Poems on war

Many poems and songs lyrics have been written about war and various related themes. This lesson invites you to explore a few selected poems and song lyrics. You may find that you want to explore more poems and songs by one or more of these writers in preparation for an individual oral or HL Essay.

  1. Divide your class into 5 groups. Each group will be an 'expert' on a different aspect poetry: narration, sound, imagery, structure, and verse and metre. See the page on poems for further help on these terms. Spend 5 minutes discussing each of the five poems in relation to your aspect of poetry.  

    • Narration: Who is the speaker or narrator? To whom are they speaking? What kinds of narrative techniques are used?

    • Imagery: How does the poem appeal to the reader's senses?

    • Sound: How does the poem sound when read aloud? How does it use appeal to the reader's ears? What kinds of stylistic devices appeal to the reader's ears?

    • Structure: What is the structure of the poem? What kind of rhyming scheme does the poem use?

    • Verse and metre: What kinds of metric feet are found in the poem? How are the verses divided into metric feet?

    Your Daddy is a soldier son,
    Your Daddy’s gone to War,
    His steady hands they hold his gun,
    His aim is keen and sure.

    Your Daddy’s in the desert now,
    The darkness and the dust,
    He’s fighting for his country, yes,
    He’s doing it for us.

    Your Daddy’s coming home soon though,
    Not long now till he’s back,
    We’ll dress you in your smartest shirt
    And meet him down the track.

    He’ll put you on his shoulders and
    You’ll sing and clap and laugh,
    I’ll wrap my arms around his waist,
    And hold him close at last.

    Your Dad ain’t left the house again,
    Your Dad ain’t brushed his teeth,
    Your Dad keeps getting angry son,
    At nights he doesn’t sleep.

    He’s having his bad dreams again,
    He seems worn out and weak,
    I’ve tried to be there for him, but
    We barely even speak.

    He can’t think what to say to me,
    He don’t know how to tell it,
    Won medals for his bravery,
    But just wants to forget it.

    He’s drinking more than ever son,
    Before, he never cried. But now,
    I wake at night and feel
    Him shaking by my side.

    He spoke to me at last my son!
    He turned to me in tears,
    I held him close and kissed his face
    And asked him what he feared.

    He said it’s getting darker,
    It hasn’t disappeared,
    And I can see it sharper
    Now the sand and smoke have cleared.

    There was this kid he’d got to know,
    Young boy. Just turned eighteen,
    Bright and kind, his name was Joe,
    He kept his rifle clean.

    Joe’s girlfriend was expecting,
    Joe loved to joke and laugh,
    Joe marched in front of your old man,
    As they patrolled a path.

    Everything was quiet until
    They heard the dreaded blast.
    The man that marched in front of Joe
    Was completely blown apart.

    Some shrapnel hit Joe in the face,
    Gouged both eyes at once,
    The last thing those eyes ever saw
    Was the man in front:

    Limbs and flesh and bone and blood,
    Torn up and thrown around,
    And after that – just blackness.
    The taste, the stink, the sound.

    I tell you this my son because
    I know what you’ll be like,
    As soon as you’ve grown old enough
    You’ll want to go and fight

    In whatever battle needs you,
    You’ll pledge your blood and bone,
    Not in the name of good or evil –
    But in the name of home.

    Your Dad believes in fighting.
    He fights for you and I,
    But the men that send the armies in
    Will never hear him cry.

    I don’t support the war my son,
    I don’t believe it’s right,
    But I do support the soldiers who
    Go off to war to fight.

    Troops just like your daddy son,
    Soldiers through and through,
    Who wear their uniform with pride,
    And do what they’re told to do.

    When you’re grown, my sweet, my love,
    Please don’t go fighting wars,
    But fight the men that start them
    Or fight a cause that’s yours.

    It seems so full of honour, yes,
    So valiant, so bold,
    But the men that send the armies in
    Send them in for gold,

    Or they send them in for oil,
    And they tell us it’s for Britain
    But the men come home like Daddy,
    And spend their days just drinking.

