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Compariosn of pre 1914 and wilfred owen’s poems

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  • Pages: 11
  • Word count: 2694
  • Category: Poems

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War has been an influential topic for poetry for many centuries and through its catastrophic cruelty and sense of patriotism has created some of the most brilliant poets and most controversial poems ever written. With each different war comes different poets who want to write their views on it and just as motives of war differ, so do the opinions of the poets; some see war as barbaric and destructive, whereas others portray it as a way of ennobling oneself. Before the technology and media coverage we have nowadays, stories of battle were passed down by word of mouth and were often written in poetic form so they could be memorized easily.

Just as the artillery used in the wars has changed, the way war is portrayed has as well. Before World War 1 began in 1914, it was seen as a glorious opportunity for men to serve and defend their country. In many poems war is compared to a game, for example in “Vitai Lampada” written by Henry Newbolt, the refrain “Play up! Play up! And play the game! ” is repeated at the end of each stanza to try and rally the soldiers and ready them for battle. Newbolt uses the leitmotif of comparing fighting to playing a cricket match to ease the pressure off the soldiers by making it seem fun and competitive.

He uses the simile: “Beat through life like a torch in flame” to portray how the schoolboys have responsibilities and also to show how these must be passed down through the generations to protect their country, just like the Olympic torch. War is also compared to a game in Henry V’s speech in Shakespeare’s play, Henry V. He declares: ‘The game’s afoot,” once again understating the enormity of the battle. In addition Shakespeare uses the battle cry “God for Harry, England and Saint George! ” to show that the English are on the righteous side and have a duty to serve their country.

Before 1914, there was no compulsory military service and therefore Britain did not have a huge army like other European countries. However World War 1 was so large, conscription needed to be introduced, meaning all men of the appropriate age were obliged to go to war. Along with conscription came the propaganda to encourage men to join up and a popular form was poetry. Poets like Jessie Pope and Rupert Brooke wrote poems convincing men that war would be an exciting opportunity with their friends and that it is their duty to honour and serve for England. However, one of the most famous war poets, Wilfred Owen, had a different view of the war.

At first he wrote in a similar way to the likes of Pope and Brooke, but after experiencing first-hand action in the front line his work became less idealistic. One of Owen’s most famous poems is “Dulce et Decorum est”. The Latin title means “it is sweet and fitting to die for your country” and it is used ironically to anticipate an idealistic poem, but it is quite the opposite. Owen wrote this poem in reply to the jingoistic recruiting poems written by Jessie Pope; they glorify war and make it seem like a great opportunity for men to have an adventure with their friends.

In the first two lines of “Dulce et Decorum est”, Owen uses the vivid imagery of “old beggars” and “coughing like hags” and the reader thinks that he is describing someone elderly or of low status. However, in the lines that follow, we realize that Owen is actually talking about soldiers who are walking away from the front line: “Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs And towards our distant rest began to trudge. ” Owen uses the word “haunting” to portray that the battle they have endured will stay in their minds forever. To convey the exhaustion of the men Owen uses hyperbole: “men marched asleep… runk with fatigue”. This shows how fighting was physically draining for the soldiers and contradicts the glamorous image that Pope’s poems conjure up. In the second stanza Owen illustrates the terrifying scene of a gas attack. He repeats the word “GAS” for a second time in capital letters to convey a sense of urgency and also to imply how fatigued the men were as they needed it to be repeated louder a second time for them to realise the situation. Owen uses polysyllabic words like “ecstasy” and “fumbling” and “clumsy” to convey a sense of panic and alarm.

He describes how one man did not get his gas mask on in time and is “flound’ring like a man in fire or lime”. This portrays that the gas he is inhaling is burning and the image “as under a green sea, I saw him drowning” is very powerful because it shows that the gas overwhelms his lungs just as water does when you drown. The line “In all my dreams, before my helpless sight” shows how Owen will remember that scene forever, and the word “helpless” suggests that he cannot do anything about the flashbacks and horrible memories he will have to endure but it also implies that he could not do anything to help the soldier who was dying.

