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French Poetry of the First World War


Until a hundred years after the First World War extremely few French poems of the First World War had been translated into English and published. But in France, as in Britain (and other European countries) there had indeed been a huge poetic response to the war, a great outpouring of war poetry, much of it powerful, and moving, and comparable with British war poetry of the period.


Now a substantial body of French poetry of the Great War is at last available in English translation 

102 poems by 27 poets   Translated by Ian Higgins

If you have any interest in the poetry of the Great War you will want to read this volume.

A Different Narrative  The French poetry of the war is as passionate as the British, but in many respects the war meant different things to the French. They were fighting for French soil, French homes, French lives, French culture. There was no choice: the invader had to be driven out. This was the majority view, but even from the start voices were raised against the war, and more so as the horror and destruction proceeded.

There were of course many shades of opinion between the two stances, and almost as many styles and tones as there were experiences and opinions, ranging from horror to caricature, anger to farce, tenderness to hatred, old-fashioned rhetoric to tinkling jingles.

Range  Here, then, you will find poems both of pride and of powerlessness, by soldiers and civilians, men and women. The civilians’ experience of powerlessness is, not surprisingly, particularly keenly expressed by the women, for women had even fewer social rights in France than in the United Kingdom.


The Translation  By focusing on the relation between content and expression, Ian Higgins has respected the individuality of each poet's voice and produced English translations which are as closely analogous as possible to the French poems.

Ian Higgins has translated much French poetry from both World Wars, and written extensively on the art and methodology of translation. His most recent book was Cockerels and Vultures, Poems of the First World War by the newly rediscovered French poet, Albert-Paul Granier (Saxon Books, 2013).

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French Poems of the Great War 

102 poems by 27 poets  Translated by Ian Higgins

The first substantial collection of French poetry of the First World War translated into English.


Published by Saxon Books

190 Pages paperback  9”x 6”

ISBN 978-0-9528969-9-9        £11-95

Available direct from the publisher at a discounted price.

Ian Higgins, translator

War dead, France, 1917

Two FR poems

Three French poems of The Great War,
translated by Ian Higgins

The horrendous suffering at Verdun was expressed in the following poem by Anna de Noailles (1876 - 1933), a woman whose husband fought in the war from beginning to end and whose only son was 14 at the start of the war.


Silence shrouds the noblest name on earth:
Verdun, wrapped in endless aftermath.
Here, the men of France came marching, man by man,
One for every second, every day, 
To prove the proudest and most stoic love.

Now, the ordeal over, they sleep their last sleep.

Verdun, their immortal widow, trembles and weeps;
Or sobs to heaven above for their return,
Her two high towers like supplicating arms.

Passer-by, think not to extol
The city hosts of angels shielded, sprung 
From every inch of France’s soil. So much blood
Has run: let no vain human voice ever
Adulterate with feeble, keening pain
The incense misting endlessly from this loam.
Acknowledge, in the slashed and battered plain,
The fathomless and hallowed power of France,
Whose noblest hearts now lie buried in her soil.

The death they died here no word can name,
So consentingly was each man’s sacrifice made.

Soaked and sated, earth is made man.
O passer-by, still your voice, stay your hand:
See; feel; pray; revere them for the price they paid.

November 1916

Reproduced from French Poems of the Great War translated by Ian Higgins.

To Cam

Only for rare, short moments do I ever understand, at last, my dearest
    brother, that you are dead.
For me, you left months ago and I simply think you have been away
    too long,
And I live my life as if I were sure they are holding you there in their
    gloomy forests,
But I believe you will come back on the day when the bugles sound
    our victory.
And I wait for you, and wear no black veils, and when friends’ eyes fill
    with pity, I am all stubborn poise.
And they wonder that I can be so brave – but where is the bravery,
    when I still believe you will come back to me,
When I believe that I shall see you walk back in one day through this
    old porch, in the pale blue uniform you wore when you left, that
    last evening?
Together, we had walked out along the path through the peaceful
And you, as you often do, had your hand on my shoulder, gentle and
And we walked along, as one, in perfect step, as night fell round us.
– And that evening, perhaps, more than ever, was when we felt our
    love’s full force.
You left with a smile, and said to us all: ‘Back soon!’
– So how should I think you will never come back, when every 
    promise you ever made you have kept?
It would be the first time you had ever deceived me…
– And how pointless loving you would be, and how paltry my love,
If it failed to bring you back to me, back from where they say you lie
    amongst the dead!
No one has shown me proof that you are amongst the dead,
And I place no reliance on their flimsy affirmations.
And I sit waiting for you, for there must always be a woman to watch
    the night-light,
Lest the sick man think he is alone and the soul depart the body.
Can you perhaps, if you’re still alive, can you perhaps sense the still,
    small flame
From across the ravaged provinces that lie between us?
Sleep, my silent one; and rest; have no fear for the light, it shan’t go
I feel I shall wait for you, month in, month out, my whole life long;
When my hair is white, I shall still be hoping to see you walk back in
    through this porch.
Only for rare, short moments can I ever, sometimes, understand 
    that you are dead.

