‘1915’ by Robert Graves

I’ve watched the Seasons passing slow, so slow,
In the fields between La Bassée and Bethune;
Primroses and the first warm day of Spring,
Red poppy floods of June,
August, and yellowing Autumn, so
To Winter nights knee-deep in mud or snow,
And you’ve been everything.

Dear, you’ve been everything that I most lack
In these soul-deadening trenches—pictures, books,
Music, the quiet of an English wood,
Beautiful comrade-looks,
The narrow, bouldered mountain-track,
The broad, full-bosomed ocean, green and black,
And Peace, and all that’s good.

I think this is such a touching poem. It describes a soldier living through the hell of trench warfare in the First World War, and holding on to “all that’s good” in the memory of a person that he loves.

This poem is to me remarkable because of its lack of obvious anger. A lot of the war poetry that I have read is very (justifiably) angry. This, however, is quiet, and sad, and wistful. The “Red poppy floods” bring to mind the senseless and copious bloodshed of the war, and the “Winter nights knee-deep in mud or snow” and the “soul-deadening trenches” communicate the incredible hardships that the speaker has endured. But it is his dream — his memory of his loved one — that dominates and endures in this poem and that triumphs over his unspeakably hard reality.

There seems to me to be a beautiful simplicity in the images of the things the poet-soldier Graves most misses: “pictures, books,/ Music” and “the quiet of an English wood”. There is something almost innocent here. Why should a man who wants such simple things in life — who can derive contentment from “Peace, and all that’s good” — be sent to die in the trenches? He wants nothing to do with violence. I think the voice of the poet is so strong in this poem because he holds on to his humanity — his love of peace and good things — amid the diabolical circumstances into which the war has flung him.

This poem means a lot to me because it reminds me that our memories of love and peace can always save us, even in the darkest of hours.

Reviewed by Emily Ardagh