Poetry Friday: The Great War

Vera BrittainOne of my favorite books of all time is Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain. My copy was given to me by one of my favorite teachers when I graduated from eighth grade. I respected her so much that I knew she must have given it to me for a reason, so I gobbled it up that summer. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever read and has stuck with me ever since. I found Brittain’s life and writing fascinating. I even chose two poems from the book to be read at my wedding. I’ve given copies to several people, although it’s never been an easy book to find (I order it now, but I didn’t know you could do that back then). The book starts with a bit of an old fairy tale and a poem and one of my favorite first lines ever: “When the Great War broke out, it came to me not as a superlative tragedy, but as an interruption of the most exasperating kind to my personal plans.” How could you not be drawn in after a line like that?

The book is full of Brittain’s wonderful poetry and the poetry of her friends and her fiance. All of it is well worth sharing (and may show up here some other time), but today I wanted to share the first poem in the book, which is by Vera Brittain herself and was written in 1932.

The War Generation: Ave

In cities and in hamlets we were born,
And little towns behind the van of time;
A closing era mocked our guileless dawn
With jingles of a military rhyme.
But in that song we heard no warning chime,
Nor visualized in hours benign and sweet
The threatening woe that our adventurous feet
Would starkly meet.

Thus we began, amid the echoes blown
Across our childhood from an earlier war,
Too dim, too soon forgotten, to dethrone
Those dreams of happiness we thought secure;
While, imminent and fierce outside the door,
Watching a generation grow to flower,
The fate that held our youth within its power
Waited its hour.

This is a great book and well worth the reading. I’ve never read any of Brittain’s other books, although she did write others. When I was a teenager I didn’t want to. Somehow I felt like reading them would mar this one in my memory, but I don’t think it works that way anymore. I think I may find her other books and read them now, since this one was so powerful and made such an impact. Even if they aren’t anywhere near what this one was to me, they would still be interesting.

There are more poems (probably less heavy ones!) elsewhere today and you can find them by checking out the round-up over at Big A little a!

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