Since the dawn of time there have been hundreds of wars, from small battles over territory to all out wars such as World War I and World War II. From all wars come death and destruction, tragedy and heartache. But to every cloud there is a silver lining and the silver lining to the cloud of death and destruction, is that some of the best poems and novels ever written have been inspired by the theme of war.
In this essay I am going to analyse and compare three poems following this theme, they are ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ by Wilfred Owen in 1917, ‘Peace’ by Rupert Brooke in 1914 and a pre-1900 poem called the ‘The Drum’ by John Scott.
Owen joined the war effort in 1915 as an officer and after a short while of being there was appalled at the suffering of war. Owen believed the families at home should know about the truth about the war and this was reflected in his poetry. In the preface to the poems he had he wrote: ‘I am not concerned with poetry. My subject is war and the pity of war. The poetry is in the pity’. One of his poem which is a great example of this phrase is ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’, which will be the first poem I will analyse.
This poem is a sonnet about the young people that are sent of to fight in the war. When you first look at the poem, the first thing you notice is the title, which makes me think of two things. The first being of a church as anthems are usually songs of praise, which signifies the prayers and faith in the young men’s friends and family that he will return safely and the second is of national anthems, which are songs that are written for your country and are sung as a mark of respect. This could signify patriotism and loyalty towards the country or respect towards the young soldiers going to war. From the title the reader gets the impression that this poem is going to be in favour of war and in which respect is very misleading.
The first line of the poem says ‘what passing bells for those who die as cattle?’, which is meaning church bells like those that are played at a funeral and that all the young soldiers were slaughtered on the battle field. The fact that it asks ‘what bells’, shows that Owen is trying to insinuate that nobody cares about the young men dying for their country. The first line is already a great contrast to what the title suggests.
The next two lines of the poem are started off with the same two words ‘only the’. The repetition in this poem is used to emphasize the mournfulness in the poem. Owen has personified the weapons saying such things as ‘anger of the guns’ and ‘stuttering rifles’, this gives the feeling that the weapons are people because it speaks as if the guns have emotions and can act like human beings.
The line ‘can patter out their hasty orisons’ is talking about the how the soldiers pray before they die, when it is linked up to the previous two lines. This makes us feel sorry for the soldiers and ads to the mournfulness of the poem. The whole of the first stanza emphasizes the comparison between a normal funeral and dieing battle. It does this by saying things like ‘no mockeries from prayers or bells’ only ‘shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells’ and ‘bugles calling for them from sad shires’. The soldiers do not get the noble and respectful funeral they deserve only a memorial service for all the dead soldiers from the war.
While the first stanza appeals to sound the second stanza appeals to sight with phrases such as ‘what candles may be held’, ‘holy glimmers of good-byes’ and ‘drawing -down the blinds’. The line ‘what candles may be held to speed them all?’ is talking about them not having a noble and normal funeral. The next line ‘not in the hands of boys, but in the eyes’ is saying that instead of young boys holding candles and singing at funerals all they have is the tears they cry before they die. This is very effective because it compares tears to candles, and it is as if when the candles are blown out, it is like when a young soldier dies and his tears stop falling.
The phrase ‘the holy glimmers of good-byes’ is a very soft, gentle and soothing sound, which is very effective because the poem starts to go peaceful in the second stanza, as a young soldier would go into peace when he dies. At the start of the poem Owen speaks as if nobody cares about the soldiers but contradicts himself at the end by saying ‘and each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds’, which is a mark of respect for the dead.
Owen has made the point of the poem that, dying during war is a waste because it has no nobility and a noble funeral would be out of place because of the way he died. I like this poem as it is peaceful, but yet sad and I think it gets the point across that he doesn’t agree with war. Owen makes the point of the poem by writing about the death and tragedy that come with war.
‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ was written in 1917, just before the war ended and when the true effects and the impact of the war on the world had finally been realised. The next poem I will be analysing, ‘Peace’ by Rupert Brooke was written in 1914 at the beginning of the war and before it had got into full swing and when the mood of all citizens of Britain was one of great buoyancy and optimism, which is a valid explanation as to why Brooke has a completely contrasting opinion of war to Owen. This optimistic opinion is greatly presented in his poem ‘Peace’.
