Calm fell. From Heaven distilled a clemency;
There was peace on earth, and silence in the sky;
Some could, some could not, shake off misery:
The Sinister Spirit sneered: “It had to be!”
And again the Spirit of Pity whispered, “Why?”
So ends Thomas Hardy’s final war poem, And Then There Was A Great Calm, which was written to mark the end of the First World War almost 100 years ago.
Like many artists during the war, he was appalled by the horrific conditions and the deaths of around 10 million soldiers. Wilfred Owen scorned the “shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells” before he was killed in battle. Siegfried Sassoon wrote that, when the war ended, “Everyone suddenly burst out singing/ And I was filled with such delight/ As prisoned birds must find in freedom.”
The war is most famous for its poetry, but it inspired many other artists too. J.R.R. Tolkien based parts of Lord Of The Rings on his experiences as a soldier, while modernist writers like Virginia Woolf grappled with the war’s after-effects.
Meanwhile painters, photographers, composers and filmmakers all used their talents to respond to the war in their own ways.
For more on the war’s effect on the arts, visit The Royal British Legion’s website. TRBL has also created free downloadable assemblies and lesson plans with the National Literacy Trust. There are six sets of five lesson plans, two each for Key Stages 2, 3 and 4, accompanied by an assembly plan each for primary and secondary schools.
Read Our Story
The British Legion introduces more artists of the First World War.
- Read Thomas Hardy’s poem about the end of the war in full. Then discuss: how does he feel about the end of the conflict?
- Write your own poem inspired by the First World War.
- Choose another artist who lived through the First World War, and write a short report on how the conflict influenced their work.