War Poems

The Soldier

by Rupert Brooke

‘The Soldier’ is a poem by famed war poet Rupert Brooke. It celebrates the sacrifices of soldiers during World War I.

This poem reflects on the impact of war and the sacrifices made by soldiers who die for their country. The poem suggests that dying for one's country is a noble and honorable act, and that the memory of the fallen soldiers should be honored.

If I should die, think only this of me:

That there’s some corner of a foreign field

That is for ever England. There shall be

In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;


by Sir Walter Scott

‘Lochinvar’ is a ballad about a young and courageous knight who saves his beloved, the fair lady Ellen, from marrying another man.

Although Walter Scott constantly reminds the poem’s listeners that Lochinvar is a noble, courageous knight, Lochinvar doesn’t fight anyone in the poem. Instead, Lochinvar fights for his love using his determination and intelligence, outsmarting Ellen’s father and her betrothed. This subversion of expectations implies that the wisest and most honorable fighters know how to pick and choose their battles. In that regard, Lochinvar is a bit like Odysseus, strategizing and choreographing his every action to get precisely what he wants.

O young Lochinvar is come out of the west,

Through all the wide Border his steed was the best;

And save his good broadsword he weapons had none,

He rode all unarm’d, and he rode all alone

Air Raid

by Chinua Achebe

‘Air Raid’ by Chinua Achebe is a poem that provides a glimpse into the Nigerian/Biafran Civil War using symbolism and dark humor.

Achebe's poem reinforces the uncanny nature of war, as it uproots ordinary life and makes normal existence impossible so long as it continues.

It comes so quickly

the bird of death

from evil forests of Soviet technology

A man crossing the road

A Poor Christian Looks at the Ghetto

by Czeslaw Milosz

‘A Poor Christian Looks at the Ghetto’ by Czeslaw Milosz presents a description of the Warsaw Ghetto from the eyes of a “poor Christian.”

The poem explores the theme of war, particularly the devastating impact of World War II and the Holocaust on the Jewish population of Europe. The imagery of destruction and violence and the sense of fear and uncertainty conveyed in the poem speak to the horrors of war and its lasting effects on those who experience it.

Bees build around red liver,

Ants build around black bone.

It has begun: the tearing, the trampling on silks,

It has begun: the breaking of glass, wood, copper, nickel, silver, foam


by Gillian Clarke

 ‘Sunday’ by Gillian Clarke was inspired by the poet’s personal experience of attempting to enjoy a Sunday morning but then being reminded of all the suffering that’s going on in the world. 

The poem showcases how simple it is for people living in affluent nations to ignore or simply forget about wars abroad, even those that their nation is officially or unofficially involved in.

Getting up early on a Sunday morning

leaving them sleep for the sake of peace,

the lunch pungent, windows open

The Bard: A Pindaric Ode

by Thomas Gray

‘The Bard: A Pindaric Ode’ written by Thomas Gray, depicts the ruthless torment unleashed upon poets by the tyrant King Edward I.

The poem follows a battle between the English army and the Welsh. The poem depicts war as a brutal and destructive force that brings death and suffering to both sides. It is a powerful commentary on the human cost of war and the need for peace and justice in the face of violence and oppression.

"Ruin seize thee, ruthless King!

Confusion on thy banners wait,

Tho' fann'd by Conquest's crimson wing

They mock the air with idle state.

Two Armies

by Stephen Spender

‘Two Armies’ by Stephen Spender describes two armies on a devastating battlefield where every individual is suffering. Their common humanity is highlighted. 

The poet alludes to an unknown, unnamed war in this poem that's fought by suffering, terrified men on both sides.

Deep in the winter plain, two armies

Dig their machinery, to destroy each other.

Men freeze and hunger. No one is given leave

High Flight

by John Gillespie Magee

‘High Flight’ by John Gillespie Maggee Jr. is a powerful WWII poem that was written in the weeks prior to the poet’s death. It explores flying, God, and human mortality.