Brooke saw the war as a glorious opportunity to prove his love for his country and was very enthusiastic to join the force, which he did in 1914. He wrote a series of sonnets called 1914, which was considered inspirational to the war effort and was used as great propaganda for the war. The first of these sonnets was ‘Peace’.
The title of the poem is when you first read seen to be ironic as the poem is about war and the word peace is the opposite, however this could just be a subtle indication that he is happy and at peace at war, which when you read on is revealed as how he feels. The poem opens with the line ‘now, God be thanked Who has matched us with His hour’. This means that he thanks God for making him suitable to take part in the war, which shows us that he is in favour of the war and is happy that he has the chance to participate. This is a complete contrast to Owen’s poem, in which he insinuates that he does not agree with young men having to fight for their country. The second line; ‘and caught our youth, and wakened us up from sleeping’ shows that he feels people live insignificant lives. This emphasizes the contrast in the opinions of the two poets as in Owen feels that nobody cares about the young men sent off to die and he pities them because of this fact and Brooke seems to be one of the people who Owen is talking about in the first line of his poem.
The last couple of lines in the octave of Brooke’s poem read ‘leave the sick hearts that honour could not move, and half men’. Brooke thinks that anybody who doesn’t sign up for war is a coward and half a man. On the contrary Owen thinks that signing up and dieing for your country makes you less of a man because you loose all your dignity and nobility that you had when you left for war. The final line says ‘all the emptiness of love’, which shows that Brooke is bitter about love as he has been hurt by it in the past and as is stated in the first line of the sestet, that he sees it as an escape from home life or a chance to get away from his troubles and family life ‘we have found release there’.
Brooke uses a paradox in this line ‘naught broken save this body, lost but breath’. This is a paradox because it reads as if he is contradicting himself saying nothing is lost at war but breath and nothing is broken but the body. He actually believes that being hurt or dying at war doesn’t matter so long as you have dignity and nobility. In this respect Brooke and Owen are of the same opinion as both believe dignity and nobility are important. However Owen does not see the dignity and nobility in dying at war and feels that instead of being enhanced is decreased.
Brooke and Owen have completely opposite opinions and this is shown a lot through out their poems. However both men do see the importance of dignity and nobility, but both have different ideas about what dignity and nobility are and how they can be achieved. After reading and comparing the two poems I find that I prefer ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ as I share some of the ideas Owen puts across and can relate to it better. Also I do not like the way Brooke judges other people for not joining up and feels that it makes you less of a man, this makes him seem to me to be very narrow minded and only listens and takes on bored to what he agrees with. I also think the poem makes Brooke seem as if he is disillusioned about what war is and is blinded by the dignity and glory to see the real tragedy that is going on around him.
The first two poems were written during the First World War, which is where my third poem ‘the Drum’ is different, as it was written in 1782 by a Quaker called John Scott, who was being a Quaker against violence of any sort. It was very popular during the Napoleonic era and was reprinted many times.
The title ‘the Drum’ does not provoke a reaction as it is short and does not at first glance seem to have a deep meaning behind it unlike the first two poems which had meaningful and thought provoking titles.
The opening line starts off with the phrase ‘I hate’, which automatically sets the poem in a very negative mood and makes the reader expectant of negativity towards war. This unlike the other two poems because the mood of their poems are not established until further through the poem. Scott uses very strong adjectives at the start poem such as ‘hate’ and ‘discordant’, which makes me, think he is trying to emphasize his opposition to war. The other two poems use more fluent and poetic descriptions to get their point across.
Scott agrees with Owen on his opinion of War, that people who sign up to fight are selling their freedom and dignity for cheap rewards such as uniforms and guns. He also refers to the young men who sign up as ‘thoughtless youth’ this shows that he agrees with Owen that the people sign up because they think it will gain them respect and glory.
This poem is very similar to Owen’s in the respect that it is written about the tragedies of war:
‘Burning towns, and ruined swains,
mangled limbs, and dying groans,
widows’ tears, and orphans’ moans’.
Both the poets do not agree that going to war and dieing for your country gives you more respect and dignity.
This poem is written in a similar mood to ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ but he approaches trying to get his point across in the poem and there is less of a poetic tone to ‘the Drum’ than to Owen’s poem.
Now that I have read and compared all three poems I have decided that I prefer ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ more than the other two as I feel it is more fluently written and I agree with his point of view on war.