WWII American poet

Mitsuye Yamada--American



Mitsuye Yamada
(1923-    )

Born in Japan, in 1923, Mitsuye Yamada, grew up in Seattle, Washington.  She was incarcerated with her family in Idaho in 1942.  She and her brother were released from the camp when they renounced loyalty to the Emperor of Japan.  She began her studies at the University of Cincinnati in 1944 and completed her degree at New York University in 1947.  She earned a Master’s degree from University of Chicago in 1953.  Yamada’s first book, Camp Notes and Other Poems, addresses the internment of Japanese-Americans.  Desert Run: Poems and Stories, is another book work that speaks to how the Japanese were discriminated against during the war. 

"Cincinnati," in Camp Notes

Freedom at last
in this town aimless
I walked against the rush
hour traffic
My first day
in a real city

no one knew me.

No one except one
hissing voice that said
dirty jap
warm spittle on my right cheek.
I turned and faced
the shop window
and my spittle face
spilled onto a hill
of books.
Words on display.




poetry . . .has been my spiritual guide throughout 
my incarcerationin the darkest of times I turn
to Neruda and Hikmetand Rukeyser and Ritsas 
and Chrytos and Whitman. . .
                               – U.S. Political Prisoner

They mean to kill
the sentient being in me

White white
no poetry in
white floors walls ceiling white
white chairs tables sink white
only when I close my eyes do I see
beyond the white windowless walls
remembering springtime of
lacy trees lightly green against baby blue.

There is silence silence more silence
to drown out the incessant silence
I fill my inner ear with robinsongs
melodious and soothing
but how to quell deafening
nonhuman screeches and scrapes
sounds bouncing against the white walls?

Dull smells of dead air in the cell
but through the olfactory nerves
in my mind
I can tickle with the zest of lemon
and the sweetness of wildflowers.

Willfully bland diet aimed
to erase use of my tongue
Add a pinch of salt with the taste
of sweat or even of blood
anywhere on my body
Remembering the taste of cheese.

One human touch allowed
my own arms enfold me
my fingers move over my sagging breasts
my nipples and soft parts of my body

They mean to neutralize me but
poetry keeps me alive.



The Question of Loyalty

 If I sign this

What will I be?

I am doubly loyal

to my American children

also to my own people.

How can double mean nothing?

I wish no one to lose this war.

Everyone does.



Recruiting Team

Why should I volunteer?

I'm an American

I have a right to be





As we boarded the bus

bags on both sides

(I had never packed

two bags before

on a vacation

lasting forever)

the Seattle Times

photographer said


so obediently I smiled

and the caption the next day


Note smiling faces

a lesson to Tokyo.


James Tate--American


James Tate
(1943-    )


One of the most famous World War II poems was written by someone who was born during the war and who never knew the father he wrote of in his poem, “The Lost Pilot.”  James Tate was born in Kansas City, Missouri in1943.  His father was killed on a combat mission over Germany when he was just five months old.  Tate’s first poetry collection, titled “The Lost Pilot” was published during his 22nd year, the same age at which his father died.  Tate is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the National Book Award.  His honors also include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.  He teaches at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.


The Lost Pilot

    for my father, 1922-1944

Your face did not rot
like the others–the co-pilot,
for example, I saw him
yesterday. His face is corn-
mush: his wife and daughter,
the poor ignorant people, stare
as if he will compose soon.
He was more wronged than Job.
But your face did not rot
like the others–it grew dark,
and hard like ebony;
the features progressed in their
distinction. If I could cajole
you to come back for an evening,
down from your compulsive
orbiting, I would touch you,
read your face as Dallas,
your hoodlum gunner, now,
with the blistered eyes, reads
his braille editions. I would
touch your face as a disinterested
scholar touches an original page.
However frightening, I would
discover you, and I would not
turn you in; I would not make
you face your wife, or Dallas,
or the co-pilot, Jim. You
could return to your crazy
orbiting, and I would not try
to fully understand what
it means to you. All I know
is this: when I see you,
as I have seen you at least
once every year of my life,
spin across the wilds of the sky
like a tiny, African god,
I feel dead. I feel as if I were
the residue of a stranger's life,
that I should pursue you.
My head cocked toward the sky,
I cannot get off the ground,
and, you, passing over again,
fast, perfect, and unwilling
to tell me that you are doing
well, or that it was mistake
that placed you in that world,
and me in this; or that misfortune
placed these worlds in us.



