. 

[00:14:15] We'll have another members-only podcast for you in a couple of weeks, and I promise that this will be a lot less niche.

[00:14:24] Let me know though. 

[00:14:25] I'd love to know what you thought of this one. 

[00:14:28] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English. 

[00:14:33] I'm Alastair Budge and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF PODCAST]


[00:00:04] Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to our second members-only English Learning for Curious Minds podcast. 

[00:00:11] I guess by now you probably know who I am, but if you need a reminder, I'm Alastair Budge the founder of Leonardo English and the host of the show. 

[00:00:22] Firstly, thank you very much for your continued membership to Leonardo English. 

[00:00:27] It couldn't be possible without you and I really am truly grateful. 

[00:00:32] Today we are going to be talking about the poets of World War One. 

[00:00:37] We'll talk about why this war inspired such great poetry. 

[00:00:42] We'll talk about the types of poetry it did inspire, how this changed during the four years of the war and the impact it has left behind on how we think about this war and how we think about war in general. 

[00:00:59] And of course we'll read some extracts of some of the most iconic poems from World War One.

[00:01:07] I had tested out the idea for this podcast on my wife who is not a native speaker, and she said she thought it was too niche and too hard, but I thought it was at least worth a shot

[00:01:21] I have faith that you'll be able to understand and you'll have the transcript and key vocabulary there to help if you need.

[00:01:29] What's more, because it is probably a little harder than most, if you have questions about it or there's anything that you didn't understand, please just email me directly and I'll be more than happy to explain things. 

[00:01:45] Plus, there will be another members-only podcast in a couple of weeks about effective ways to memorise and remember vocabulary.

[00:01:54] So that's a slightly easier topic, a slightly less niche podcast. 

[00:02:01] Okay, then. 

[00:02:02] The First World War was, of course, a war like no other. 

[00:02:07] Over 65 million people fought in it, of whom almost 10 million lost their lives. 

[00:02:14] Yes, there were wars before where more people were killed and wars after where more people were killed.

[00:02:22] But the First World War is quite unique in terms of how it exists in our collective memory. 

[00:02:29] And now that anyone who fought in the First World War is dead - the last soldier died in 2012 - one of the main ways in which the war is remembered, in the English language at least, is through the poetry that was left behind.

[00:02:48] While we can't really lump together the British war poets into just one category, what we can do is talk about the poetry that came out of the First World War as a way of understanding how public sentiment, how people felt about the war, changed over its four year course. 

[00:03:09] What we see through the eyes of the young men who were sent to war is that war as a concept quickly goes from this intangible romantic idea  to something that's completely futile, completely without purpose, that only serves to destroy the lives and souls of the youngest and brightest men and women in the world.

[00:03:33] So let's take a little walk through this journey and take a moment to think about what these young men and women had gone through

[00:03:43] On the 28th of June, 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated. 

[00:03:51] And within two months, the entire of Europe was at war. 

[00:03:57] Young British men filled with patriotic ideals, signed up to support the war effort and the general consensus, the general feeling, was that the war would be over by Christmas.

[00:04:14] The poetry that came from the start of this period echoes this sort of feeling. 

[00:04:22] Here's an extract from a poem called The Soldier by Rupert Brooke. 

[00:04:29] 

[00:04:29] If I should die, think only this of me, 

[00:04:33] That there's some corner of a foreign field 

[00:04:36] That is forever England. There shall be 

[00:04:40] In that rich earth, a richer dust concealed.

[00:04:47] 

[00:04:47] So it's completely idealistic, promoting the idea that men should be happy to give their lives for the higher concept of England, that nothing should be more glorious than to give your life in service of your country. 

[00:05:03] Now we'll never know whether Brooke, the, the poet would have turned a little more cynical after he saw the real horrors of war.

[00:05:14] He died of an infected mosquito bite in 1915 at the ripe old ageof 27, just three weeks after the newspaper, The Times, had published that poem. 

[00:05:30] The true horror of the war soon became apparent, and while at the start of the war, the poems had focused on these sentimental ideals of dying for one's country, of the glory of England, as the war continued, the poets wrote more about the futility of war, of the human tragedy, and of the disappointment of an entire generation of young men.

[00:05:56] It's notable, it's worth remembering, that the enemy in the vast majority of these poems isn't the Germans, the enemy on the battlefield. 

[00:06:08] There are two main enemies. 

[00:06:12] Firstly, the generals, the superiors, the politicians who were sending young men in their millions to their deaths. 

[00:06:22] And secondly, the concept of war itself.

[00:06:26] War was the enemy. 

[00:06:28] War was what was destroying the youth on both sides of the battlefield. 

[00:06:35] Let's take a look first at an example of a poem that talks about the generals as the enemy. 

[00:06:44] This poem is called The General, and it's by Siegfried Sassoon. 

[00:06:51] "Good morning, good morning!" the general said 

[00:06:54] When we met him last week on our way to the line

[00:06:58] Now the soldiers, he smiled at are most of 'em dead 

[00:07:03] And we're cursing his staff for incompetent swine .

[00:07:08] "He's a cheery old card," grunted Harry to Jack 

[00:07:12] As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack

[00:07:17] But he did for them both by his plan of attack. 

