Few topics in poetry elicit such strong and contradictory responses in both poets and readers as does war. Typical of the extremes of opinion are two poems about the Battle of Ypres in World War I, the war that has given rise to most of the poems on this vexed subject. Three years after Ypres, in 1917, A. E. Housman published “Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries” in The Times to commemorate the bravery of the paid soldiers and thank them for holding up a world that God had abandoned. He was scathingly answered by the Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid in “Another Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries”; MacDiarmid called Housman's poem “a God-damned lie.” According to MacDiarmid's short epitaph, the mercenaries knew nothing of saving the world; they were “professional murderers.” MacDiarmid even sees the mercenaries as damaging to civilized life; “in spite of all their kind” human dignity and worth struggle to survive. In every battle, every war, there have been some who see the necessity for combat and defend the soldiers, while others see only hypocrisy, arrogant leadership, and sentimental jingoism. Poems that are concerned specifically with the question of duty are discussed in the Duty section of this survey. Other famous war poems that are essentially patriotic propaganda rather than about war as an event will be found in the Patriotism section. Rupert Brooke's “The Soldier” (1914), for example, is such a poem and was highly influential at the beginning of World War I.
A soldier's duty to his king and country in time of war was often described as a marriage because the loyalty of the soldier to his king and country had to be absolute, and had to take precedence over all other loyalties. This metaphor is central to the Cavalier poet Richard Lovelace's famous lyric “To Lucasta, Going to the Wars.” Lovelace was a soldier who fought on the side of the king in the civil wars that tore England