Battle, a collection of poetry by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson


Wilfrid Wilson Gibson’s poetry collection Battle was first published in 1915. The work centres upon the experiences of World War One.

Rejected by the army four times until being made a Private in 1917, Gibson never actually served on the frontline. As a published poet, however, Gibson was driven to imagine and represent the realities of ordinary British soldiers. His short, blunt, and often darkly humorous poetry captures a sense of honesty and compassion. Adopting the voices of both soldiers and civilians, the poems explore themes of guilt, madness, injury, death, and sense of identity. Several, including ‘Hit’, ‘The Messages’ and ‘The Quiet’, depict moments of realisation in which soldiers discover they have been injured or lie among the dead.

Gibson’s poems are free of brash patriotism. Adopting an ambivalent position, Gibson urges civilian readers to reassess their perspective on the war. In ‘Nightmare’, for instance, a parent questions the authorities who send men to fight.

Why was this collection significant for Wilfred Owen?

In mid-1917, the war poet Wilfred Owen read and studied Battle. At this time Owen was being treated for shell shock at Craiglockhart Hospital, Edinburgh. He had not yet written his greatest poems, including ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and ‘Exposure’. Combining technical innovation and realism with the subject of war, Battle is considered to have been a key influence on the development of Owen’s poetry.

Gibson was a pioneer of Georgian style. Essentially, Georgian poetry straddled the Victorian and modernist periods. It was romantic and sentimental, while simultaneously teetering on the edge of modernism with its experiments in composition, rhythm, and realism.

Full title:
1916, London
Elkin Mathews
Wilfrid Wilson Gibson
© Trustees of Wilfrid Gibson Literary Estate
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Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial licence
Held by
British Library

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