Ruth Stone--American


Ruth Stone
(1915-    )


Born in 1915, in Roanoke, Virginia, Ruth Stone is a teacher and writer of poetry.  She was a creative writing teacher at a number of universities.  She won the 2002 National Book Award for In the Next Galaxy.  She has published eight collections of poetry and several chapbooks, and has been included in numerous anthologies and literary journals.  She has been recipient of many awards: Wallace Stevens, two Guggenheim Fellowships, the Bess Hokin award from Poetry magazine, the Shelley Memorial, the Vermont Cerf award for lifetime achievement in the arts, and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

That Other War

A bird sings in the tree you planted

beside your stamped-out storage barn,

plastic barn that fits all over

America in three sizes; the bird does not know

that you have gone away, worker of puzzles,

hero of the Philippines.  You who wanted

no more than flower beds, zoysia grass,

a round of golf.  Years passed

before you told us that after laying down

the communication lines, you returned

to find them all ambushed; torsos

severed.   Some had no faces.

After the war it seemed the war

in the head didn’t end so easily.

In the night you would try to choke

your wife and she would wake you up.

But even that passes.


This bird sings for itself

a soft unconscious mourning.

Your wife hears it but does not

know that she is listening.

Her collection of figurines

still on the shelves you built

for them and she is still

working in this grocery and that,

handing out coupons and samples.


In the Next Galaxy

Things will be different.
No one will lose their sight,
their hearing, their gallbladder.
It will be all Catskills with brand
new wrap-around verandas.
The idea of Hitler will not
have vibrated yet.
While back here,
they are still cleaning out
pockets of wrinkled
Nazis hiding in Argentina.
But in the next galaxy,
certain planets will have true
blue skies and drinking water. 



W.D. Snodgrass --American


W.D. Snodgrass
(1926-    )


William De Witt Snodgrass was born in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1926. Snodgrass served in the U.S. Navy, and following the war earned his M.F.A.  His first book of poetry, Heart’s Needled, published in 1959 was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.  He is credited with being one of the founders of the “Confessional Movement” of poetry.  Snodgrass has published a number of books of poetry, most notable being: Not for Specialists: New and Selected Poems (BOA Editions, 2006); The Führer Bunker: The Complete Cycle (1995); Each in His Season (1993); Selected Poems, 1957-1987; The Führer Bunker: A Cycle of Poems in Progress (1977), which was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry and produced by Wynn Handman for The American Place Theatre; and After Experience (1968).

Magda Goebbels

(After Dr. Haase gave them shots of morphine,

Magda gave each child an ampule of potassium

cyanide from a spoon.)


This is the needle that we give

Soldiers and children when they live

Near the front in primitive

    Conditions or real dangers;

This is the spoon we use to feed

Men trapped in trouble or in need,

When weakness or bad luck might lead

    Them to the hands of strangers.


This is the room where you can sleep

Your sleep out, curled up under deep

Layers of covering that will keep

    You safe till all harm’s past.

This is the bed where you can rest

In perfect silence, undistressed

By noise or nightmares, as my breast

    Once held you soft but fast.


This is the Doctor who has brought

Your needle with your special shot

To quiet you; you won’t get caught

    Off guard or unprepared.

I am your nurse who’ll comfort you;

I nursed you, fed you till you grew

Too big to feed; now you’re all through

    Fretting or feeling scared.


This is the glass tube that contains

Calm that will spread down through your veins

To free you finally from all pains

    Of going on in error.

This tiny pinprick sets the germ

Inside you that fills out its term

Till you can feel yourself grow firm

    Against all doubt, all terror.


Into this spoon I break the pill

That stiffens the unsteady will

And hardens you against the chill

    Voice of a world of lies.


This amber medicine implants

Steadfastness in your blood; this grants

Immunity from greed and chance,

    And from all compromise.


This is the serum that can cure

Weak hearts; these pure, clear drops insure

You’ll face what comes and can endure

    The test; you’ll never falter.

