War Poetry and War Songs

A lyrical flood
Drawing: Unsere Feldgrauen im Biwak
Our field grey troops in bivouac, 1914
German National Library, First World War Collection, signature: 1938 A 10935

War Po­et­ry and War Songs

A lyrical flood

Through the wide enemy territory
There are many wide, broad roads,
And on the right and on the left
The green grass stretches.
Forward, forward!
The dead man
Lies in the cool grass!
Blow victory over it!

Walter Flex, from the poem Enemies all around!, 1915

The First World War produced a large amount of poems and songs. The literary critic Julius Bab estimates that around 50,000 poems were submitted to magazines and newspapers in the first weeks of the war. 

Due to the brevity of the texts, it was easy to produce and disseminate gazettes in particular. In addition, there was also a large number of anthologies with collected poems and songs. They also spread quickly by word of mouth when they were set to music and performed in song. 

Many soldiers used this form to deal with their war experiences directly. However, only a few texts were critical of the war, while most were patriotic and heroic. The first months of the war in particular saw an abundance of militant jubilant poems

Criticism of the war, in contrast, could be found among some of the young Expressionists and in the magazine Die Aktion, which was published by Franz Pfemfert

The War Collection of the Deutsche Bücherei comprised a large number of poems and war songs. Today, along with numerous book publications, the German National Library owns a bundle of around 250 individual printed sheets with poems and songs.