Although the Second World War lasted two years longer than the First, it is World War One that springs to mind when one hears ‘War Poetry’. For whatever reason, there was significantly more poetry written between 1914 and 1918 that has become embedded into popular culture than that written between 1939 and 1945. There certainly was a lot of poetry composed, and much raw emotion stirred up in both civilians and the armed forces, and yet the poetry of the Second World War has never enjoyed the popularity that the poetry of the First World War did.
The First World War was the first time that many civilians were aware of the horrors of war. This was probably due to the fact that soldiers were conscripted during the First World War, and wrote home to inform their families of how much worse the experience was than they could have imagined. As such, much of the poetry from this conflict had a focus on how brutal the conditions of fighting were, and how mechanical warfare was a stark contrast to the battle-for-gentlemen that many conscript soldiers had come to expect.
By the time of the Second World War, anyone going away to fight in Europe had learnt from the previous generation that war would not be a picnic for gentlemen to enjoy, and braced themselves for the terror of 20th-century battles. The poetry then began to shift, and the focus widened to a variety of different social issues. Racism was examined in some poems, since many black members of the British Commonwealth were called up to fight, and experienced some unkindness at the hands of white soldiers. The Langston Hughes poem is an excellent example of this, as it examines whether or not both black and white men will be able to share together in the victory of war.
For other examples of poetry from the Second World War, the following writers are some that you may wish to investigate:
John G. Magee
For much of the poetry written during the Second World War, the authors are unknown. There are many anthologies of war poetry available, and these will provide a substantial list of different poems and perspectives on the conflict.
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