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War poetry

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  • Pages: 8
  • Word count: 1901
  • Category: War

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The First World War was fought over a four-year period or harsh conditions and bloody conflict and through out this time many people chose to show their views through poetry, the most famous of these being Sassoon and Owen. Poems were also written for differing reasons such as to convince and in some cases bully young men into joining the army, these were often called recruitment or propaganda poems. Propaganda poems such as fall in were not particularly poetically valuable but they gave across a strong message; join the army or be shunned from society.

Fall In as the title suggests is a recruitment poem and is written using a lot of colloquial language to relate to the working class young men it was aimed at. The poem prompts the audience to think about how they would feel in the future if they did not join the war “and when your neighbours talk of the fight will you slink away. ” The poem portrays a life where the people who know you are embarrassed to be around you and even your children would see you as a coward.

In the last stanza the writer appeals to the patriotism of the reader, which in the post Victorian era was on the whole much stronger than it is today. It also depicts war as a good and exciting event where as normal life is show as being mundane and repetitive. The same style of emotional blackmail was used in many poems to get young men to join the army. Two Young Mothers is one such poem. It sets the scene of two mothers crying as the returning soldiers pass by, however one cries for her dead son, while the other weeps “of shame not grief” for she has three sons “but not one doth risk his life for England’s sake!

This poem would be written to try and make the reader feel guilty for making their mother feel so ashamed of her son and hence join the army and go to war. Both of these poems are typical of this style, over all I think that Fall in is the better of the two. This is because it uses many different means to persuade such as how the reader’s children would feel if their father did not join the war and how they would be rejected from society. Fall in was also put to music and made into a march that was sung, often by troops of men marching to war that made it quite famous.

Also the two mothers was written by a woman and many young men resented that she has never seen conflict but was still urging young men to risk their lives. There were many poems written at this time about chivalry and the ideals of war and conflict. These poems such as The Volunteer describes how many people thought of war, as a glorious thing with every man a hero and the battle won with “horsemen, charging under the phantom skies. ” This line shows how the upper classes, who were most probably the audience meant for The volunteer thought the war would end, in a glorious cavalry charge.

This theme continues throughout the poem. The poem tells the reader that when they die in battle their lives will be content, and even if they have no funeral they will want “no recompense”, as they will be for filled by the “high hour” of battle. The poem tells the reader of past great armies such as that of Rome or perhaps the golden hordes of Mongol horsemen that were at one point in history, successful, and comparing them to the British army now fighting in France.

This would have persuaded men to join up as it showed the battle and bloodshed in a glorious light, and that if the men joined they would be worthy of a place in history. It also says that if one should die in battle then he would go “to join the men of Agincourt” which in those days would have been a great honour to be with the champions of that battle as they would have been taught much about it at school. Peace was another poem written about the ideas of war.

The title suggests that the poem was anti war, however it does in fact describe peace as boring and mundane, and saying instead “God be thanked Who has matched us with this hour,” (thanking god for the chance to fight. ) It also shows someone as a better person having gone to war, and those “who have know shame, … have found realise here. ” Again, much the same as The Volunteer it depicts death as a relatively good thing compared to living a normal boring life. It also shows death as nothing but a sleep at the end of a courageous battle.

In conclusion these types of poems support the war effort but in a different way to the propaganda poems. Idealistic poems convince the reader to join the army by telling them how honourable it is to fight and win, or die fighting for your country rather than blaming those who don’t go to war for shaming themselves and their family. These poems continued to be written throughout the war, but after the disastrous battles of Ypres and the Somme many poets began to no longer see the war as a good thing, defending Europe from the Nazis, but instead as a pointless war of aggression.

Public opinion was also changing, as many more young men were being killed and conscription was introduced many people began to ‘take the side’ of the anti war poets. Two of the most famous of these poets are Wilfred Owen and Siegfreid Sassoon. Sassoon’s poems were mostly aimed at the working and middle classes. In his poems he uses very common names such as Jack and Harry to emphasise that he could be writing about any soldier. He also uses quite colloquial language to relate with his audience.

