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"The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry"

The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry (Penguin Classics) - Jon Silkin, George Walter, Various

Some very interesting information in the introduction that I hadn't realised. It's all quite obvious in retrospect but it was still a series of lightbulb moments for me so I'll make reference to it. The reason why there were hundreds of thousands of poems written and published during World War One was because:

- poetry was for most of Edwardian society, a part of everyday life;
- The media was also almost wholly print-based (cinema was still very much in its infancy); 
- Victorian and Edwardian educational reforms resulted in increased literacy; 
- the army which Britain sent to fight was the most widely and deeply educated in her history. 

I find it very hard to imagine an era when poetry was so much a part of day-to-day life. Although I have never learnt the skill of appreciating poetry, as I read through a succession of these poems, and triggered by certain words or phrases, I started to get images of a grim, kaleidoscopic mix of lice, blood, death, patriotic songs, mad, futility, despair, absurdity, sickness, fear etc. It proved to be a powerful and moving experience.

As I was reading this book, I was also reading Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves. Sometimes the two books worked in tandem. Robert Graves describes the horror of The Battle of Loos and there - in this volume - are poems inspired by Loos. 

One very small but moving moment was reading a poem written by Rudyard Kipling. When he actively encouraged his young son John to go to war he was expecting triumph and heroism. John died in the First World War, at the Battle of Loos in September 1915, at age 18. After his son's death, Kipling wrote...

If any question why we died / Tell them, because our fathers lied.

An important document of how World War One was experienced by a wide range of articulate and thoughtful people that brings the experience vividly to life.