When World War One broke out in 1914 Britain had only a small professional army. It needed a large one very quickly. In order to solve this problem the government would introduce conscription in 1916. However, before the introduction of conscription the government would put a tremendous amount of social pressure onto the young men of Britain to volunteer to join the army. The government began a massive recruitment drive, with posters, leaflets, recruitment offices in every town and stirring speeches by government ministers. Not only this many newspapers would include poems written as a means of shaming men into joining the army. For example, the poem “Fall In” by Harold Begbie would make those who did not join the army feel ashamed. Also, the women would put further pressure on men to join the army. The idea that the women would want the men after they came back from war was common. During this time young the young men of Britain were put under a lot of pressure to join the army. The recruitment campaign was highly successful as by 1916 over 2 million had enlisted. At this time the people of Britain were ignorant and inexperienced about war.
To most the war seemed like an adventure or almost like a “game”. The use of propaganda only served to increase this impression. Government produced propaganda would make people dismiss reality and the truth, instead opting to believe what the government wanted them to believe. Whilst in reality World War One was a highly dangerous and horrific experience. As well as this many young men thought the war would be over by Christmas and that they would be seen as heroes when they defeated the enemy and came home. In hindsight we can see how delusional people were, manipulated into dismissing the truth. Wilfred Owen was one of the most recognised war poets during the war. Owen’s poems would illustrate the true dangers of war with the focus being on the young men who had been almost forced to join the army. Owen’s style of writing was in contrast with those of Harold Begbie and Jessie Pope. Begbie and Pope would write poems playing upon the concerns of young men and glorifying the war.
It was partially Owen’s dislike for Pope and Begbie that drove his poems as well as his need to record his first-hand experiences. The poem “Fall In” by Harold Begbie immediately tries to convince the reader to join the army. The title “Fall In” seems threatening and acts as a command almost telling the reader to join the army. Furthermore, the opening line of the poem immediately shows the main topic that runs through the poem: “What will you lack, sonny, what will you lack” Here we learn through the use of the word “sonny” that the implied reader is a young man, most likely still unsure about signing up. Not only this the repetition of the word “sonny” throughout creates a sense of threatening insistency. As a rhetorical question the poetic voice manages to make the reader think whilst the repetition of “what will you lack” further emphasises the question.
After the initial rhetorical question managing to grab the reader’s attention Begbie goes on to prey upon one of their immediate concerns: “When the girls line up the street, Shouting their love to the lads come back” Here Begbie straight away focuses on one of the main concerns of the implied reader: appearing unmanly in front of women. Begbie is suggesting that by joining the army the implied reader would be instantly recognised as a hero. Not only this the girls would show their love and appreciation for them, revelling in their glory. This image of girls “shouting their love” would powerfully encourage the implied reader to consider going to war. We can also see Begbie’s lack of knowledge and ignorance about the true horrors of war as he seems to believe that it would be an advantageous opportunity for young men. Begbie later preys upon different concerns that the implied reader might have: “And England’s call is God’s!” Here Begbie plays upon the idea of patriotism with his reference to “England”.
With many men joining their respective countries’ armies Begbie could be suggesting that it would be your duty as a citizen of England to sign up. To further convince the implied reader Begbie mentions that “England’s call is God’s”. This would indicate that God is with England and therefore by signing up you would be siding with God. Also, the implied reader could interpret this as suggesting that God would be with them throughout the war serving as a protector. Begbie later changes tactics as he tries to connect with the implied reader choosing to use more colloquial language: “The pub and the betting odds” With the implied reader being a young, inexperienced, somewhat immature young men this use of colloquial language here would relate to them on a personal level. With the mention of a “pub” and “betting odds” the implied reader might relate to these socially specific details, consequently making them warm to Begbie. With the introduction of the second stanza in “Fall in” Begbie adopts a more serious voice: “Will you say it was naught to you if France Stood up to her foe or bunked? But where will you look when they give you the glance That tells you they know you funked?”
The indication here is that those who do not join the army will be betraying their country and fellow citizens. Moreover, the further use of rhetorical questions serves to make the reader ask themselves the question as well as making them feel more involved in the poem. In the penultimate stanza Begbie suggests that there is still time for the implied reader to redeem himself with the announcement: “Or say- I was not with the first to go, but I went, thank god, I went? Here it seems that Begbie is assuming the role of the implied reader to further connect with them whilst simultaneously bolstering the impression that they should volunteer. Also, Begbie is communicating the idea that there is still time to prove yourself and volunteer. Moreover, the mention of “god” again indicates the religious aspect of the war, maybe suggesting that by volunteering you will be siding with God. Finally, in the last stanza Begbie, possibly to serve his own ends, asks the rhetorical question: “It is nought to you if your country fall, and right is smashed by wrong?” With the use of this rhetorical question Begbie hopes to arouse the reader’s emotions and immediately rush to volunteer.
