The Lost Generation : World War I Poetry : Archibald Allan Bowman

Title page of Sonnets From a Prison Camp by Bowman.


Scottish philosopher and poet Allan Archibald Bowman (1883-1936) was working as a professor at Princeton University when World War I began. He took a leave of absence in 1915, enlisted in the British Army, and was assigned to the Highland Light Infantry. Three years later, Bowman was taken prisoner by German forces during the Battle of Lys. The poems collected in Sonnets from a Prison Camp were written after Bowman’s capture, between April 27 and July 25, 1918. Most were composed at the Rastatt prison camp, though some were written after Bowman was transferred to Hesepe. The volume itself contains twelve chronologically arranged sections and a clean, minimal layout with one sonnet per page. This neatly bound, 152-page book has a board cover with thread wear on the bottom and top of the spine. A lithographed errata slip on different paper is pasted into the binding and precedes the title page.

Part of the Soldier Poets section of the exhibit, Sonnets from a Prison Camp contains poems that reflect on the horrors of war, the boredom of life in a prison camp, and a deep longing for home and peace. Bowman also employs Christian theology to decry the power of “Nations,” asserting that “Earth’s glory sinks confronted with Christ’s cross” (p. 104).  In the following sonnet, he writes that the “Commonwealth” cannot “unchallenged claim / To be the First and Last.” There is “a holier Name” (p. 105). Each sonnet includes a date and location, allowing the sequence to function like diary entries, and in his foreword, Bowman notes that during his early days as a prisoner of war, these poems “stood between my soul and madness” (p. v). The author then goes on to thank Captain Honholz (Commandant of the Hesepe prison camp), “to whose kindness I owe it that I am able to offer the sonnets as they stand” (p vi). Given his status as a prisoner of war, Bowman’s writing—not only his access to pen and paper, but the very act itself—was contingent upon the permission of his captors.

Find Sonnets from a Prison Camp in the UNT Library Catalog.