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Words of WW1: Poems of the Great War

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Earlier this year in April we released a blog announcing that the student-led project Words of WW1 was looking for actors and film-makers to come together to film a series of cinematic recitals of poetry from the First World War. After a stunning premiere in the University of Glasgow’s Memorial Chapel on August 20th, the project has released one new poem each week, each one focusing a different aspect of the First World War. This blog post collects together the 10 videos created by the project into a single post. Each video has been given a brief introduction discussing the background to each poem and how this has been interpreted in the film.


Dulce et Decorum est, by Wilfred Owen (1920):

Thought to have been written by Wilfred Owen while at Craiglochart War Hospital in 1917, the poem satirises Horace famous Ode that ‘It is sweet and proper to die for one’s country’. This proof of concept video places Owen’s words into the mouth of a modern visitor to the Cameronians War Memorial in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Park.


Ryhfel, by Ellis Evans, AKA Hedd Wyn (1918):

Ellis Evans was a non-conformist Christian who conscientiously objected to the fighting during WW1, adopting the name ‘Hedd Wyn’ meaning ‘blessed peace’ in Welsh. His poem Rhyfel (‘War’) was published posthumously after he was Killed in Action on the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele.


Three Battles, by Ewart Alan Mackintosh (1917)

The first of two poems taken from E. A. Mackintosh’s ‘A Highland Regiment’ relates to the disastrous fighting around High Wood during the Battle of the Somme. The film follows a young Scottish soldier who returns to High Wood to remember his two friends who fell in that battle.


Gebet vor der Schlacht, by Alfred Lichtenstein (1915)

Written in late 1914 by Alfred Lichtenstein, Prayer Before Battle is often identified as one of the earliest anti-war poems written about the First World War. In this short, filmed at the Heritage Lottery funded reconstruction trenches in Pollock Park,  a soldier sits in his trench and prays to god to let him live.


Im Osten, by Georg Trakl (1915)

The second of two poems translated from the original German, In the East brings the crimson tide of battle on the Eastern Front to a lakeside town. Trakl served as a medic in the army of Austro-Hungary and wrote Im Osten after witnessing the aftermath of the Battle of Gródek in 1914.


The Deserter, by Winifred Mary Leeets (1916)

Written in 1916, the Deserter describes the story of an English soldier who is shot for cowardice. In this film, a war correspondent follows the deserter’s ghost through a graveyard to meet with his grieving mother who tends his grave, not knowing he was shot by his own side.


War Museum, by John Rodker (1920)

In this evocative recital of John Rodker’s ‘War Museum’ a cabaret man tours the forest,  using the landscape to simulate a grotesque display of war wounds. As the cabaret man guides the audience around the ‘museum’ the viewer is treated to displays of perforated lives, snapped spines and other horrific injuries suffered by soldiers in WW1.


In Memoriam, by Ewart Alan Mackintosh (1917)

The Second of two poems taken from ‘A Highland Regiment’, In Memorium sees a Scottish officer delivering a poem to Private David Sutherland’s father but finds the farm abandoned. It deals with the tension between a father who has lost his only son and the officer who has lost dozens.


The Armistice, by Mary Wedderburn Cannan (1919)

Written by May Wedderburn Cannan and published in 1919, Armistice sees two women in an espionage office in Paris struggle with the bittersweet news that the war has ended. In real life, May Cannan was reunited with her fiancé Bevil Quiller-Couch, only for him to die during the Spanish Influenza epidemic.


À Cam, by Henriette Charasson (1916)

This poignant poem was written by French author Henriette Charasson after her brother, Cam, a soldier in the French Army, was posted missing in September 1915. In this video, Henriette waits patiently for her brother’s return, unable to accept that he isn’t coming home. Her story is that of millions of families across Europe who struggled with the loss of a family member who, to this day, remains unburied or unidentified on the battlefields of the First World War.

Grass, by Carl Sandberg (1918)

Video to be released


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Follow @Ww1Of on Twitter or like @WordsOfWW1 on Facebook to keep up to date with the latest videos. 

All videos can be watched directly on the Words of WW1 Youtube channel.

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