Ever since human beings first started string words together in rhythms and patterns, even before putting pen to paper, the experiences and traumas of war have inspired poets and songwriters.
But the ‘War Poets’ in the Anglophone world now more commonly refers to those writing in the First World War in particular. History’s most appalling and cataclysmic conflict provoked some of the most astonishing and poignant verse ever written. So as American poet Dana Gioia has written:
The First World War changed European literature forever. The horror of modern mechanized warfare and the slaughter of nineteen million young men and innocent civilians traumatized the European imagination. For poets, the unprecedented scale of violence annihilated the classic traditions of war literature – individual heroism, military glory, and virtuous leadership. …
British poetry especially was transformed by the trauma of trench warfare and indiscriminate massacre. The ‘War Poets’ constitute an imperative presence in modern British literature with significant writers such as Wilfred Owen, Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon, David Jones, Ivor Gurney, Rupert Brooke, Edward Thomas, and Isaac Rosenberg. Their work, which combined stark realism and bitter irony with a sense of tragic futility, altered the history of English literature.”
(Dana Gioia, John Allan Wyeth: Soldier Poet, St Austin Review, March/April 2020. p. 4)