(This is no case of petty right or wrong)




Through this paper, which deals with the poetry from the World War I, I am going to analyse the work by Edward Thomas. What I want to reflect here are the feelings and all the thoughts that can come to a soldier’s mind during this kind of conflict. First, I am going to look carefully to the context (the events during the time his poem “This is no case of petty right or wrong” was written), which I think is very important to understand the poetry of this time. Later, we’ll focus on the main characteristics and particular features of the poem trying to compare it with other contemporary works.




During the eleven months between August 1914 and July 1915 Thomas was indecisive about whether to take his family to America or whether he should enlist. Finally he made the fatal decision to enlist and he joined the Artists Rifles on July 1915.

His poem “This is no case of petty right or wrong” was written on 26th December 1915. Throughout 1915, the British Empire and France suffered far more casualties than Germany. However, while the Germans only mounted a single main offensive at Verdun, each failed attempt by the Entente to break through German lines was met with an equally fierce German counteroffensive to recapture lost positions. Around 800,000 soldiers from the British Empire were on the Western Front at any one time. 1,000 battalions, occupying sectors of the line from the North Sea to the Orne River, operated on a month-long four-stage rotation system, unless an offensive was underway. The front contained over 9,600 kilometers of trenches. Each battalion held its sector for about a week before moving back to support lines and then further back to the reserve lines before a week out-of-line.[1]




Edward Thomas wrote this poem after a blazing row with his father who was a conventional patriot who demonised the Germans.

This Is No Case of Petty Right or Wrong[2]

This is no case of petty right or wrong
That politicians or philosophers
Can judge. I hate not Germans, nor grow hot
With love of Englishmen, to please newspapers.
Beside my hate for one fat patriot
My hatred of the Kaiser is love true:–
A kind of god he is, banging a gong.
But I have not to choose between the two,
Or between justice and injustice. Dinned
With war and argument I read no more
Than in the storm smoking along the wind
Athwart the wood. Two witches' cauldrons roar.
From one the weather shall rise clear and gay;
Out of the other an England beautiful
And like her mother that died yesterday.

Little I know or care if, being dull,
I shall miss something that historians
Can rake out of the ashes when perchance
The phoenix broods serene above their ken.
But with the best and meanest Englishmen
I am one in crying, God save England, lest
We lose what never slaves and cattle blessed.
The ages made her that made us from dust:
She is all we know and live by, and we trust
She is good and must endure, loving her so:
And as we love ourselves we hate our foe.

Through this poem, which is truly patriotic, Thomas disdains the sort of populist hate of Germans and love of England that are made “to please newspapers”, arguing for a quieter form of patriotism which deals with the love for the earth in which he was born.


The first stanza begins with an irony making reference to what people consider what is right or what is wrong and which he considers trivial issues, judged by politicians or philosophers for their own interests. His love to his country goes far from those problems. This way, he introduces his poem arguing that it will not deal with a petty case of morality and, along the poem, he will give the reasons that support his patriotism, which he considers a personal feeling far away from polemics.

On the other hand, the loathing of Germans that English newspapers proclaim at that time is absolutely normal as they are being battle enemies (England with the Allied powers and Germany with the Central powers), although he refuses it.

Then he makes a comparison between his feelings towards England and Germany. He hates the conventional English patriots as much as he hates Hitler as he is England’s enemy, although at the same time he admires him because he moves masses of people “banging a gong”.

But he doesn’t want to take a decision of whether to hate or not Germans, or whether what is right or what is not in the middle of the “storm”. He will decide it far from the war, in calmness. He won’t read any more newspapers that tell him who to hate or love, so he will do it just far away from arguments.

He compares, in a metaphor of witches’ cauldrons, his feelings of patriotism and other patriot’s feelings. Outside one cauldron, there is his patriotism which goes beyond this hatred, so he loves the English countryside with a weather that “shall rise clear and gay”. On the other cauldron there are other traditional patriots like his father, who love England as newspapers write, also hating Germans because of the war conflict.


In the second stanza, he declares himself a simple Englishman who doesn’t care what historians will say about England after the war has passed. He personifies England through this stanza; she will be like the Phoenix, the legendary bird that was able to grow again from its own ashes. He only hopes England to be saved after the war, to rebirth from its ashes like it was before the war.

He asks God to save England; he doesn’t want to lose it because it is his homeland and, like England was grown for ages, he later was grown in England from the dust, so he identifies England in himself. It is the only place he knows and where he has always lived. As a result, he will hate his country’s enemies as they are his own enemies. For this, he doesn’t care whoever his enemies are; the feeling of hatred will be the same either if they are Germans or not.




In “This is no case of petty right or wrong”, we have seen a non conventional patriotism capturing the love of the English countryside unlike any other. This love to English nature is also similarly noticed in the poem by Rupert Brooke “The soldier”.


If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.[3]


As a soldier, Edward had to fight against his enemies and defend his country, but he tried to escape from any sort of established patriotism, so this poem constitutes one of the most noted and original pieces from the genre, what makes Edward Thomas one of the most influential authors of the 20th Century.  This way, Thomas was greatly admired by W H Auden, Dylan Thomas, Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes. Many of today’s best known poets acknowledge the influence of his writing on their own, and his reputation is still growing.[4]



Counter-Attack. First World War literature. Edward Thomas. Michèle Fry, 1999. Visited on 21st March 2007.


Edward Thomas. HTML Markup Paul Groves. Visited on 20th March 2007


Edward Thomas. This is no case of petty Right or Wrong. HTML Markup Paul Grooves. Visited on 20th March 2007.


Rupert Brooke. The soldier. HTML Markup Paul Groves. Visited on 21st March 2007.


War poetry. Edward Thomas. Poet of the First World War.  Saxon Books 2006. Visited on 20th March 2007.


Wikipedia. World War I. Visited on 22nd March 2007.


University of Oxford. Poets pay tribute to Edward Thomas. Visited on 8th May 2007.

Academic year 2006/2007
© a.r.e.a./Dr.Vicente Forés López
© Sandra Gisbert Sánchez
Universitat de València Press



[1] From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_I


[2] From http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ltg/projects/jtap/tutorials/intro/thomas/no_case.html

[3] From http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ltg/projects/jtap/tutorials/intro/brooke/vsoldier.html

[4] From http://www.admin.ox.ac.uk/po/news/2004-05/mar/09.shtml