Poems of War and Remembrance

Soldier and wife visiting cemetery together
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Politics and war have inspired writers, poets, and playwrights since humankind began telling stories. Whether to honor those who have died in battle or to mourn the senseless destruction such conflict causes, these 10 poems about war and remembrance are classics. Learn about the poets who wrote these poems and discover the historical events behind them.

Li Po: "Nefarious War" (c. 750)

Li Po Reciting for the Emperor based on a painting by H.M. Burton
Li Po reciting for the Emperor. Bettmann / Getty Images

Li Po, also known as Li Bai (701–762) was a Chinese poet who traveled widely during the Tang Dynasty. He wrote often of his experiences and of the political tumult of the era. Li's work inspired 20th-century poet Ezra Pound.

Excerpt:


"In the battlefield men grapple each other and die;
The horses of the vanquished utter lamentable cries to heaven ..."

William Shakespeare: St. Crispin's Day speech from "Henry V" (1599)

Henry V at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
William Shakespeare's Henry V at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London. Robbie Jack / Getty Images

William Shakespeare (1564–April 23, 1616) wrote a number of plays about English royalty, including "Henry V." In this speech, the king rallies his troops before the Battle of Agincourt by appealing to their sense of honor. The victory in 1415 over French troops was a milestone in the Hundred Years' War.

Excerpt:


"This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian..."

Alfred, Lord Tennyson: "The Charge of the Light Brigade" (1854)

Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (Aug. 6, 1809–Oct. 6, 1892) was a British poet and Poet Laureate who earned great acclaim for his writings, which were often inspired by mythology and politics of the day. This poem honors British soldiers who were killed at the Battle of Balaclava in 1854 during the Crimean War, one of Britain's bloodiest conflicts of the modern era.

Excerpt:


"Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred..."

Elizabeth Barrett Browning: "Mother and Poet" (1862)

Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Engraving of the English Poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. traveler1116/Getty Images

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (March 6, 1806–June 29, 1861) was an English poet who earned acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic for her writing. In the final years of her life, she wrote frequently about the conflicts engulfing much of Europe, including this poem.

Excerpt:


"Dead! One of them shot by the sea in the east,
And one of them shot in the west by the sea.
Dead! both my boys! When you sit at the feast
And are wanting a great song for Italy free,
Let none look at me!"

Herman Melville: "Shiloh: A Requiem (April, 1862)" (1866)

American Novelist Herman Melville
Tintype of the American Novelist Herman Melville. Bettmann / Getty Images

In this remembrance of the bloody Civil War battle, Herman Melville (Aug. 1, 1819–Sept. 28, 1891) contrasts the peaceful flight of birds with the destruction on the battlefield. A noted writer and poet of the 19th century, Melville was profoundly moved by the Civil War and used it frequently as inspiration.

Excerpt:


"Skimming lightly, wheeling still,
The swallows fly low
Over the field in clouded days,
The forest-field of Shiloh..."

Walt Whitman: "The Artilleryman’s Vision" (1871)

portrait of Walt Whitman
An 1881 portrait of Walt Whitman, on a visit to Boston for the second publishing of his poetry volume Leaves of Grass. Library of Congress / Getty Images

Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819–March 26, 1892) was an American writer and poet best known for his collection of poetry "Leaves of Grass." During the Civil War, Whitman served as a nurse for Union troops, an experience he would write about frequently later in life, including this poem about the lingering effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.


"While my wife at my side lies slumbering, and the wars are over long,
And my head on the pillow rests at home, and the vacant mid-night passes..."

Stephen Crane: "War Is Kind" (1899)

Waist-up photo of Stephen Crane
American Author Stephen Crane. Bettmann/Getty Images

Stephen Crane (Nov. 1, 1871–June 5, 1900) wrote several reality-inspired works, most notably the Civil War novel "The Red Badge of Courage." Crane was one of the most popular writers of his day when he died at age 28 of tuberculosis. This poem was published just a year before his death.


"Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind.
Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky
And the affrighted steed ran on alone,
Do not weep..."

Thomas Hardy: "Channel Firing" (1914)

portrait of the Thomas Hardy
English novelist Thomas Hardy. Culture Club/Getty Images

Thomas Hardy (June 2, 1840–Jan. 11, 1928) was one of many British novelists and poets to be profoundly shaken by the death and destruction of World War I. Hardy is best known for his novels, such as "Tess of the d'Urbervilles," but he also wrote a number of poems, including this one penned at the onset of the war.


"That night your great guns, unawares,
Shook all our coffins as we lay,
And broke the chancel window-squares,
We thought it was the Judgment-day..."

Amy Lowell: "The Allies" (1916)

Amy Lowell Reading Book
Bettmann / Getty Images

Amy Lowell (Feb. 9, 1874–May 12, 1925) was an American poet who was noted for her free verse style of writing. Although a noted pacifist, Lowell wrote frequently about World War I, often in anguish over the loss of life. She was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her poetry in 1926. 


"Into the brazen, burnished sky,
the cry hurls itself.
The zigzagging cry of hoarse throats,
it floats against the hard winds..."

Siegfried Sassoon: "Aftermath" (1919)

Siegfried Sassoon In Uniform
English poet, novelist and soldier, Siegfried Sassoon. George C. Beresford /Getty Images

Siegfried Sassoon (Sept. 8, 1886–Sept. 1, 1967) was a British poet and writer who served with distinction during World War I. After being decorated for valor in 1917, he published "Soldier's Declaration," a bold antiwar essay. After the war, Sassoon continued to write about the horrors he experienced on the battlefield. In this poem, inspired by a military trial, Sassoon describes the symptoms of "shell shock," now known as post-traumatic stress disorder.


"Have you forgotten yet?...
For the world's events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways..."