Poetry Break: “Let Me Tell You How I Died” – Gas!

It’s been awhile since we’ve checked in with this incredibly long poem, hasn’t it? I figured it was time to post another segment.

In the First World War, poison gas saw its first large scale use on the Ypres Salient in 1915. It was a very potent chlorine gas, and it caused hundreds of casualties and almost 70 deaths. As the war advanced, so did the cruelty of this particularly barbaric weapon. Phosgene and Mustard gases were introduced, both of which rotted the lungs and caused blisters and burns on the skin. Some variants of these gasses were invisible and hard to detect by smell, which meant soldiers wouldn’t know they were exposed until they were already symptomatic. I’ve read many accounts of gas attacks on the Western Front, and it’s hard reading to get through. Poison Gas became one of the most infamous aspects of the first world war, and one of the most feared weapons. Although it’s difficult to read about much less write about, I felt I had to include it in this poem. Here for you is the third segment of Part II of the “Let Me Tell You How I Died” war poem series. 




Here we are rushing the works again

And I charge the field with the rest of my men

Up to my knees in mud and slime

Surrounded by bones, debris, and grime

A shell lands near me as I make my way through

But it doesn’t explode, or cause much ado

Then there’s a hiss and the air turns yellow

The field grows foggy, I let out a bellow

I can’t get any sound to leave my throat

My lungs burn, eyes water, skin bubbles and bloats

It’s poison gas that they’ve thrown at me

It’s Mustard, it’s lethal, and I’m too weak to flee

Caught out in the field without my gas mask

There’s no worse death, for mercy I ask

But it won’t come, so I splash into the mud

My skin burns hot and I cough up blood

My vision goes black and my hearing fades

My insides feel torn apart by knife blades

Soon I don’t feel anything, my life was so brief

But when death finally comes, it’s a relief

To Be Continued…

To read Segment 1 of Part II, “Shelling” – click here.

To read Segment 2 of Part II, “Over the Top!” – click here.

85 Comments on “Poetry Break: “Let Me Tell You How I Died” – Gas!

    • Glad you’re enjoying it so far. LOTS more to come haha. (Although actually we’re about half way there with this poem)

    • They all are! 🙁 But this one especially so. Thanks so much for coming by to share your thoughts!

  1. A shockingly powerful reminder of the madness of war, but it is shameful we still do need reminding, but we do. We must always be on our guard!

    • It is exhausting (and beyond tragic) how much history repeats itself 🙁 A prominent theme in my next post, unfortunately!

  2. Well done! I’ve been listening to Dan Carlin’s Blueprint for Armageddon, in which he talks at length about the horror of the gases they used. Apparently when they first used it, the Germans didn’t know it would be as effective. So much changed in that war, so many weapons were introduced that had never been wielded before. Truly horrible beyond anything our minds can conjure up — but you do a great job of painting the picture. May we always be grateful for the many who gave themselves for the freedoms we enjoy.

    • Wow, that is a very nice compliment. Thank you very much. I LOVE Carlin’s “Blueprint for Armageddon.” I was absolutely glued to it when I listened. All of his podcasts are fantastic. I haven’t gotten to it yet, but my husband says that “King of Kings” is also really good. I plan to start that next!

      • King of Kings is equally compelling, equally mind-blowing. Carlin is a master storyteller who not only makes many various elements of the story make sense together, he keeps the lives and experiences of real people at the forefront. I can’t get enough. Glad you like it too!

      • I think I read somewhere he has a book coming out one of these days. We’ll have to keep our eyes peeled!

  3. You have an amazing way with words. Great job and I cannot wait for the next segment. ❤️

  4. Good to see another chapter, MB! This is so vivid and horrific. What on earth goes through the minds of the people who create and deploy such awful weapons? Thank you for the reminder. This is excellent work.

    • I’ve read many, many, many books trying to answer that very pointed question. I’m so glad this segment moved you, and that you have enjoyed the series as a whole! 🙂

  5. These devastating emotions must be even harder for you you to write them, than they are for us to read, M.B. I imagine that you can only expose yourself to the agony for a limited amount of time.

    • Yes, that is very true. For my writing and research, I have designated hours that I do not allow myself to work outside of. The heart and mind need a break! I’m so glad you came by for a read!

  6. powerful poetry, you captured the cruelty so well … the poison may have changed but death in war is a relief … the survivors struggle at many levels 🙁

    • Thank you for your compliments! And that is a very powerful truth you speak. I can’t imagine trying to survive the battle itself, and then trying to survive the trauma later.

      • that was my job to support those service people for years and why I’m reluctant to read many of your posts, sorry …

      • I’ve spent a lot of time with former and current service personnel, and while I probably don’t help on the level that you did/do, I understand what you mean and where you are coming from. The people I spent time with actually inspired me to write what I do. I feel so powerless when it comes to things like war, so I write to try to preserve the history, and also make it as human and personal as I can. I strive to make people think on a human level about something as inhuman as war. I don’t always succeed… lol. But I do try! Even if I only touch a few people, maybe it might make some kind of difference someday. My hat is off to you friend, and the difference I know you have made to many with a job like that.

