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First World War
poets and poetry

Minds at War
The classic poems of First World War, popular poems of the time, lesser known poets and a wealth of background material.

Illustrations include contemporary photographs.

Out in the Dark
Anthology of First World War poetry recommended for students and the general reader.

Illustrations include contemporary photographs.

Poetry about the Second World War

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Vietnam Poems by Penny Rock

Introduction by Joyce Leonard, assistant to Penny Rock.

Penny Rock was a nurse in Vietnam during the TET offensive. She wrote poems to keep her center and to process the horrors of war. When she returned home, she found that no one wanted to hear about what war is really like, so she went silent, like so many of them did. Twenty-five years later, upon her diagnosis of cancer, the poetry started to flow again. She has published two poetry books about war: He Called Me Lieutenant Angel: A Love Song From War, and We Declare: The Truth about War and our Responsibility for Peace.

Penny was featured in the Academy Award nominated documentary film A Healing. She is the inspiration for Normi Noel’s play No Background Music, produced by Shakespeare & Company in August 2006. The play was reproduced in Springfield MA in August 2008 and again in March 2009. Adapted for BBC World Wide Radio, it premiered in September 2005, and won the Sony Gold Drama award 2006. Penny was portrayed by Sigourney Weaver.

Joyce Leonard

For other poems about the Vietnam War see the Curt Bennett page.


I wonder what's the matter with him.
He's not the way he was before.
He's not the way he used to be.
The way he was before the war.

He had no way of knowing
What horrors were in store.
Then communication ceased
When he went off to war.

He left while only in his teens.
Now he's so much older.
The warmth of his youth is gone.
His spirit's so much colder.

His eyes look deeply haunted.
He has no joy anymore.
He doesn't laugh and rarely smiles.
He stares down at the floor.

He speaks in cryptic code.
He talks of blood and gore.
Then lapses into silence
Since he came back from war.

I wonder what he saw there
That fills his eyes with fright.
All those unknown terrors
Keep him awake at night.

Certain sounds will startle him
And send him out the door.
Will he ever have peace again,
As he had before the war?

He turns away from mirrors.
Who he sees must frighten him.
There's no respite in his mind
Because all his thoughts are grim.

I don't know what to say to him.
I can't talk as I did before.
He's not the person that I knew
Before he went to war.

He doesn't even look the same,
So pale and so thin.
It's like another person
Came back inside his skin.

He used to be such fun,
So easy to adore.
It's like he disappeared
When he returned from war.

I wonder what became of him.
I never see him anymore.
He's not the person he once was.
I mean, before the war.

Copyright 2003 Penny Rock All Rights Reserved.



If you want to wage a war,
Don’t resort to euphemisms,
Just call it by its name.
It’s not a skirmish or a conflict,
An unpleasantness or game.

If you want to support a war,
Then look it in the face.
Remember all the loss of life
Is part of your disgrace.

You can’t avoid the consequences.
You need to see them.
You need to look them in the eye.
Mutilated bodies with empty, glassy stare.
That’s how it looks when youth is forced to die.

There are sounds that you must hear,
The cries and screams of death.
The loudest sound is deafening silence
After their last breath.

To look at what you have destroyed
Requires courage and humility,
Decency, and respect.
And you must admit to your participation
And own up to its effect.

You can’t look away from atrocities,
Or ignore the waste of lives unfinished.
Your choice to engage in legal massacre
Renders all humanity diminished.

© Copyright 2003 Penny Rock All Rights Reserved

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If you saw humanity in others,
Could you really have a war?
If no one was willing to fight
You’d have to close the door.

If you saw others as your brothers,
If you were interested in their customs,
If you could see your common ground,
If you thought of them as friends,
If you weren’t concerned with being "right",
If you didn’t feel the need to judge,
If you wanted to give and share instead of take,
If you had tolerance and patience,
If you had faith, hope, charity, and love,
If you knew that they did too,
If you could see life through their eyes,
If you saw connection instead of fearing difference,
If you didn’t see through the eyes of good and bad,
If you didn’t need to impose your views on others,
If you valued their lives as much as yours,
If you exercised love instead of hatred.
If you understood we’re all just versions of each other,

Could you really have a war?

© Copyright 2003 Penny Rock All Rights Reserved

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Torture once, and torture twice,
And torture once again.
It’s been a long, long day.

Can’t remember so much fun,
We must do this again.
It’s been a long, long day.

It’s just a few of us at play
Don’t make a fuss.
It’s just some silly pranks
We mean no harm.

So, let’s beat, berate, humiliate,
And kill a couple too.
It’s been a long, long day.

We torture them, they torture us,
It’s simply quid pro quo.
It’s been a long, long day.

We up the bet. Why get upset?
It’s like a college haze.
It’s been a long, long day.

You shouldn’t mind a bit if it
Was your own daughter
On the receiving end of friendly slaughter.

So, tell some lies and fabricate
To let your conscience rest.
It’s been a long, long day.


NOTE: To be sung to the tune of  Kiss Me Once and Kiss Me Twice.

© Copyright 2004 Penny Rock All Rights Reserved

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