First World War Centenary

The poetry of the First World War is some of Britain's most well known and celebrated verse. Over the coming years many schools and institutions will be marking the centenary. Find out below how we can help you use poetry as part of your commemorations.


Poems of the First World War

A small selection of poetry from the First World War, including poems by Jessie Pope, Wilfred Owen, Apollinaire, Ivor Gurney, is available to read on our website.


Teaching Resources

We have a library of free downloadable teaching resources including both historical and contemporary poetry on the Great War. We will continue to add to these over the coming years.


New Commissions

National Poetry Day

We have developed a series of new commissions taking First World War poetry as its starting point and exploring the theme of conflict. 

The Big Push

The Poetry Society has worked with the Fleming Collection to commission a poem inspired by their paiting 'The Eve of the Battle of the Somme’ by Sir Herbert James Gunn (left) and mark the centenary of the start of the First World War. The painting is a poignant and deeply moving picture of young soldiers at rest and play before a battle that would claim the lives of thousands of men. Scottish poet John Glenday has written a piece called 'The Big Push', which you can read on our New Commissions page.


The Wind on the Downs

To mark the centenary of the First World War and as part of our ongoing Waterlines project, the Poetry Society and the Canal & River Trust have commissioned a new animation of the poem 'The Wind on the Downs' by Marian Allen. The film was animated by artist Linda Hughes and read by National Theatre actress Olivia Vinall. 'The Wind on the Downs’, was written by Marian Allen in May 1917 after hearing of the death of her fiancé, Arthur Tylston Greg.

 The Pity: Modern Responses to War

On National Poetry Day 2014 four of the UK’s most exciting contemporary writers performed searing new work about the legacy of the First World War. Steve Ely, Zaffar Kunial, Denise Riley and Warsan Shire, explored their responses to the conflict. The work was subsequently published in an anthology, now available to buy from the Poetry Society.

The Pity was supported by The London Community Foundation and Cockayne – Grants for the Arts. 



Battlefield Tours

We are working closely with the team organising the Department for Education's Centenary Battlefield Tours programme to help students and teachers use poetry to appreciate the situations of individual soldiers during the conflict. Please see our Teaching Resources section below for some starting ideas, and watch this space for tailored teaching notes.

If you'd like more information on how you can use poetry as part of your school's tour then please contact us.


Barclays Premier League and the Christmas Truce

We have begun an exciting new collaboration with Barclays Premier League to help young footballers mark the hundred year anniversary of the Christmas truce.

Poets Simon Barraclough, Steve Ely, Chris McCabe, Nick Makoha and Deanna Rodger accompanied Under-12 teams from the Premier League clubs to Ypres, Belgium, where as they took part in an annual football tournament to honour the truce that took place on the Western Front in December 1914. The poets helped the young players to reflect on their visit, and shape these experiences into poems.

All of these poems have been passed on to Ian McMillan, commissioned by the Poetry Society to produce a new poem to mark the centenary, based on words, themes and ideas from the young footballers.

In mid-December, two of the English Under-12 teams will return to Ypres for an international tournament with youth teams from all of the countries involved in the conflict. Here, the poem will be read out in English, French, German and Flemish, marking the international friendships that the Premier League and its European counterparts are hoping to foster in the young footballers on the centenary of such a remarkable occasion.

Find more information on the Barclays Premier League webiste.


Poems on School Walls

We have teamed up with TenNine to use spare advertising space on school walls to display well-known First World War poems.



We have run a series of events focusing on the poetry of the First World War and its legacy, including:

  • Female poets of the First World War - Judith Palmer, Director of the Poetry Society spoke at the Fleming Collection in London on the often-overlooked female poets from the conflict. 
  • Poetry and Psychoanalysis conference - In Partnership with the Freud Museum we expored concepts of Memory and Memorialisaiton in relation to the First World War, including readings from Deryn Rees-Jones, Sam Willetts, David Constantine and leading psychoanalysts. 
  • The Pity: Modern Responses to War- On National Poetry Day 2014 we premiered our new commissions 'The Pity. Steve Ely, Zaffar Kunial, Denise Riley and Warsan Shire explored the legacy of the First World War. The work will be published in a forthcoming anthology.


Timothy Corsellis Prize

The Poetry Society has launched a new annual prize for young people encouraging them to consider the legacy of the WWI poets and their impact on the soldier-poets of WWII. The Timothy Corsellis Prize, for poets aged 14-25, introduces six WWII poets, setting them in the historical context of war poetry, and then asks for a poem in response. Winners receive book tokens, poetry books, poetry posters and publication. The prize will re-open in mid-2015. For ore information please visit our Young Poets Network and sign up to keep updated.


How we can help

If you are a school or organisation looking to mark the centenary then get in touch and find out how we can help you use poetry in your commemorations.