One of the strongest messages to come from the poems Robert Graves wrote while at the front – and Edmund Blunden’s, and Siegfried Sassoon’s – in fact one echoed by all soldiers everywhere – is one of love.
No mattter how numb, dehumanised and battle-weary men become, still they grieve for their dead comrades and long for their families far more than they hate their enemies. And the mirror image of this is the desperation of their loved ones left at home.
There are few poets that express this more eloquently than Wang-Chein
Hearing that his Friend was Coming Back from the War
Wang-Chein d.830? Translated by Arthur Waley.
In old days those who went to fight
In three years had one year’s leave.
But in this war the soldiers are never changed;
They must go on fighting till they die on the battlefield.
I thought of you, so weak and indolent,
Hopelessly trying to learn to march and drill.
That a young man should ever come home again
Seemed about as likely as that the sky should fall.
Since I got the news that you were coming back,
Twice I have mounted to the high wall of your home.
I found your brother mending your horse’s stall;
I found your mother sewing your new clothes.
I am half afraid; perhaps it is not true:
Yet I never weary of watching for you on the road.
Each day I go out at the City Gate
With a flask of wine, lest you should come thirsty.
Oh that I could shrink the surface of the world,
So that suddenly I might find you standing at my side!