November 1916

Reproduced from French Poems of the Great War translated by Ian Higgins.



O gentle fellow dreamers,
how fondly do you charm the dreams,
how skilfully ride the will o’ the wisp;
how your peaceable heroic souls
thrill to breathe among the galaxies . . .
— O you devoted lovers of the stars, we have now
to turn our backs on the spellbinding sight
of dreams dancing shimmering into magic flight,
the roomfuls of calm and well-wishing,
the still inwardness of reflections in their mirrors,
the ministering lamp’s caress of gold . . .
Ah, those soft, silent, lampglow evenings
coaxing the play of sheen and sparkle,
like a woman looking at jewels,
from the gleam of verse white-cushioned in its book;
the fevered nights, drunk on thought,
intent over poems
as gem-cutters over stones . . .
— All that! We have to leave it all behind!
We, the nectar-gatherers of the mind, have now
to grasp that old, long-wearied longbow of the will,
and flex and tense it
and let fly Hatred, stinging shafts of Hate!

Hate! Hate! How the word hurts!
Hate, we have to hate!
Hatred unto ecstasy.



Reproduced from Cockerels and Vultures, Poems of the First World War translated by Ian Higgins.

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Also translated by Ian Higgins, a book discovered after 90 years of obscurity:

Cockerels and Vultures

The discovery of a major poet
of the First World War

The chance finding of a 90-year-old slim and musty little volume of poetry at a jumble sale in France led to the discovery of a major poet of the First World War. For almost 90 years Albert-Paul Granier was unknown in his own country. The poetry was a revelation to the finder. Granier was soon republished in France and astonished French readers. Granier stands comparison with the best of British war poets.


Today English-speaking readers can encounter this exceptional talent through Ian Higgins’ fine translation.


Published 2013 by Saxon Books in paperback

127mm x 197mm    5" x 7 3/4"

at £9-95.

ISBN  978-0-9528969-7-5   
Available direct from the publisher at a discounted price

About Albert-Paul Granier

Albert-Paul Granier was born in 1888 in Le Croisic, on the Atlantic coast of Brittany. He was a talented sportsman, musician and poet. He qualified as a solicitor, but, from 1911 to 1913, he was required by compulsory national service to serve in the army, where he trained as an artillery officer. He was recalled to the army in August 1914 and served on the Western Front. He became an airborne artillery observer and was shot down and killed over the battlefields of Verdun on 17 August 1917.

His volume of war poetry, Les Coqs et les Vautours, had just been published in Paris. It was singled out for praise by the Académie Française in 1918 before falling, unaccountably, into obscurity.

The Translator  -  Ian Higgins

Since the dramatic rediscovery of Albert-Paul Granier the translator, Ian Higgins, has been in close contact with the poet’s surviving relatives, and is uniquely placed to introduce this remarkable writer to English-speaking readers.




Cockerels and Vultures

“By 1914 French poetry had come much further along the path of modernism than British poetry. Where many of the British combatant war poets struggled at first to find the language and forms through which to convey their experience of modern industrial warfare, a young poet like Granier could employ a rhythmic free verse with ease and animate his battle scenes and war-torn landscapes with bold original imagery.


These are the poems of a Frenchman in another sense too: they vividly depict a landscape and culture that have been destroyed and their mood varies from pathos to horror as Granier observes processions of refugees, abandoned dogs, burnt-out hamlets and wrecked churches. There is a demonic power in the forces of war that shatter nature and a deadly calm in the war-torn landscapes that result.


They are also the poems of a soldier and an artilleryman. The big guns are portrayed animalistically, in dramatic but fine detail, as they blunder through tiny villages at night, a ‘deadweight cortege of death’ (‘The Mortars’), or in battle ‘rear their black necks like snakes striking,/Spewing


hatred by the mouthful’ (‘The Battle’). And yet, as they ‘stop for breath’, the battle over, the poet cannot refrain from ‘lovingly, gently’ patting ‘the weary guns’. In ‘The Fort’, the determination with which Fort Troyon at Verdun was held in September 1914 is celebrated. The paradoxes of war are here, as well as all its deadly and surreal power.”   -  Vivien Whelpton.


Amazon link to Cockerels and Vultures is below, but any Amazon link on this website will take you to Amazon and you will be able to find this book (or any other)  from there.

French and German war poetry of the First World 

We Are The Dead
was published by the Red Horse Press and edited by David Roberts.

This book is exceptional in that it contains poems by English, Irish, Canadian, Australian, French and German poets of the First World War. AND it is illustrated in full colour with war paintings done by the war artists of the various nations. Originally priced at £25-00. This book is now out of print and, I believe, can only be bought second-hand. Try Amazon for leads to sellers.


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