The First World War inspired established authors, soldiers, combat nurses, and grieving family members to write about the horrors and devastating losses they experienced. Here's a selection of poems, shorts stories, and books about the war's raw brutality, in contrast with patriotic verses and platitudes. The early assurances in England that "it will all be over before Christmas" were dead wrong. War and war stories were not new, but the Great War was different. Troops deployed from numerous continents, battles fought across borders, and advanced weapons resulted in ten million killed. Though the War's reach was global, the indelible losses were intensely personal. These authors gave them voice.
- In Flanders Fields by John McCrae
"We are the Dead. Short days ago we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie in Flanders fields."
- Over There by George M. Cohan
The hit American patriotic song to encourage enlistment in both WWI and WWII: "Over there, over there, send the word, send the word over there that the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming."
- The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot
Considered one of the most influential modernist poems of the twentieth century for its cerebral, sparse, and haunting vision of society after the First World War. "I will show you fear in a handful of dust."
- Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen
"What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? Only the monstrous anger of the guns. Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle can patter out their hasty orisons."
- Strange Meeting by Wilfred Owen
Owen was one of the War's leading poets, killed in 1918. He wrote his searing verses to honor the memory of the fallen. "Courage was mine, and I had mystery; Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery."
- To My Brother by Vera Brittain
"Your battle wounds are scars upon my heart, Received when in that grand and tragic 'show' You played your part."
- The Sisters Buried at Lemnos by Vera Brittain
"Seldom they enter into song or story; Poets praise the soldier's might and deeds of War, But few exalt the Sisters, and the glory of women dead beneath a distant star."
- My Boy Jack by Rudyard Kipling
After his son was reported missing in the Battle of Loos in 1915, the Kiplings led an extensive search, visiting hospitals and interviewing soldiers, but they were never successful. His body may have been identified in 1992, but remains unconfirmed.
- Prayer of a Soldier in France by Joyce Kilmer
"I march with feet that burn and smart (Tread Holy Feet, upon my heart)."
- The Mother's Prayer by E. Nesbit
"By the thoughts that cut like a living knife, by the tears that are never dry, take what he died to win You-- God, take Your victory!"
- There Will Come Soft Rains by Sara Teasdale
One of Teasdale's best known poems about nature's resilience after the War's destruction. "Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree, if mankind perished utterly."
- Dusk In War Time by Sara Teasdale
Teasdale expresses empathy for the women overseas whose loved ones will never return.
- Not To Keep by Robert Frost
Frost's poem is about a wife relieved that her husband returned in one piece, yet crushed to learn he'll be shipping back to war after a week's rest. "They had given him back to her, but not to keep."
- Two Fusiliers by Robert Graves
"Show me the two so closely bound as we, by the red bond of blood, by friendship, blossoming from mud, by Death: we faced him, and we found beauty in Death, in dead men breath."
- Two Viewpoints by Amelia Josephine Burr
Burr's poetic feeling after serving in the American Red Cross: "Facing our guns, so little and so young Against the sunny vineyard-green, I thought What wasted courage! for the child was brave, Fool as he was."
- Country Sentiment by Robert Graves
Graves remained haunted by the memory of war long after, and was amazed by those able to slip back into normalcy seemingly unencumbered.
- Then and Now by Thomas Hardy
"What is war with those where honour is not! Rama laments its dead innocents; Herod hows: 'Sly slaughter rules now! Let us, by modes once called accurst, Overhead, under water, Stab first."
- Mare Liberum by Henry van Dyke
"Unnumbered ghosts that haunt the wave where you have murdered, cry you down; And seamen whom you would not save, weave now in weed-grown depths a crown."
- The Iron Music by Ford Madox Ford
"Dust and corpses in the thistles where the gas-shells burst like snow, and the shrapnel screams and whistles on the Becourt road below."
- The Old Road to Paradise by Margaret Widdemer
"Out on the wet battlefields, few the roadways wind, one to grief, one to death, no road that's kind--"
- Break of Day in the Trenches by Isaac Rosenberg
"Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew your cosmopolitan sympathies."
- Belgium by Edith Wharton
"Wherever men are staunch and free, there shall she keep her fearless state, And homeless, to great nations be the home of all that makes them great."
- America's Welcome Home by Henry van Dyke
"Oh, welcome home in Heaven's peace, dear spirits of the dead! And welcome home ye living sons America hath bred! The lords of war are beaten down, your glorious task is done."
- Time Is by Henry van Dyke
"Time is too slow for those who Wait, too swift for those who Fear, too long for those who Grieve, too short for those who Rejoice; But for those who Love, Time is not."
- Here dead lie we by A.E. Housman
"Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose, But young men think it is, and we were young."
- To Her: In Time of War by E. Nesbit
"Dear, if I come back never, Be it your pride that we gave the hope of our hearts, each other, for the sake of the Hope of the World."
