We turn to poetry in those moments when ordinary language seems inadequate. As we commemorate the centenary of the First World War, it is the poetry that came from that conflict that allows us truly to understand what Wilfred Owen called “the pity of war,” and contemplate the terrible loss of life it entailed.

The reality of the Great War was reflected in words of poets who gave their lives in service, such as Owen and John McRae, while the sacrifice of their generation is cast in a new light in the tributes of later writers, such as Philip Larkin, whose moving poem MCMXIV captures the fragile innocence and peace in the days before the war.

This is also, however, a time to remember those who…