Verse

James Connolly's The Legacy

Come here my son, and for a time put up your childish play,
Draw nearer to your father’s bed, and lay your games away.
No sick man’s ’plaint is this of mine, ill-tempered at your noise,

James Connolly's The Legacy: The Dying Socialist to His Son is a powerful exposition in verse of the socialist view of working people throughout history.

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Song of the mothers

Author: 

Irene Rutherford McLeod

During the 1914-18 war, well over 2,000 people wrote published poetry in the UK. Most of them were not soldiers writing from the trenches.

The “soldier poets” such as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon spoke eloquently of the suffering in the trenches to a British public still being told of the war’s glory by their rulers. Rightly, their poetry is getting plenty of attention in the centenary of that war.

But what of the poets on the home front? Many also speak eloquently, of the harsh realities of the war for those back home.

This poem articulates the anguish of women whose sons went to war to die. It is not just a cry of fear and bereavement, though, but a political dissection of those who sent them and what they stood for.

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Queen Mab

Author: 

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley is known as a romantic poet. He was also a radical, militant atheist, campaigner for women’s rights and Catholic emancipation in Ireland.

His first poem Queen Mab, written when he was only 20 years old, was used by the Chartists as an educational text (they may well have been unaware of who wrote it).

In Queen Mab, Shelley uses the literary device of a fantasy fairy taking a child away from Earth to gain a perspective upon it.

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From the Youth of All Nations

Author: 

H C Harwood

From the Youth of All Nations reads to me as a bitter complaint against the ruling classes on all sides of the First World War playing out their arguments with the sufferings and lives of soldiers.

Its title declares both a bitterness of the young against old leaders, and an internationalist outlook. Then its fifteen four-line (quatrain) stanzas spell out the manipulations of the call to war and promise rebellion rather than reverence. The strict iambic tetrameter rhythm creates an impression of an army marching to settle scores with its rulers.

From the Youth of All Nations by H C Harwood is a bitter complaint against the ruling classes on all sides of the First World War playing out their arguments with the sufferings and lives of soldiers.

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How war changed them

Author: 

Wilfrid Wilson Gibson

Wilfrid Wilson Gibson was born in Hexham, Northumberland in 1878.

He made his living as a poet after leaving school, at first writing poetry in the standard, Victorian-Romantic style. But during his twenties he grew more socially aware, and became well-known for writing about workers and poor people in accessible, everyday language. 

Two poems by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson — “The Return” and “Back” — portraying the mental trauma of war.

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War, hell and hope

Author: 

Donald E Milner

The revolutionary socialist newspaper Workers’ Dreadnought (1914-24) published this poem on its front page, heading an article entitled “Soldiers ask what they are fighting for” on 20 October 1917.

A poem published by the revolutionary socialist newspaper Workers’ Dreadnought above a front page article entitled “Soldiers ask what they are fighting for” in 1917.

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A German soldier’s peace poem

From The Workers’ Dreadnought, 29 June 1918

A poem was found on the dead body of a German soldier. The British authorities reproduced it in facsimile and threw it from aeroplanes into the German lines.

Some of the copies were blown into the British lines, and a British soldier who caught one sent it to the New-York-based magazine Flying. The editor of Flying wrote: “Its value for propaganda purposes is a matter of opinion. The sentiment is of the class that Americans describe as ‘mush’.”

A German soldier’s peace poem from World War I.

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“Government”

Author: 

Janine Booth (intro) / Eva Gore-Booth (poem)

Eva Gore-Booth (1870–1926) was an Irish poet and dramatist, and a suffragist and labour movement activist.

She was the younger sister of Constance Markiewicz, the nationalist, socialist and feminist who took part in the 1916 Easter Rising and in its aftermath became the first woman elected to the British Parliament, but who, as an Irish republican, refused to take her seat.

This poem, “Government”, was published in The Workers’ Dreadnought (the newspaper of the Workers’ Suffrage Federation) in its Christmas 1917 issue.

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The First World War: Swear You'll Never Forget (verse)

HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN YET?
For the world's events have rumbled on since those
gagged days,
Like traffic checked awhile at the crossing of the ways:
And the haunted gap in your minds has filled with

Do you remember the rats, and the stench Of corpses rotting in front of the front line trench?

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