Robert Nicholas’ (1893-1944) tremendous popularity as a trench poet of the First World War is due the fact that he very vividly reveals the horror of the trenches that have been aptly described as “bloody butcher’s benches”. He saw only a few weeks of active service as an Artillery Officer in the battle of Loos during the First World War. He was invalidated after the Battle of the Somme with shell shock from which he never recovered. No doubt, writing poetry was always his first priority. It might be added that his name is included in the Memoirs in WestminsterAbbey to commemorate the poets of the First World War.
His remarkable collection of poems ARDOURS AND ENDURANCES gives a sustained and balanced account of what modern warfare was. His most famous poem “Assault” is full of universal appeal. For example, we may see the following lines from this poem:
The beating of the guns grows louder.
"Not long, boys, now."
My heart burns whiter, fearfuller, prouder;
As guns redouble their fire.
The poem was written in the battlefield itself. The most admirable thing is that theabove lines render the impressionistic onomatopoeia of battle in a jerky style that provides truth and vividness to the description of the assault.
We find a very apt and revealing description of the trench fighting in the following lines from his poem “Battle” that shows the predicament of numberless soldiers fighting from the trenches, and enduring the stench:
No sound in all the stagnant trench
Where forty standing men
Endure the sweat and grit and stench,
Like cattle in a pen.
Sometimes a sniper's bullet whirs
Or twangs the whining wire,
Sometimes a soldier sighs and stirs
As in hell's frying fire.
The poetry of Robert Nichols is quite instructive for our contemporary age afflicted with most unfortunate wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the ominous clouds of a probable third World War threatening the very survival of humanity.