Owen uses the adjectives “guttering, choking, drowning” to illustrate the soldier’s horrific death; the word “guttering” is especially effective as you use it to describe a candle about to go out, just as the man’s life is about to be extinguished. Owen bitterly attacks Jessie Pope in the last stanza. He sarcastically addresses her as “my friend” and uses gruesome comparisons like “Obscene as cancer” and “bitter as the cud of vile” to portray the horror of war. The line “incurable sores on innocent tongues” implies that the some soldiers who were very young will have terrifying memories with them for the rest of their lives.

He appeals to the senses by using hideous and graphic imagery: “If you could hear, at every jolt, blood- Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs”. The adjective “froth-corrupted” illustrates how the man’s lungs had been plagued by the gas and what a horrific death he had to endure. He uses the simile: “like a devil’s sick of sin” to describe the soldier’s face, suggesting a sense of repulsion and disgust. Owen depicts the soldiers as “children ardent for some desperate glory” portraying that Pope’s recruiting poems wrongly persuaded boys that were not of age to vulnerably serve their country.

In the last two lines Owen frames the poem by repeating the title, but he uses it ironically as he says it is “The old Lie”, contradicting other pre World War 1 poems that give the impression men will be considered heroic if they serve their duty. Owen once again opposes the notion that women will treat soldiers, who return home from war injured, like heroes in his poem “Disabled”, Owen opposes the idea that women will treat the soldiers, who return from the war injured, like heroes.

In the poem “Fall In” by Harold Begbie, he persuades men to join the army by using the sexual attractiveness of women. The lines: “When the girls line up in the street, Shouting their love to the lads come back,” implies the men will be seen as courageous and gallant for fighting. However, Owen explains this is not the case in the lines: “Now he will never feel again how slim, Girls’ waists are, or how warm their subtle hands, All of them touch him like some queer disease”. The metaphor “like some queer disease” expresses how the women are afraid he may be contagious and how they find him repulsive.

Just as in “Dulce et Decorum est”, at the beginning of the poem we think Owen is describing an elderly man because he uses the phrase “ghastly suit of grey” which infers old age. But then we discover how he “threw away his knees”; he chose to enlist for the army and that is portrayed a grave mistake, a waste of his life. The line: “Poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry” also infers that the man opted to fight as the verb “poured” suggests that he did it himself. In addition, Owen portrays how the boy was not motivated by principles to sign up: “Someone had said he’d look a god in kilts”.

He had been induced by vanity and also to “please his Meg”; once again the notion of impressing the women is used. Even though his face was “younger than his youth” the line “Smiling they wrote his lie: aged nineteen years,” shows that the authorities were unscrupulous as they knew he was just a boy but still let him sign up. “Disabled” is a very contrasting poem and Owen repeats the word “now” to emphasize the contrast between what he was, and what he has now become: “Now he is old”. Owen uses the motif of football throughout, but not in the positive way Newbolt does in “Vitai Lampada”.

He uses it ironically to show the difference between his life before the war when he was fit and agile, and now when he is condemned to a passive lifestyle in a wheelchair. When he was playing football “he liked a blood smear down his leg,” implying that he thought it looked manly and would impress the girls. Now however, he can only watch boys playing football: “voices of play and pleasure after day” and the women do not see him as heroic as their eyes “Passed from him to the strong men that were whole”. The word “whole” creates a strong image of him being limbless and is powerful as it is not very compassionate, just like the women.

In the last two lines, Owen repeats the rhetorical question: “Why don’t they come? ” The first question is directly addressing the nursing staff, portraying that they do not care for the wounded solider or are disgusted by his wounds and the second question portrays a sense of abandonment; he is confused because he fought in the war and people should honour what he has done instead of pitying and disposing of him. Owen’s “Mental Cases” has a similar theme to “Disabled” except it focuses on the mental aspect of fighting and not the physical aspect.

The purpose of this poem is to describe to the reader that the conditions were so terrible in the First World War that it drove people insane. The tone of the poem is an angry one; Owen portrays his opposition to the war through line such as: “Multitudinous murders they once witnessed”. The word “multitudinous” means the common people and shows how Owen thought that the ordinary people of Britain were being slaughtered and that young, fit men were the subject of untimely deaths. It also emphasises the vast scaled of the murders and the intensity of the war.