The poem was written during World War II and is often interpreted as a tribute to the bravery and skill of military pilots. Specifically, it alludes to Magee's own experiences as a pilot.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

of sun-split clouds,—and done a hundred things

The Hand That Signed the Paper

by Dylan Thomas

‘The Hands that Signed the Paper’ is a war protest poem that derides the appalling apathy and ruthlessness of the rulers toward ordinary citizens.

The title of the poem lays out the war theme quite well where it talks about the apathy of the people sitting at the helm of affairs and very conveniently overlooking the miseries of the common person who is burdened by the aftermath of a war that has just ended. The speaker is disgusted by the autocratic rulers' indifferent conduct toward their people and effectively narrates the evils of a totalitarian state, in adverse times.

The hand that signed the paper felled a city;

Five sovereign fingers taxed the breath,

Doubled the globe of dead and halved a country;

These five kings did a king to death.


by Thomas Babington Macaulay

‘Horatius’ by Thomas Babington Macaulay is a long narrative ballad about Horatius Cocles, a legendary hero from early Roman history.

In the war between the Latins and Etruscans, Rome only lives to see another day because of the valiant Horatius Cocles. This story, then, emphasizes the difference that one man can make in war, even when all the odds seem stacked against him. With bravery and a strong sense of character on his side, Horatius does miracles.

LARS Porsena of Clusium

By the Nine Gods he swore

That the great house of Tarquin

Should suffer wrong no more.


by Boey Kim Cheng

‘Reservist’ describes the repetitive nature of war and the preparations that go into arming reserve soldiers and preparing them for battle.

War is a recurring theme in literature, and this poem captures its essence with honesty and depth. Without explicitly describing the horrors of battle, the poem hints at the experiences of soldiers and the toll war takes on them. It reflects the cyclical nature of conflict, highlighting the repetitive nature of military service.

Time again for the annual joust, the regular fanfare,

a call to arms, the imperative letters stern

as clarion notes, the king's command, upon

Suicide in the Trenches

by Siegfried Sassoon

‘Suicide in the Trenches’ is an incredibly tragic poem. Siegfried Sassoon explores the mental deterioration of a young soldier in the trenches of WW1 and his suicide.

The poem depicts the horrors of war, including the harsh living conditions in the trenches, the lack of basic necessities like rum, and the mental and physical toll it takes on soldiers.

I knew a simple soldier boy

Who grinned at life in empty joy,

Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,

And whistled early with the lark.

The Fish

by Marianne Moore

‘The Fish’ by Marianne Moore uses imagery and form to objectively describe nature and humanity’s ability to survive and mature in the face of death, destruction, and loss.

'The Fish' is a very universal poem, but if you look closely enough at the vocabulary, it's clear that World War I inspired it. The destruction in this poem applies to the death of civilians and soldiers and the destruction of cities and borders. However, the smaller signs of life in the ocean offer a promise for rebuilding and growth.


 through black jade.

     Of the crow-blue mussel-shells, one keeps

     adjusting the ash-heaps;

          opening and shutting itself like

They Feed They Lion

by Philip Levine

‘They Feed They Lion’ by Philip Levine is a powerful poem that visualizes a scene of apocalyptic proportions. It was inspired by the aftermath of the 1967 Detroit riots.

While it’s not stated outright, the imagery in the poem strongly suggests a terrible conflict between those who “they” and the one’s they “lion” against. Although the destruction comes from an uprising by the oppressed (“they”), there’s still a mood and tone of abysmal bleakness, given how much is destroyed in the process.

Out of burlap sacks, out of bearing butter,

Out of black bean and wet slate bread,

Out of the acids of rage, the candor of tar,

Out of creosote, gasoline, drive shafts, wooden dollies,

Nude Interrogation

by Yusef Komunyakaa

‘Nude Interrogation’ by Yusef Komunyakaa is one of the best examples of prose poetry, and it captures the struggles of Vietnam War veterans after their return home.

'Nude Interrogation' by Yusef Komunyakaa isn't explicitly about war, but it's about how Veterans avoid talking about war so they do not have to confront their traumatic memories. As such, this poem captures the emotions and perceptions of people on the run from their pasts and the events that scarred them forever.

Did you kill anyone over there? Angelica shifts her gaze from Janis Joplin poster to the Jimi Hendrix, lifting the pale muslin blouse over her head.