This is the potion that preserves

You in a faith that never swerves;

This sets the pattern of your nerves

    Too firm for you to alter.


I set this spoon between your tight

Teeth, as I gave you your first bite;

This satisfies your appetite

    For other nourishment.

Take this on your tongue; this do

Remembering your mother who

So loved her Leader she stayed true

    When all the others went,


When every friend proved false, in the

Delirium of treachery

On every hand, when even He

    Had turned His face aside.

He shut himself in with His whore;

Then, though I screamed outside His door,

Said He’d not see me anymore.

    They both took cyanide.


Open wide, now, little bird;

I who sang you your first word

Soothe away every sound you’ve heard

    Except your Leader’s voice.

Close your eyes, now; take your death.

Once we slapped you to take breath.

Vengeance is mine, the Lord God saith

    And cancels each last choice.

Once, my first words marked out your mind;

Just as our Leader’s phrases bind

All hearts to Him, building a blind

    Loyalty through the nation,

We shape you into a pure form.

Trapped, our best soldiers tricked the storm,

The Reds: those last hours, they felt warm

    Who stood fast to their station.


You needn’t fear what your life meant;

You won’t curse how your hours were spent;

You’ll grow like your own monument

    To all things sure and good,

Fixed like a frieze in high relief

Of granite figures that our Chief

Accepts into His true belief,

    His true blood-brotherhood.


You’ll never bite the hand that fed you,

Won’t turn away from those that bred you,

Comforted your nights and led you

    Into the thought of virtue;

You won’t be turned from your own bed;

Won’t turn into that thing you dread;

No new betrayal lies ahead;

    Now no one else can hurt you.




Karl Shapiro--American


Karl Shapiro


Karl Jay Shapiro was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1913 of Jewish parents.  Throughout his life, Shapiro formed a live-hate relationship with being Jewish.  During World War II, Shapiro wrote poetry while stationed in New Guinea and sent them stateside where his fiancée had them printed.  Most notable from this period: Person, Place and Thing (1942), Place of Love, Essay on Time (1945) and V-Letter and Other Poems (1945) for which he won the Pulitzer Prize.  Following the war, Shapiro became an English professor. He was Poet Laureate and among his other awards are a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Contemporary Prize, and the Levison Prize.  He died in New York City in 2000. (1943)

Elegy for a Dead Soldier


A white sheet on the tailgate of a truck becomes an altar,
Two small candlesticks sputter at each side of the crucifix
Laid round with flowers brighter than the blood
Red as the red of our apocalypse
Hibiscus that a marching man will pluck
To stick into his rifle or his hat
And great blue morning glories
Pale as lips that shall no longer taste or kiss or swear
The wind begins a low magnificat
The chaplain chats
The palm trees swirl their hair
The columns come together through the mud

The time to mourn is short that best becomes
The military dead.
We lift and fold the flag,
Lay bare the coffin with its written tag,
And march away.
Behind, four others wait
To lift the box, the heaviest of loads.
The anesthetic afternoon benumbs,
Sickens our senses, forces back our talk.
We know that others on tomorrows roads
Will fall, ourselves perhaps, the man beside,
Over the world the threatened, all who walk:
And could we mark the grave of him who died
We could write this beneath his name and date:


Underneath this wooden cross there lies

A Christian killed in battle.
You who read,

Remember that this stranger died in pain;
And passing here, if you can lift your eyes
Upon a peace kept by human creed,
Know that one soldier has not died in vain.



Harvey Shapiro--American


Harvey Shapiro is editor of the Poets of World War II, an American Poets Project of the Library of America, released in 2003.  A poet in his own right, he is the author of thirteen books of poetry, including National Cold Storage CompanySelected Poems (1997) and How Charlie Shavers Died and Other Poems (2001). In Sights along the Harbor, Shapiro evokes the rich heritage of his Jewish culture and his love for New York. Shapiro was a radio gunner during World War II and flew 35 missions and was decorated for service.  He spent many years as the editor of The New York Times Book ReviewThe New York Times Magazine.  While in the military, Shapiro spent a good amount of time reading and writing and began his career as a poet.  (1988), and

War Stories

These are a conquered people,

said the British sergeant,

putting his hand on my shoulder

at the bar in Foggia, Italy—

this is 1944. He was instructing

me on why I should not tip

the Italian barmaid, as I was doing.

