Royal Air Force Cemetery

Famous World War Two Poems

Famous World War Two Poems

20 June 2023

After the First World War, poems became less common. Most people had already seen the effects of the war and the impact on their families and their lives. The tone of the poems became less patriotic and more focused on death and despair.

We’ve curated a list of war poems from WW2; please note, some of these are extracts rather than the whole poem.

All Day it has Rained – Alun Lewis

And I can remember nothing dearer or more to my heart
Than the children I watched in the woods on Saturday
Shaking down burning chestnuts for the schoolyard’s merry play,
Or the shaggy patient dog who followed me
By Sheet and Steep and up the wooded scree
To the Shoulder o’ Mutton where Edward Thomas brooded long
On death and beauty – till a bullet stopped his song.

This poem is particularly touching, as it drives home that normal life has shifted once again. “I can remember nothing dearer” tells us that this is a fond memory, a life that Lewis was content with. A continuation throughout the poem highlights, that for Lewis, this ordinary life was something special, a peacefulness.

Notice on the last line Lewis uses a dash, breaking up the dreamy text from before. “On death and beauty – till a bullet stopped his song” is a fantastic line to show the effect of art and war, with death and bullet being similar, and beauty and song being connected.

Friends Gone – Ian Fletcher (Excerpt)

Philip's slim half-forgotten hand-writing
And Donald courting death like a girl
And Tony when drunk finding God exciting
And Peter whose courtship was too successful

“Friends Gone” is a heart wrenching poem where Ian Fletcher describes all the details of the friends he has lost. Though it is a short poem, it’s truly about the little things that make someone who they are. “Philips slim half-forgotten hand-writing” shows not only time has passed with the “half-forgotten”, but also that Fletcher cares enough about his friends to remember and list them.

The heartbreaking moment in this poem is shown that even after World War Two ends, people still struggle – Peter, “whose courtship was too successful” seems to have passed after the war, which was not really spoken about during the previous era poems.

The Sonnet-Ballad – Gwendolyn Brooks

Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?
They took my lover’s tallness off to war,
Left me lamenting. Now I cannot guess
What I can use an empty heart-cup for.
He won’t be coming back here any more.
Some day the war will end, but, oh, I knew
When he went walking grandly out that door
That my sweet love would have to be untrue.
Would have to be untrue. Would have to court
Coquettish death, whose impudent and strange
Possessive arms and beauty (of a sort)
Can make a hard man hesitate-and change.
And he will be the one to stammer, “Yes.”
Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?

This poem is unique as it is written from a woman’s perspective. While we tend to focus primarily on soldiers, the war also uprooted families and created anxiety around the unknown. Of course, this was before technology was as widespread as it is now, so they didn’t know whether their husband was alive or not.

In Brooks’ poem, she predicts that her husband will not return from war – “oh, I knew/that my sweet love would have to be untrue” – she knows the reality of war and laments to her mother about where happiness is. This poem also focuses on how he “went walking grandly out that door”, showing that while he may feel fear, there is a certain pride in going to war.

“What if a much of a which…” - E.E. Cummings

what if a much of a which of a wind
gives the truth to summer’s lie;
bloodies with dizzying leaves the sun
and yanks immortal stars awry?
Blow king to beggar and queen to seem
(blow friend to fiend: blow space to time)
—when skies are hanged and oceans drowned,
the single secret will still be man

This extract from E.E. Cummings laments war, specifically during the summer months. “gives the truth to summer’s lie;/bloodies with dizzying leaves in the sun” gives the impression that war is dark and thunderous. “bloodies” is used as a powerful word to show that even the leaves aren’t exempt from seeing the bloodshed of war. “Blow king to beggar and queen to seem” curses the royalty that rule to experience what it would be like a common man or a “beggar”, but exaggerates to “blow space to time” to relay the pointlessness he feels.

This is a man writing who does not feel in control, and helpless. He questions war with absurdity - “when skies are hanged and oceans drowned” – as those things will never come to pass. “The single secret will still be man” emphasises that man is the answer, and man is the problem too.

Soldiers Will Never be Forgotten

At the Army Cadet Force, we remember those who have fallen and who experienced first-hand what the war was like. We remember those who fought during WW2 on VE Day; read our guide to everything you need to know about the silence.

For more war poems read our famous World War 1 poems article.

Image by Dittmar Sauer