- Lament by Edna St. Vincent Millay
A staunch pacifist during WWI, Millay's poem is told by a wife who grieves her husband's death by sewing little jackets and trousers from his clothing for her children, invites them to savor the keepsakes left in his pockets.
- Mary Postgate by Rudyard Kipling
Called Kipling's finest war story, dark-hearted and particularly poignant after Kipling's own son went missing during the War. it's about a spinster whose son is killed on a trial flight, then she stumbles upon an injured German pilot whose life is in her hands. She's unable to feel any sense of humanity, only rage; he is the enemy responsible for her son's death.
- The Fly by Katherine Mansfield
One of Mansfield's finest stories, the fly's fight for survival is a metaphor related to the father's suppressed and unresolved grief for his son's death during the war six years earlier.
- May Day by F. Scott Fitzgerald
"What's the matter?" "Every God damn thing in the world," he said miserably, "I've absolutely gone to pieces, Phil. I'm all in."
- Dagon by H.P. Lovecraft
"So liberal, indeed, was the discipline of our captors, that five days after we were taken I managed to escape alone in a small boat with water and provisions for a good length of time."
- The Bowmen by Arthur Machen
Troops fighting in World War I get help from St. George and ghosts of archers who fought in the 1415 Battle of Agincourt.
- At the Bay by Katherine Mansfield
Mansfield dedicated this story to the memory of her brother, killed when a demonstration grenade exploded in his hand, 1915.
- The Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield
The Sheridan daughter asks to cancel their planned party after learning a neighbor was killed that day in an accident, leaving behind his wife and five children. "People like that don't expect sacrifices from us. And it's not very sympathetic to spoil everybody's enjoyment as you're doing now."
- Dalyrimple Goes Wrong by F. Scott Fitzgerald
"But when the shouting died he realized...that 'the name that will live forever in the annals and legends of this State' was already living there very quietly and obscurely...He had to go to work--right away."
- Daredevil Joins Tanks by Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway's Kansas City Star article about recruits being interviewed and accepted for immediate service. 'Sign on the dotted line, man,' he said. 'You're too good to be true!'"
- Mix War, Art, and Dancing by Ernest Hemingway
A story about a dance hosted by the girls from the Fine Arts School for the soldiers from Fort Leavenworth to enjoy an evening out before shipping out.
- Sherlock Holmes: His Last Bow by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Doyle wrote fifty-six Sherlock Holmes stories, this one is set during World War I featuring British and German spies. It was viewed as a propaganda piece to bolster British morale, demonizing the Germans.
- Three Soldiers by John Dos Passos
Using bold realism, Dos Passos' vivid account of the war "changed the whole tone of American opinion about the war; it even changed the recollection of actual veterans of the war."
- The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
After serving as a nurse during the War, Christie created her most enduring character in this crime novel, the Belgian inspector with the curly mustache and egg-shaped head, Inspector Hercule Poirot.
- The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford (Hueffer)
A very popular book published in the midst of the War in 1915, the story is a tale of passion, but the publishers knew the commercial value of focusing on "soldier" in its title.
- When William Came by H.H. Munro (SAKI)
Written in 1913, Saki conjures a futuristic war in which Germany is victorious over England, set in occupied London. "William" is Kaiser Wilhelm II of the House of Hohenzollern. Saki himself died by German sniper fire during the Battle of the Ancre while serving in the 22nd Battalion of the Royal Fusilliers.
- Foods That Will Win the War and How to Cook Them by C. Houston & Alberta Goudiss
A fascinating book about just how important it was to save food and make sacrifices during wartime. It provides recipes for reducing wheat, meat, sugar, and fat consumption to benefit our troops overseas. The message is that everyone can do their part.
- The War That Will End War by H.G. Wells
"All of the realities of this war are things of the mind."
- Tom Swift and His War Tank by Victor Appleton
After the British introduced the tank in the War, this story is about Tom's invention of a bigger tank, twice as fast (12 mph), able to bridge larger trenches. It offers hope and a happy ending during a time of fear and loss.
- Tom Swift and His Aerial Warship by Victor Appleton
This popular juvenile adventure series provided an escape, particularly this story set during the War in which Tom invents a huge airship designed for military use with a mechanism to deal with recoil of heavy weaponry.
- Pierrot, Dog of Belgium by Walter A. Dyer
"Amid the cries of anguish and despair there have come to me the weeping of a little girl named Lisa and the voice of a faithful dog whining for his master."
- Tarzan the Untamed by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Burroughs' seventh Tarzan novel was controversial for its dark and violent story set during World War I. The ape-man seeks revenge after the Germans invade and destroy his African plantation and kill his wife.
- The Amazing Interlude by Mary Roberts Rinehart
A young idealistic girl sympathetic to the plight of WWI soldiers volunteers for the Red Cross in Europe against her fiance's objections and falls in love with a Belgian spy.
- Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
In sharp contrast to Tom Swift and Tarzan action adventure fiction, Gilman's tale is about a feminist utopian society comprised entirely of females; free of war, conflict, and domination. Now that's an escape from reality!