When people think of War, they think about all the good aspects of it; Ambition, Glory, Praise, Honour and Duty. But there are other aspects to it; death, fear and horror
Poets have always talked about War poems. One such poet is John Scott.
John Scott was a Quaker, who followed the Ten Commandments strictly. In his poem, “The Drum”, which was written in 1782, he says how he feels about War. The poem starts with “I”, meaning it is his personal feeling towards War, and follows this immediately with his response, “Hate”, which is a strong word when you’re describing someone or something. He also says, “That Drum”, and in War, the Drum is used to recruit young people (“Thoughtless Youth”) into the Army, or it is used to symbolise War.
When the “Thoughtless Youth” go into War, their leaders send them off, into battle, in order to make them men. And in this case, they’re impressed by the “glittering arms” and don’t think about what “Ambition” (their leader) wants them to do. A capital A is used for “Ambition”, which means it is personification (To make a person out of an idea). And the last line in the first verse sounds like a drum’s beat, (“To march, and fight, and fall, in foreign lands”). This really makes you, the reader; think about the leader’s motives
In the second verse the same two lines are used as they are in the first verse “I hate that Drum’s discordant sound, parading round, and round, and round”. Then on the fourth, fifth and sixth line, John Scott lists at length the horrors of war. “Burning towns,” “mangled limbs,” “dying groans,” “widows’ tears” and “orphans’ moans.” To match the first verse, Scott makes another personification, with the word “Misery”. He says “And all that Misery’s hand bestows”, meaning that if Misery was a person, he/she would feel at home in War because of all the injuries, tragedies, deaths and wounded. “To fill the catalogue of human woes”, referring to Misery, meaning that Misery would be able to fill a big catalogue of horror.
“The Drum” deals with the honour of war from a distance, but often poems take a much closer look at War.
A poem which isn’t quite as distant is called “Dulce et Decorum est” and was written by Wilfred Owen. It tells the horrific ordeal soldiers in the war go through, watching one of their friends dying in his own fluids, coughing and choking after inhaling chlorine gas.
Wilfred Owen was an officer during World War 1 and decided to write about his experiences. At first, he started off thinking that war would be glorious and honourable like many people, but he soon found out what it was really like. He was killed a few weeks before the war ended.
The poem is about a gas attack and the effect it has on one man, and the effects on the men witnessing him die. The last verse, however, is a complaint to all those people who sit at home while these soldiers are out fighting for their lives, who think that war is a glorious thing.
The poem starts by describing the exhausted soldiers, who are “bent double” “knock kneed” and “drunk with fatigue”. The soldiers are coming out of the line of fire going to recover, “towards our distant rest began to trudge”.
The tone of the first verse is exhaustion and being beyond tired (“drunk with fatigue” and “men marching asleep”). It is bitter and powerful in its description of the “Great” war.
The second verse starts with a change of tone – panic. “Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!” then the reader gets an adrenaline rush, as the men fumble to put their gas masks on. After all, they may have done it in drills a hundred times before, but this is the real thing. It seems as though everyone has made it “Just in time”. However, the next line starts off as we find out that somebody hasn’t made it “just in time”. So as a reader, we go from being relieved to dread of what happens next.
The man who hasn’t made it in time inhales the chlorine gas, and a description of him “drowning in a green sea” (of chlorine). Wilfred Owen watches the soldier “dim through the misty panes and thick green light” and also sees him “plunging towards me, guttering, choking, drowning” We can hear him choking in the onomatopoeic “guttering.”
In the third verse, Owen dreams about the incident “In all my dreams”, but is “helpless” as he watches the soldier.
The fourth verse is the heart of the poem. It is an answer to all those who think it is a fine and honourable thing to die for one’s country (“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori”). It shows the war is a lack of glory, and full with horror and indignity. And when the “innocent” are dead or severely injured, they’re not even human anymore; because of the way they are being treated, “flung them in”. Then there are the physical effects left, if the chlorine doesn’t kill you. Owen describes them as “incurable sores on innocent tongues”
He finishes by asking the reader questions, if you could see this, if you could hear this, you wouldn’t tell “the old Lie”, that it is a fine and honourable thing to die for one’s country. In the word “Lie”, Wilfred Owen has a capital L (another personification). It is the lie of all lies.
The poem is there to make note of those who say “Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori”, and how it is told to fool people into thinking War is a great thing to participate in. The send the “innocent” in to die, just like they do in “The Drum”.
The horror of War has been brought up to date in the poem, “Your Attention Please”, written by Peter Porter. It differs from the other two poems I’ve looked at, in that it doesn’t give a graphic look or anyone’s personal feeling towards War. It is a poem based around an imaginary nuclear War, where it is being broadcast on a radio.
The tone of the poem is fast, unemotional, matter-of-fact. The poem is humorous also (“Watch the cuckoo in your perspex panel” and “Secure explosion plugs in the ears of each member of your family”). Everything in the poem has been timed precisely, (“This announcement will take two and a quarter minutes to make, you therefore have a further eight and a quarter minutes to comply with the shelter requirements”)
The announcement was made to keep people calm, by telling the people listening to it what they can do to take their mind off the nuclear strike. But what it is in fact doing is describing the last horrific moments of human life on earth.
The announcer says that there’ll be a special shortened Jewish or Protestant service and informs us not to take any animals, not even birds. They say this because “birds” could possibly be the difference maker in the bomb shelter, by “consuming” the rest of the oxygen.
Peter Porter, then lists instructions, likes “Turn off your television now. Turn off your radio immediately”. This is there to keep the listener busy and to take their mind off the War.
Peter Porter introduces the theme of patriotism and honour at the end of the announcement, when he tells us that “all flags are flying” and that God is on our side. This is the “old Lie” what has come around again. The last line of the poem is chilling, as it tells people to “go quietly to your shelters”, People are about to head into almost certain death.
Each of these poems deals with the aspect of war, the horrors of war. However, they are all different wars, at different times, but with the same meaning, and that is the “old Lie”.
“The Drum” deals with the general affects of war, and talks about “thoughtless youth” that are impressed by the “glittering arms”.
“Dulce et Decorum est” gives a graphic look at what war is like, especially the first world war, giving more details about the horrors of war.
“Your Attention Please” doesn’t talk about the horrors of war in a great amount of detail, unlike the other two poems. However, overall it is the most sinister poem, of the three.