Teaching War Poetry has always been a big part of the school curriculum, especially around Remembrance Day. It can give history students an insight into the reality of war and life in the trenches and give English students material for studying important poetry themes ranging from conflict and battle to imagery and nature.

Studying poetry has always been very important and worthwhile. Poems obviously help students develop their reading response and their writing skills, but they can also help to develop students’ emotional response to text. On top of this, War Poetry provides students with a link to specific times, societies and places, allowing them feel what it must have been like to live through these big historical events.

The Education Platform is the perfect tool for preparing lesson materials for lessons on War Poetry. The the Licence to Copy means that teachers can digitally copy at least 5 poems from a poetry book, digitally annotate the copies and share them via link with their students in preparation for class, or even display copies on a smart board in the lesson itself.

War Poetry Lesson Ideas

  • Students could look at a selection of poems written in different years/eras to see how attitudes to war have changed over time. They can place the poems on a value continuum of ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ war and present on why they placed them where they did.
  • Looking at different poems on WWI, students could identify what they all agree on, and then points of disagreement. Why might this be so?
  • Using a selection of poems, students must look out for evidence of a particular thing – soldiers, technology, terrain, leadership, patriotism etc. They can then present to each other in jigsaw groups.
  • Students could balloon debate a selection of poems. Being allocated one each, they must argue their poem is the best/most accurate/most fitting poem. Poems are eliminated from the debate by a judge in a series of rounds. The ‘survivors’ carry on until a winner is declared.

There are some great War Poetry resources available on the Education Platform, including the big war poets of WWI, lesser known material from WWII and even poems from more modern conflicts like the War in Afghanistan.

First World War Poetry

The First World War produced a huge and powerful body of poetry which has since become an important and indispensable aspect of English literature.

Poems of the Great War: 1914-1918

Edited by Luigi Pirandello

Overview: Published to commemorate the eightieth anniversary of Armistice, this collection is intended to be an introduction to the great wealth of First World War Poetry. The sequence of poems is random – making it ideal for dipping into – and drawn from a number of sources, mixing both well-known and less familiar poetry.

This book includes most of the big names – John McCrae, Wilfred Owen, Charles Sorley, Rupert Brooke, Margret Cole and Siefried Sassoon and poems such as:

  • In Flanders Field by John McCrae
  • The Veteran by Margret Postgate Cole
  • Summer in England, 1914 by Alice Meynell
  • When you see millions of the mouthless dead by Charles Sorley
  • The Soldier by Rupert Brooke
  • Break of Day in the Trenches by Isaac Rosenberg

The War Poems of Wilfred Owen

Edited by Jon Stallworthy

Overiew: When Wilfred Owen was killed in the days before the Armistice in 1918, he left behind a shattering, truthful and indelible record of a soldier’s experience of the First World War. His greatest war poetry has been collected, edited and introduced here by Professor Jon Stallworthy. This special edition is published to commemorate the end of the hellish war that Owen, though the hard-won truth and terrible beauty of his poetry, has taught us never to forget.

No lesson on war poetry would be complete without some poems by Wilfred Owen, regarded by some as the greatest poet of the First World War. This book includes Owen’s most famous poems such as:

  • Anthem for Doomed Youth
  • Dulce et Decorum Est
  • Futility
  • The Parable of the Old Men and the Young
  • Strange Meeting

The Complete Poems

by Robert Graves

Robert Graves is another big name in Twentieth Century poetry, and like the others he wrote about the atrocities of war but he also used his poetry to protect himself from being overwhelmed by war. Many of his best war poems were written long after the First World War was over, and included:

  • Recalling War
  • The Cuirassiers of the Frontier
  • The Last Day of Leave

Of course Remembrance Day isn’t just about remembering those who fought in WWI and there’s plenty of war poetry from other times of conflict that teachers can use to compare and contrast to the traditional war poems or again use in teaching different periods in history and politics.

Second World War Poetry

Poetry from WWII is often overlooked despite it being a huge moment in history, but there are some relevant and moving poems from this era that not only cover a huge range of topics but come from around the world.

Poetry Of The Second World War

by Desmond Graham

Overview: Poetry of the Second World War brings to light a neglected chapter in world literature. In its chorus of haunting poetic voices, over a hundred of the most articulate minds of their generation record the true experience of the 1939-45 conflict, and its unending consequences. In keeping with its subject, it has an international scope, with poems from over twenty countries, including Japan, Australia, Europe, America and Russia; poems in which human responses echo each other across boundaries of culture and state. Auden, Brecht, Stevie Smith, Primo Levi, Zbigniew Herbert and Anna Akhmatova are set alongside the eloquence of unknown poets. The anthology has been arranged to bring out the chronological and cumulative human experience of the war: pre-war fears, air raids, the boredom, fear and camaraderie of military life; battle, occupation and resistance; surviving and the aftermath. Here at last, are the poems of the Holocaust, the Blitz, Hiroshima; of soldiers, refugees and disrupted lives. What emerges is a poetry capable of conveying the vast and terrible sweep of war.

Modern War Poetry

Since both world wars, there have been numerous other wars that are equally as monumental all of which have been put into verse by modern poets. These poems are perfect in teaching how the human element and emotion in war stays the same, no matter the era.

Heroes: 100 Poems from the New Generation of War Poets

by John Jeffcock

Overview: In 2010, with the full support of the MOD, John Jeffcock, poet and a former soldier in the Coldstream Guards, invited contributions for a book of modern war poems. He was overwhelmed by the response: contributions came from serving soldiers, veterans and their families – wives, sisters, daughters (one just 11 years old). The writers have one thing in common: these are people whose lives have been changed by war, and the poems speak to readers with direct, emotional appeal. While over half of the contributions relate to Afghanistan, there are also poems inspired by World War II, The Falklands and Northern Ireland. This is also the first time that poems have been gathered from all ranks and all organizations – from the Parachute Regiment to the Special Air Service, from the Gordon Highlanders to the Royal Marines. As the poetry of Brooke, Owen and Sassoon spoke to those who endured World War I, here are poems that speak of war in our time – the theatres of war might change but the emotional resonance remains the same.

If you enjoyed this blog, make sure to have a read of Jon Biddle’s blog about raising the profile of poetry.