    Come you masters of war
    You that build all the guns
    You that build the death planes
    You that build the big bombs
    You that hide behind walls
    You that hide behind desks
    I just want you to know
    I can see through your masks

    You that never done nothin’
    But build to destroy
    You play with my world
    Like it’s your little toy
    You put a gun in my hand
    And you hide from my eyes
    And you turn and run farther
    When the fast bullets fly

    Like Judas of old
    You lie and deceive
    A world war can be won
    You want me to believe
    But I see through your eyes
    And I see through your brain
    Like I see through the water
    That runs down my drain

    You fasten the triggers
    For the others to fire
    Then you set back and watch
    When the death count gets higher
    You hide in your mansion
    As young people’s blood
    Flows out of their bodies
    And is buried in the mud

    You’ve thrown the worst fear
    That can ever be hurled
    Fear to bring children
    Into the world
    For threatening my baby
    Unborn and unnamed
    You ain’t worth the blood
    That runs in your veins

    How much do I know
    To talk out of turn
    You might say that I’m young
    You might say I’m unlearned
    But there’s one thing I know
    Though I’m younger than you
    Even Jesus would never
    Forgive what you do

    Let me ask you one question
    Is your money that good
    Will it buy you forgiveness
    Do you think that it could
    I think you will find
    When your death takes its toll
    All the money you made
    Will never buy back your soul

    And I hope that you die
    And your death’ll come soon
    I will follow your casket
    In the pale afternoon
    And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
    Down to your deathbed
    And I’ll stand o’er your grave
    ’Til I’m sure that you’re dead

    The old man turned off the radio
    Said, "Where did all of the old songs go
    Kids sure play funny music these days
    They play it in the strangest ways"
    Said, "it looks to me like they've all gone wild
    It was peaceful back when I was a child"
    Well, man, could it be that the girls and boys
    Are trying to be heard above your noise?
    And the lonely voice of youth cries "What is truth?"
    A little boy of three sittin' on the floor
    Looks up and says, "Daddy, what is war?"
    "son, that's when people fight and die"
    The little boy of three says "Daddy, why?"
    A young man of seventeen in Sunday school
    Being taught the golden rule
    And by the time another year has gone around
    It may be his turn to lay his life down
    Can you blame the voice of youth for asking 
    "What is truth?"
    A young man sittin' on the witness stand
    The man with the book says "Raise your hand"
    "Repeat after me, I solemnly swear"
    The man looked down at his long hair
    And although the young man solemnly swore
    Nobody seems to hear anymore
    And it didn't really matter if the truth was there
    It was the cut of his clothes and the length of his hair
    And the lonely voice of youth cries 
    "What is truth?"
    The young girl dancing to the latest beat 
    Has found new ways to move her feet
    The young man speaking in the city square
    Is trying to tell somebody that he cares
    Yeah, the ones that you're calling wild
    Are going to be the leaders in a little while
    This old world's wakin' to a new born day
    And I solemnly swear that it'll be their way 
    You better help the voice of youth find 
    "What is truth?"

    Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
    Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
    Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
    And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
    Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
    But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
    Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
    Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

    Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
    Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
    But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
    And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
    Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
    As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

    In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
    He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

    If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
    Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
    And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
    His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
    If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
    Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
    Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
    Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
    My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
    To children ardent for some desperate glory,
    The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
    Pro patria mori.

    “Have you news of my boy Jack? ”
    Not this tide.
    “When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
    Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

    “Has any one else had word of him?”
    Not this tide.
    For what is sunk will hardly swim,
    Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

    “Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
    None this tide,
    Nor any tide,
    Except he did not shame his kind—
    Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

    Then hold your head up all the more,
    This tide,
    And every tide;
    Because he was the son you bore,
    And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!

  2. After having discussed all of these poems in relation to your group's aspect, change from 'expert groups' to 'poem groups' (jigsaw activity). Place one poem on each table and move around the room so that (if possible) there is one 'expert' from each aspect group at each poem's table. As a new 'poem group' research the context of the poem, by doing an online search for more information on it. Each 'aspect expert' should also share their findings from the previous activity with the 'poem group'. Prepare and deliver a short group presentation on your poem/song in which you offer your interpretation, understanding and analysis of the poem/song. 

  3. After each group's presentation, discuss, as a class, the kinds of global issues that are explored in these poems and how they relate to other issues that you have previously explored in class. Further, discuss how the poems deepen your understanding of and relate to one or more of the following concepts: identity, communication, perspective, representation, transformation, creativity and culture. 


Take one of the poets or song writers who are featured in this lesson and find more poems or songs by him or her. What kinds of global issues are present in other poems by this poet or song writer? Can you find a non-literary body of work elsewhere (on this site) to pair with your poet or song writer to explore a global issue of choice in your individual oral?

Last modified: Wednesday, 7 October 2020, 1:06 PM