      • I couldn’t find it on your page – could I trouble you to post a link here?

      • Thanks for sharing the link. What a poem that sums it all up. It moved me to tears, honestly it did.

      • it was the main feature for our centenary Anzac Day exhibition at my regional art gallery … first time I’d seen a poem on ‘display’! People stood there transfixed reading it repeatedly …

      • good it’s meant to shock and move people just as service disturbs our personnel …

      • Wow, how amazing that it was put on display. I imagine that must have been quite something watching your own words move people. Congrats on that!

      • it was indeed and led to a few speaking engagements on the topic because I came from another angle.

  7. What a fantastic post MG, very thought provoking.

    To be honest it’s hard to put a response in words. Gas was a horrific way to die indeed, but then there were so many horrific ways to die in the First World War it’s hard to think what was worst. It’s another aspect of a truly terrifying and barbaric period of history.

    I guess that the only positive thing you can say about the sacrifice these poor souls made, was that it made the UK very period about gas attack and they took protection against it very seriously, which is way before the outbreak of WWII everyone in Britain was issued with a gas mask and instructions about what to do in a gas attack. Apparently, that’s one of the reasons why it was never used by Germany, because about only 1 in 5 German Citizens had masks, and they feared reprisals.

    It’s horrid to think it’s still being used in some parts of the world today – but the human capacity to cause harm to fellow humans never surprises me.

    • I feel like people try to learn the lessons for awhile. They really do try in a variety of ways – preparedness, like you mentioned here, and also trying to reshape and rebuild so we don’t go through it again. But when it comes to war and violence, it seems memories are just way too short. 🙁

  8. Raw and heartbreaking. So disheartening that humans continue to develop lethal methods to solve hostilities.

    • How much we could improve things if we used all that ingenuity for the greater good! 🙁 Thanks so much for coming by and sharing your thoughts.

  9. I love the dedication and detail you put into these poem segments. I also love to think about how grand this whole poem will be when you complete all the segments. It seems like not a lot of people write really long poems like this anymore, so I think it is cool you are doing it. I once started writing a Shakespearean play about Joan of Arc in iambic pentameter. I only got the opening scene. Your poems kind of make me want to start it again.

    • Thank you so much! You’re right, it is a little old-fashioned to write a big long poem, but that’s the charm in me 🙂 Pleeeaaaase write the play 🙂 That would make me very happy!

      • Yes, I love that old fashioned quality of it! I may very well write that play someday. I may have to write it about someone else though, as I have passed through my Joan of Arc phase :).

      • Haha! Fair enough! 🙂 I bet you would write an excellent play no matter whom you chose to write about 🙂

      • That’s so sweet, and I appreciate your confidence in me. I am really working on my fiction writing this year. I don’t have problems writing non-fiction, but I sometimes have a lot of writer’s blog with fiction. I am working through it right now.

      • Ah writer’s block 🙁 I know it well. I always try just sitting and writing down anything that comes into my head. Because in my case, the block is usually something that’s hurting me or making me upset. Try just writing, not focusing on story, and seeing what comes out. 🙂

      • Yes, that is such a good point! I have been trying to do that with my zombie novel, and it is helping a lot. I am going to start writing that again soon, and I am excited.

    • Oooh his poems are all so good. Those WWI poets – all of their work is so haunting. Thanks for linking that here! And thanks also for your kind compliments.

  10. That gas must have been horrifying. What a terribly cruel way to die. 😢

  11. Sad, and meaningless deaths. I wonder how long the gas stayed in the air, how long after it was over the residues affected people who breathed it in increments.
    Powerful piece, MB.

    • Thank you so much. As for how long the gas stuck around, it depended on a few things. Weather for one – if it was windy, it dispersed pretty quick. If it was foggy with no wind, it could linger for some time. Gas clouds also lingered for a long while over water in shell holes. A lot of times, it lingered on the patients themselves, which also put hospital personnel who treated them at risk. Dark times indeed 🙁

  12. It’s difficult to even imagine the horror of these chemicals and the pain experienced. Hence, may we as a nation remain strong and steadfast to help prevent these in the future.

  13. This reminded me that we are so concerned with current biological and chemical warfare that we forget this was in our recent past. It seems like a terrible unfair way to win a battle.

  14. Always so powerfully written, it takes me right along as if I’m there in person. This is unimaginable and horrifying. Gosh what times these were. May we never see times like these again.

    • Thanks, dear friend <3 I totally agree - we must all remember and try to be kind!

    • Thank you so much <3 It rips me up pretty good too. All I know to do is write about it!

  15. Your share is filled with many emotional facts. …the trails, happenings and possibilities. Those who died and fought in these wars would be honored that you are making their patriotism honorable and unforgettable. Too, your lovely poem is heartfelt. Cheers!🍵😎🍵

    • Thank you so much for stopping by, I’m glad it moved you. I certainly will keep it up 🙂

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