Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A Field in Flanders by Thomas Wolfe

First, a message for readers of ROADS TO THE GREAT WAR.

I occasionally get requests or suggestions for articles on various WWI topics. I hope you will continue to do so.  You can mention the topic in our comments section below or email me at with your idea.

However, I sometimes get requests on subjects we have covered in past postings.  It is not very evident in the Google Blogger format, but we have our own search engine in the upper lefthand corner of the page.  Try typing in your favorite topic, and you might find several articles among the 1562 daily entries (no kidding) we have made since we started out in 2013.  MH

British Troops at Polygon Wood, Flanders, 1917

A Field in Flanders
By Thomas Wolfe

The low, grey clouds are drifting 'cross the sky,
While here and there the little smoke puffs break,
And now and then the shrapnel bursts on high,
And growling guns their mighty thunder make.
A war-ripped field,-with what a tale to tell!
A tale to cause the souls of kings to quake,
For here, within a smoking, bloody Hell,
Ten million risk their lives for Freedom's sake.
And to the right a ruined village burns,
And to the left a wood its secrets hold,
But in the gutted field the plowshare turns
A grinning skull which sneers its message bold.
November 1917

Who Was Thomas Wolfe?

Thomas Wolfe as a Student
Thomas Wolfe (1900–1938) of Asheville, North Carolina was a major 20th-century American novelist. His four mammoth, autobiographical novels, Look Homeward, Angel (1929), Of Time and the River (1935), The Web and the Rock (1939), and You Can't Go Home Again (1940) follow a young man from his boyhood in the rural South to his career as a teacher and writer in New York City. His work has been described as being characterized by lyrical and dramatic intensity and by an obsessive sense of memory, time, and place. His novels, stories, and journals present a sweeping picture of American life after the turn of the century. "A Field in Flanders" is one of his earliest published works, appearing in a University of North Carolina magazine while he was a student. Called the best writer of his generation by William Faulkner, Wolfe died young from complications due to influenza and pneumonia.

Compiled from several online sources.


  1. Wonderful post -- thanks for sharing one of the lesser-known poems of the war.

  2. And for traveling historians stop by his home town, Ashville NC

  3. I wonder if Wolfe's conclusion was inspired by the opening of Southey's "Blenheim":

    It was a summer evening,
    Old Kaspar's work was done,
    And he before his cottage door
    Was sitting in the sun,
    And by him sported on the green
    His little grandchild Wilhelmine.

    She saw her brother Peterkin
    Roll something large and round,
    Which he beside the rivulet
    In playing there had found;
    He came to ask what he had found,
    That was so large, and smooth, and round.

    Old Kaspar took it from the boy,
    Who stood expectant by;
    And then the old man shook his head,
    And, with a natural sigh,
    "'Tis some poor fellow's skull," said he,
    "Who fell in the great victory..."