[00:07:22] So if you hadn't got that, this is the story of a general who gets two young soldiers killed despite having smiled at them the week before. 

[00:07:33] It's pretty telling that the anger here isn't directed against the battlefield enemy.

[00:07:40] The young men writing these poems know that their opponents across no man's land are in an equally hopeless position, pushed by their own superiors to get upover the top and be slaughtered in exactly the same way. 

[00:08:00] They, in fact have a shared enemy - the generals, the superiors, the politicians who are pushing them forward in this hopeless war. 

[00:08:11] And then this brings us to war itself as the true enemy. 

[00:08:17] There are many poems we could choose from here now, but I think one of the most powerful is called Suicide In The Trenches by probably the most famous war poet Siegfried Sasson, the same poet who wrote The  General

[00:08:34] The vocabulary in this one is a little bit more complicated, but it's such a beautiful, moving one that I think it's worth sharing. 

[00:08:44] So this is called Suicide In The Trenches

[00:08:49] I knew a simple soldier boy 

[00:08:52] Who grinned at life in empty joy, 

[00:08:56] Slept soundly through the lonesome dark, 

[00:08:59] And whistled early with the lark

[00:09:03] In winter trenches, cowed and glum,

[00:09:07] With crumps and lice and lack of rum.

[00:09:11] He put a bullet through his brain. 

[00:09:14] No one spoke of him again. 

[00:09:17] You smug faced cowards with kindling eye 

[00:09:20] Who cheer when soldier lads march by, 

[00:09:25] Sneak home and pray you'll never know 

[00:09:28] The hell where youth and laughter go. 

[00:09:33] I know some of those words may be a little bit unfamiliar, but I hope you get the gist

[00:09:40] Sassoon, the poet, is an example of someone who started out with these patriotic ideals, enlisting in the army at the outbreak of war in 1914 but then became one of the war's greatest critics

[00:09:56] It's also worth pointing out that not all war poetry went this way. 

[00:10:01] There was plenty that continued the patriotic themes talking about the glory of dying for one's country, of the camaraderie of the front line and of the fact that staying at home was the coward's thing to do and brave patriotic men should be going to the front.

[00:10:22] But it's certainly the anti-war war poetry that has captivated our imaginations and that most people now associate with the First World War. 

[00:10:35] Why is this? 

[00:10:36] Well, there's little debate that the anti-war poetry was accurate in its descriptions of life on the front

[00:10:45] It was obviously horrific and there is nothing romantic about being filled with machine gun bullets or killed by nerve gas in a cold, muddy field. 

[00:10:57] An entire generation was destroyed. 

[00:11:00] Those who died on the battlefield didn't return, of course, and those who did return were in many cases, mutilated, damaged, both physically and mentally from their experiences. 

[00:11:16] The cynic might say that the fact that the anti-war poets are now the voice of the First World War is just because that aligns with the post-war view of wars being a negative thing, and because the anti war poems were much more beautifully written and captivating of our imagination than the patriotic stuff. 

[00:11:43] But to those people, I'd definitely say that it's no bad thing that we are constantly reminded of the horrors of war, of the human cost, and of the scale of the tragedy so that we can do everything we possibly can to avoid it happening again.

[00:12:02] Nobody really wants to go to war if it's not necessary, and the words of these young men just remind us quite the horrors that were faced when people had to do so. 

[00:12:16] Well, I hope that this has at least been an interesting look into the world of the British war poets. 

[00:12:23] I know this might have been not the most upbeat, the most joyous, of our episodes, but the words of these poets are just so powerful. 

[00:12:33] I also know that poetry in a foreign language is something that's particularly difficult, but I hope that if you have the transcript and key vocabulary in front of you, this has been a bit easier than it might have been otherwise. 

[00:12:49] Let me just finish by reading what is perhaps the most famous war poem, and that's one that's read every November the 11th, Armistice Day,as a way of remembering the loss of life suffered by these young men and women. 

[00:13:04] It's called "In Flanders Fields", and it's written by John McCrae. 

[00:13:10] In Flanders fields the poppies blow 

[00:13:14] Between the crosses row on row, 

[00:13:16] That Mark our place; and in the sky, 

[00:13:20] The larks, still bravely singing, fly 

[00:13:23] Scarce heard amid the guns below.

[00:13:27] We are the Dead. Short days ago 

[00:13:30] We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, 

[00:13:35] Loved and were loved, and now we lie 

[00:13:39] In Flanders fields. 

[00:13:42] Take up our quarrel with the foe

[00:13:44] To you from failing hands we throw 

[00:13:47] The torch; be yours to hold it high. 

[00:13:51] If ye break faith with us who die, 

[00:13:54] We shall not sleep, though poppies grow 

[00:13:57] In Flanders fields.

[00:14:00] Quite something, right? 

[00:14:03] 

[00:14:03] Again, this was a little bit of a test, this podcast. 

[00:14:07] I know that today's one might've been quite a bit harder than usual, but I hope you have enjoyed it and found it interesting. 

[00:14:15] We'll have another members-only podcast for you in a couple of weeks, and I promise that this will be a lot less niche.

[00:14:24] Let me know though. 

[00:14:25] I'd love to know what you thought of this one. 

[00:14:28] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English. 

[00:14:33] I'm Alastair Budge and I'll catch you in the next episode.

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