The War Poetry Website
WW1 Poems expressing terrible grief
Photo of Vera Brittain
This is just one woman's experience of the First World War. The following words are quoted from the war poetry anthology, Minds at War.
Her years as a nurse in military hospitals, and even more, the loss of her fiancé, brother and close friend left Vera Brittain in a state of shock. For eighteen months she felt close to mental breakdown.
She wrote in Testament of Youth:
Only gradually did I realise that the war had condemned me to live to the end of my days in a world without confidence or security, a world in which every dear personal relationship would be fully cherished under the Shadow of apprehension; in which love would seem threatened perpetually by death, and Happiness appear a house without duration, built upon the shifting Sands of chance. I might perhaps, have it again, but never should I hold it . . .
Vera Brittain had been granted leave from her nursing duties for Christmas Day, 1915, and went, in great excitement to Brighton to await the evening boat train which was to bring Roland, her fiancé, home on Christmas leave. She waited in the lounge of the Grand Hotel for the telephone call that would bring news of his arrival.
By ten o’clock that night no news had come. She concluded that Christmas calls had overwhelmed the telephone system and went to bed, exhausted but unperturbed.
In the morning she was called to the telephone and rushed to hear The voice she had waited so long to hear. But the voice was not that Roland. It was a message to say that he had died of wounds at a casualty clearing station on December 23rd.
(To R.A.L. Died of wounds in France, December 23rd 1915)
Perhaps someday the sun will shine again,
And I shall see that still the skies are blue,
And feel once more I do not live in vain,
Although bereft of You.
Perhaps the golden meadows at my feet
Will make the sunny hours of Spring seem gay,
And I shall find the white May blossoms sweet,
Though you have passed away.
Perhaps the summer woods will shimmer bright,
And crimson roses once again be fair,
And autumn harvest fields a rich delight,
Although You are not there.
Perhaps some day I shall not shrink in pain
To see the passing of the dying year,
And listen to the Christmas songs again,
Although you cannot hear.
But, so kind Tme may many joys renew,
There is one greatest joy I shall not know
Again, because my heart for loss of you
Was broken, long ago.
Vera Brittain, February 1916
Henriette Charasson's grief was drawn out for many years with never a conclusion.
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
And I live my life as if I were sure they are holding you there in their
But I believe you will come back on the day when the bugles sound
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
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
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,
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.
From French Poems of the Great War, translated by Ian Higgins. 102 poems by 27 poets. Published by Saxon Books. 185 Pages. Paperback. £11-95.