Poems inspired by GUERNICA, 1937


December 14, 2016 by Lydia Syson

A report earlier this year concluded that the number of civilians around the world killed by explosive weapons had risen by 55% in five years.  The humanitarian crisis in Yemen has finally hit the headlines this week – a crisis that has been building for nearly two years due to a proxy war in which the UK government is directly implicated.  Today, the evacuation of Aleppo has been delayed, and airstrikes continue.  It’s hard for young people in the UK to make sense of any of this. It’s harder still, now that what was once called ‘total warfare’ has become commonplace, to imagine what it was like in the 1930s when, during the Spanish Civil War, the first cities in Europe were attacked from the air.

When I met year 10s earlier this term at Sydenham High School to talk about my novel A World Between Us, and British involvement in the Spanish Civil War, we also discussed the difficulties many of them had in understanding the impact of the very first aerial bombardments.  In small group workshops, we explored the response of poets and artists, including Picasso, to the bombardment of Guernica in 1937. After watching and listening to contemporary newsreel footage and press reports, the students produced their own, very immediate poetic responses.  The poems below were all written in the last 10 minutes of a busy hour, packed with discussion, drama and group recitation.  I’m delighted to be publishing them here now.

They fall,

Like dreams falling from the sky

Planting themselves in our lives

They fall,

Destroying everything in their path

Grasping anything near your heart

We fall

Nothing but shadows remain

Knowing nothing will ever be the same

Anya Travassos


Bouncing and banging

The ground shakes

Homes break

It all comes crumbling down

Shadows stretch to encompass all

Forcing a world of black and white

Yet colours blend

We shall amend

And take back what is right

Elena Hornby


In an ancient town

Everyone’s been let down

Destroyed and destroyed

With people being killed, over killed

With the hole 25 feet deep

With a tragedy beneath our feet

It’s an emotional time for everyone around

Still.  Everyone silent

As they hear the sound of wreck and death and threat in the air. 

Safiyah Borde-Kuofie


Bricks crashing upon civilians

Unparalleled for destroying millions

Anticipation filling the air

Children crying in despair 

Niah Hay-Henry and Sally Prifti


Silent and still lays the left over debris

Silent and still lay the devastated civilians

Loud and immense as the flames lit the town up

Loud and immense as the people demolish

The breeze runs through the ruthless place

Civilians’ spirits going with it, full of grace

Martha Edwards


Stomach churning up

Eyes swelling with water

Heart beating fast

Fists start to clench

I can hear the screams in my head

The anger wants to explode out of me

Thinking how all the dead bodies lay

I felt as deep as the 25 foot hole

The gunshots make my ears bleed

Leaves me with sleepless nights

Tragedy overtaking our town

Terror left in our lives

The relentless banging

Sylvie Locke


Terror devours the city

Strangled cries and screams echo

Around the crumbling walls

The chorus of guns shatters down the street

Can you hear her?

She calls for her baby: ‘Where is she?’

The planes’ hum drones on,

Their bombs peel off them.

Ester Schomberg


The bombs flying like birds

Swooping down and landing on houses

The light flashing from the window panes

But then came the crashing of the lanes

Mothers and children are heard screaming

While others in the world are day dreaming

The threat from the air is high

But when it gets to you – you sigh

Open your eyes and see the light

Before it turns to night.



  1. Bozena says:

    Beautiful poems!

  2. Lydia, thank you for sharing these poems. They truly touch my heart.

  3. Sue Purkiss says:

    Wonderful poems – sounds like a great workshop.

  4. LUCY GASTER says:

    Lovely poems – so glad that young people are learning about this period in history and using their imaginationsto think deeply about what must have been like then. Congratulations to everyone who was involved. Amazing achievement to write like this in 10 minutes!

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