The Measures Taken

by Erich Fried

‘The Measures Taken’ by Erich Fried is a powerful piece about war and loss. The reader is asked to consider their concepts of good, evil, and who deserves to live throughout the poem. 

War is an important theme in the poem. 'The Measures Taken' reflects on the brutality of war, specifically World War II, and its devastating impact on individuals and communities. The poem suggests that the measures taken to protect against war can be just as destructive as the war itself.

The lazy are slaughtered

the world grows industrious

The ugly are slaughtered

the world grows beautiful

Beach Burial

by Kenneth Slessor

‘Beach Burial’ by Kenneth Slessor is a deeply emotional poem about the cost of war. It uses hard-to-forget images of bodies washing up on a beach to highlight this fact.

The poem explores the tragedy of war and how it indiscriminately takes soldiers' lives, regardless of which side they are on. This feels even more important when the bodies of the dead are juxtaposed with the usually beautiful beach.

Softly and humbly to the Gulf of Arabs

The convoys of dead sailors come;

At night they sway and wander in the waters far under,

But morning rolls them in the foam.

The Hermit

by Alan Paton

‘The Hermit’ by Alan Paton suggests that it is impossible to find peace by locking out the pain, hunger, and emotions of others. Justice and peace are only possible through human connection and compromise.

'The Hermit' is about political inactivity in the face of injustice and the consequences of trying to hide from the world. Those who do not help other people and who are not willing to change and compromise, according to the poem, will never find peace. Without fighting for what is right, fear, darkness, and desperation take over.

I have barred the doors

Of the place where I bide,

I am old and afraid

Of the world outside.

Not My Business

by Niyi Osundare

‘Not My Business’ by Niyi Osundare is a powerful, satirical poem that explores the consequences of staying silent in the face of oppression.

War is indirectly referenced in the poem, symbolizing the violence and chaos that permeate society. Osundare's poetry often confronts the devastating consequences of war, shedding light on its destructive nature and the toll it takes on individuals, families, and communities. Through this poem, he alludes to the horrors of violence.

They picked Akanni up one morning

Beat him soft like clay

And stuffed him down the belly

Of a waiting jeep.

A Nation’s Strength

by William Ralph Emerson

‘A Nation’s Strength’ by William Ralph Emerson asks readers to consider what it is that makes a country great and why countries fail.

The speaker considers how war does not make a country great in this poem.

What makes a nation's pillars high
And its foundations strong?
What makes it mighty to defy
The foes that round it throng?

The Spires of Oxford

by Winifred Mary Letts

‘The Spires of Oxford’ by Winifred M. Letts is a memorial war poem that explores the loss of innumerable men from Oxford. The poet expresses her hope these men are in Heaven.

War is one of the primary themes at work in this 20th-century poem. It is described in vague language that is still quite effective.

I saw the spires of Oxford

As I was passing by,

The gray spires of Oxford

Against the pearl-gray sky.

The History Teacher

by Billy Collins

In ‘The History Teacher,’ the titular educator neglects to teach his students about the cold, hard realities of the past in order to protect their innocence from reality.

Trying to protect his students' innocence

he told them the Ice Age was really just

the Chilly Age, a period of a million years

when everyone had to wear sweaters.


by Walt Whitman

‘1861’ by Walt Whitman is a moving Civil War poem written from the perspective of a soldier. He details the difficulty of a particular year. 


by Wilfred Owen

The best inspirations for poetry, or any art, really, as with the case of Owen’s ‘1914,’ come from anything that is real and important in the life of the writer.

1st September, 1939

by W.H. Auden

The poem, ‘1st September, 1939’ by W.H. Auden, was occasioned by Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939.

A Prayer For My Son

by William Butler Yeats

‘A Prayer for my Son,’ written from the perspective of a father who wants to protect his son against all odds during the brewing war in Ireland. Read the poem with a complete analysis.

A Stopwatch and an Ordnance Map

by Stephen Spender

‘A Stopwatch and an Ordnance Map’ by Stephen Spender explores the Spanish Civil War through the lyrical depiction of one man’s death. It is marked by a stopwatch, the olive trees, and the continued conflict around him. 

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