In the poem “The Hero” Sassoon sets the scene of an officer breaking the news that a soldier has been killed in battle to the man’s mother. The title in this poem is meant to be sarcastic showing that not every man involved in the war was a hero and died a hero’s death. Sassoon does not call the mother my name, simply as ‘mother’ to highlight the fact that this could be any family. “‘We mothers are so proud of our dead soldiers. ‘ Then her face was bowed. ” This indicates that the mothers of the dead soldiers say they are proud but inside they are grieving heavily and would prefer for their sons to be alive.

Sassoon calls the officer “Brother officer” to show comradeship between soldiers. In the next line he says, “He’d told the poor old dear some gallant lies that she would nourish all her days, no doubt. ” This also shows the comradeship between soldiers as the officer lied to the mother to make her feel better about her sons death, but also indicates that many men did not die as their mothers would have liked them to, in a charge over the top, but instead they died in some other way, such as an accident or bombardment.

Nourished” indicates that the grieving mothers would live off the memory of their dead but heroic son for a long time. It also suggests that the parents would need to think of their son as a hero otherwise they could no have got over his death. In the last stanza the officer in the poem describes what he actually thought of ‘Jack’ ad how he was really a panicky, lazy soldier who nobody really cared about except the mother, the “lonely woman with white hair. ” This last line suggests that with the death of her son she had become weary and old with little point in living.

The second war poet of this later period writing against the war was Wilfred Owen. His poems, although they expressed the same views as Sassoon’s did, they did so in a quite different way. Owen was very well educated and this can be seen in his poems. The audience meant for his poems were the upper classes and other well learned people such as himself. Possibly his most famous poem; Dulce et Decorum est, was originally written in response to the poems written by Jessie Pope.

He was annoyed with civilians who had never been to war writing about it as if it was a game and telling young men to join the army. In the first stanza he conveys to the reader how a soldier really looks in war, not the healthy, high spirited men depicted in many of the propaganda or idealistic poems but men “double bent, like old beggars under sacks, knock kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge. ” It also communicates to the reader how the men suffered from total exhaustion.

All went lame; all blind; Drunk with fatigue;” this again brings up the issue of the tiredness of the soldiers, it also shows many peoples opinions on how the soldiers were being treated, like animals. Using the word “lame” associates them to animals, as that is a word usually used to describe them, not people. The second stanza changes the speed of the poem; it creates a very vivid scene of a gas attack. “An ecstasy of fumbling” is effective because it suggests a very desperate situation with men trying to fit their “clumsy helmets”, clumsy being a suggestion that the men were poorly equipped.

Perhaps because of this poor equipment “someone still was yelling out and stumbling, and flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . . ” the use of an ellipsis at this time was very effective as it indicates that the man is helpless and the speaker has trailed off while watching his friend die. During this stanza Owen often relates his description of the gas attack with drowning such as when he writes, “As under a green sea I saw his drowning”, he does this because every one can associate with it.

In the last stanza Owen is again speaking to the pro war poets who had had no experience of battle such as Jessie Pope. He essentially is saying, if you had seen what I and my fellow soldiers had seen you would not so readily preach for Britain’s young men to go to war. In the first half of the last Owen recalls the aftermath of the gas attack. He tells the audience how many people still have nightmares about the attacks and death it caused. The uses of “watch” and “hear” invite the audience to think about what they would feel like if in the same situation.

Owen uses a lot of compelling adjectives such as “vile”, “obscene” and “writhing” these words make the poem seem to be more convincing and realistic. Owen also uses many metaphors in his poems such as “His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin” this description describes to the audience how a victim of a gas attack looks when he is close to death, terrible, like the devil, but more ugly and distraught. The last line is a repeat of the title and translates to be; ‘sweet and proper it is to die for ones country’. Through out the poem Owen challenges that statement.

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