Owen uses very powerful and vivid imagery in the first stanza with phrases such as “drooping tongues” and “purgatorial shadows” to describe the men. The word “purgatorial” suggests that they are trying to cleanse their soul of the sins they have committed, but are trapped by their own violent actions in the war. Owen uses the word “shadows” to portray them as ghosts, men that go unnoticed because they are insane and not normal. This is ironic because they were probably once very fit and able and are now spending their lives in an institute.

The first stanza poses the question of what made the men mad and Owen uses rhetorical questions to engage the reader: “but what slow panic gouged these chasms round fretted sockets? ” This phrase conjours up a strong image of the men being wide eyed with a constant look of terror upon their face. Owen utilizes the phrase “slow panic” to infer that the men have been subject to a form of torture and that they have painfully been made to suffer. The phrase “deeply gouged” suggests wrinkles implying that the men are quite old; however we learn that the men have not lost their minds due to age, but due to war.

The lines: “Always they must see these things and hear them, Batter of guns and the shatter of flying muscles,” use realistic and gruesome imagery to describe the battles. Onomatopoeia is used through the words “shatter” and “batter” making the reader almost hear the tremendous bangs of the guns and making them understand the intensity of the situation. The phrase “human squander” portrays Owen’s thoughts that many “multitudinous murders” took place and that their lives were lost for no reason; it was a mistake.

In the final stanza Owen describes to the reader how the mental cases wish they were dead so they did not have to remember the atrocious carnage that they have seen: “Dawn breaks open like a war that bleeds afresh”. This simile is effective because usually dawn brings new beginnings and fresh opportunities, but to these men it just means they have to endure memories of what the war did to them. This poem is a very personal one as in the last four lines; Owen uses words like “us” and “brother”. This shows that the men blame us for allowing what happened to occur, and how they wish that they did not have to be reminded of it any longer.

Wilfred Owen’s wrote “Anthem for Doomed Youth” not to portray the mental and physical effects of war like “Disabled” and “Mental Cases”, but to explain how a whole generation of men were subject to gruesome injuries or brutal deaths during the First World War. The title is deliberately ironic because the word “Anthem” usually suggests celebration; however the tone of this poem is bitter and mournful. It also infers that Owen is mocking poets like Rupert Brooke who say it is honourable to die in the war. The first line is a rhetorical question and it uses plosives, portraying an angry tone.

The metaphor “for these who die as cattle” is effective because it infers that the soldiers are being slaughtered. The soldiers are referred to as “Doomed Youth” as there were “no prayers nor bells” for them as they died on the battlefield, just the “monstrous anger of the guns”, suggesting that the amount of deaths were so widespread there was no separate emotion for each man, their deaths were unimportant like that of cattle. This personification also infers that the weapons were taking control of the soldiers and that their actions are that of monsters.

Owen portrays how there is no time for sentiment of the battlefield in the line: “The shrill demented choirs of wailing shells;” this personification is effective because when a person dies they are believed to be “at peace”, but when you die on the battlefield the destruction and devastation carries on around you regardless. Owen portrays how the men came from ordinary backgrounds in the phrase: “sad shires” and he describes how the family of the soldiers’ did have funerals for them back at home in the line: “what candles may be held to speed them all? The devastation of their deaths is shown through the line: “the pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;” suggesting that their girlfriends are sorrowful and also by using the plural it shows how a whole generation of women may not be able to find husbands because so many young men were killed in action. In the last line, a “drawing-down of blinds” is a fitting way to end the poem, but it could also be associated with traditional drawing down of blinds in a room where a dead person lies and furthermore it infers that so many soldiers’ lives were now over.

I enjoyed reading Wilfred Owen’s poetry more than the pre 1900 poetry as it gave me a realistic view of what the effects of war were on the soldiers and their families. World War One was the most devastating and barbaric war to date and therefore I believe that Owen’s poetry is more fitting as it gives a personal aspect to the poems, portraying the soldiers as humans, not just as statistics, but also showed them like animals to make the vast scale of the murders evident.

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