A conquered people. I liked the phrase

because it had the ring of history,

suggested dynasty policy, put

British empire with the Roman

down the long reach of time.

But in the real world it made

no sense. How did it apply

to the Italian kids who came

to my tent each morning to trade

eggs for cigarettes. Or to the old

Italian lady in town who was teaching

me the language. Or to the girl

in the Air Force rest camp on Capri

I fell in love with Christmas week.

They were hardly a people, much less

conquered. They were living

as I lived, on the bare edge of existence,

hoping to survive the interminable war.

But high above their cities

on my way to Germany to kill the enemy

I was part of that sergeant's fictive world,

part of the bloody story of our century.


May Sarton--American



May Sarton


Born in Belgium in 1912, she moved to the U.S. with her parents when she was three.  Upon her death in 1995, Sarton had written 53 books.  Though she might be most known for her novels and journals, she published 17 books of poetry.  She also created two children’s books, a play and a number of screenplays.  Her first volume of poetry, Encounter, was published 1937, when she was studying acting.  Remarkably, her Journal of a Solitude, has never gone out of print since it was published in 1973.  Sarton left instructions upon her death that her estate should provide scholarships for poets and historians of science (in her honor of her father).  The fund is administered under the auspices of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, of which she was a member.


This lazy prince of tennis balls and lutes,

Marvelous redhead who could eat and have his cake,

Collector of hot jazz, Japanese prints, rare books,

The charming winner who takes all for the game’s sake,

Is now disciplined, changed, and wrung into a man.

For war’s sake, in six months, this can be done.


Now he is groomed and cared for like a fighting cock,

His blood enriched, his athlete’s nerve refined

In crucibles of tension to be electric under shock,

His intellect composed for action and designed

To map a bomber’s passage to Berlin by stars,

Precision’s instrument that neither doubts nor fears.


This can be done in six months.  Take a marvelous boy

And knead him into manhood for destruction’s joy.

This can be done in six months, but we never tried

Until we needed the lute player’s sweet lifeblood.

O the composed mind and the electric nerve

Were never trained like this to build, to love, to serve.


Look at him now and swear by every bomb he will release,

This shall be done.  This shall be better done in peace!



Sylvia Plath--American

Sylvia Plath


Born in 1932, Sylvia Plath started writing at an early age.  She kept a journal from the age of 11 and was successful in publishing her poems in local magazines and newspapers.  She attended Smith College and was an exceptional student and graduated summa cum laude in 1955.  Following graduation she received a Fulbright Scholarship, moved to England where she met English poet, Ted Hughes.  Plath and Hughes married in 1956.  She returned to the U.S. in 1957 and studied with Robert Lowell.  Her first collection of poetry, Colossus, was published in 1960.  Throughout her life Plath suffered from depression, a condition that led to her suicide in 1963.  She is most known for her semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar.  Following her death, her most famous collection of poetry, Ariel, was released. 

Lady Lazarus

I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it—

A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot

A paperweight,
My featureless, fine
Jew linen.

Peel off the napkin
O my enemy.
Do I terrify?—

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.

Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me

And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three.
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.

What a million filaments.
The Peanut-crunching crowd
Shoves in to see

Them unwrap me hand and foot—
The big strip tease.
Gentleman, ladies

These are my hands
My knees.
I may be skin and bone,

Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.

The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut

As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I've a call.

It's easy enough to do it in a cell.
It's easy enough to do it and stay put.
It's the theatrical

Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute
Amused shout:

'A miracle!'
That knocks me out.
There is a charge

For the eyeing my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart—
It really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood

Or a piece of my hair on my clothes.
So, so, Herr Doktor.
So, Herr Enemy.

I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
The pure gold baby

That melts to a shriek.
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Ash, ash—
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there—

A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.

Herr God, Herr Lucifer

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.



You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time---
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off the beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du.


In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene


An engine, an engine,
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gypsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.

I have always been sacred of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You----


Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.


Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.

You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who


Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.


But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I'm finally through.
The black telephone's off at the root,
The voices just can't worm through.

If I've killed one man, I've killed two—
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.

There's a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.

Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through.