Begbie was not the only poet who wrote poems encouraging young men to volunteer. Jessie Pope is another poet who wrote poems of this nature. Pope’s poem “Who’s for the game?” is very similar to “Fall in” as they both communicate the same message in an attempt to encourage young men to volunteer. The title “Who’s for the game?” gives us a good indication of how Pope views the war. By suggesting that war is little more than a contest we can conclude that Pope lacks knowledge about war and is unaware of the true horrors that occur. It is this thinking that enraged Owen and would influence his later work. “Who’s for the game?” and “Fall in” are similar in many ways. For instance, like in “Fall in “there are many rhetorical questions found in “Who’s for the game?”: “Who’s for the game, the biggest that’s played, The red crashing game of a fight,” Here Pope uses many references alluding to war as a game. It could be that Pope is attempting to make the war sound more welcoming to further convince the implied reader to volunteer.
As well as this the tone throughout “Who’s for the game?” is very upbeat and energised serving to make the reader feel more enthusiastic about the idea of volunteering. Also, the vocabulary and lexis seen here is very brash and confident to increase the impression that war is an adventure. Throughout this poem there are many direct rhetorical questions asked which would create a dialogue between the reader and the poetic voice. Consequently this makes it a lot more stirring and effective at influencing the intended audience whilst simultaneously almost forcing the reader to ask himself whether or not he should go to war. Moreover, Pope continues to show her ignorance to the true nature of war, presenting it as little more than a play: “Who’ll give his country a hand? Who wants a turn to himself in the show?” Here Pope preys upon the implied reader’s fears of being ostracised. The suggestion is that if you do not go to war then you will be letting your country and your peers down.
This is very similar to Fall in where Begbie preyed upon the implied readers fears of appearing unmanly to women. In continuation of this, Pope goes on to focus on the sense of patriotism one would have if they were to volunteer: “Who knows it won’t be a picnic-not much- …Who would much rather come back with a crutch” Here Pope is recognising that one could get injured in war. However, Pope then suggests that it would be a sign of honour to “come back with a crutch”. As well as this Pope compares war to a “picnic”. This idea that war is fun shows Popes ignorance to the dangers of war. Furthermore, in a more disturbing aspect, it could be that Pope is trying to manipulate these young men into going to war. In the last stanza Pope again focuses on the patriotic aspect of war: “Your country is up to her neck in a fight, And she’s looking and calling for you.” The suggestion here to the implied reader is that their country is “looking” and “calling” for them. Writings like this would have put a tremendous amount of pressure on young men.
Also, with all the other methods of persuasion that they would have been subjected to these men would have been almost forced into volunteering. In conclusion, it is clear to see that the poets Begbie and Pope were unaware of the true horrors of war as they attempted to manipulate young men into volunteering and consequently signing their lives away. It is these views expressed by Begbie and Pope that would have influenced the work of Wilfred Owen. Wilfred Owen was one of the most recognised war poets during the war. Influenced by the poems of propagandists such as Begbie and Pope, Owen would write about the true dangers of war with the focus being on the young men who had been almost forced to join the army. One of Owen’s most recognised poems is “Disabled: a victim of war”. In this poem Owen communicates the effects of war as he assumes the role of a young man who has just returned from war after being severely injured. Whilst in other poems the life of a soldier is generalised here we are given access to an individual sole person. Consequently we are able to sympathise more as we are presented with one man’s experience.
Furthermore, as this poem is written in the free indirect style it allows the reader a unique access to the young man’s thoughts and memories. For instance, we are given a sense of his pain: “He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark, And shivering in his ghastly suit of grey.” Here we are presented with a grim indication of this young man’s current situation. The mention that he “sat in a wheeled chair” augments his sense of pain and disability. However, a real sense of sympathy is experienced when we realise that it was the work of propagandists such as Begbie and Pope that manipulated men like him into volunteering. It is very likely that this man signed up to prove his potency but now he has ended up totally dependant and rendered impotent. Also, the suggestion that he was “waiting for dark” could show that the night is his only source of comfort as when it’s dark he can sleep and experience no pain. Another way of looking at this is that night is a metaphorical symbol of death. He is now at a point where he views death as his only escape from this pain and therefore finds himself ultimately just waiting to die.
This stresses the horrors of war by giving us a individual example to help us to sympathize and empathise. Furthermore, the description of him “shivering” shows how all energy has been drained from him, making him seem more vulnerable. Also, the mention of him as a “ghastly suit of grey” suggests that he is barely alive; he is only left with a conscience. Not only this the alliteration present here creates a sense of a desperate sigh almost as if he is disgusted with himself. The sense of pain the man is experiencing is continued: “Legless, sewn short at elbow.” The syntax of the sentence here is designed to deliberately delay the detail of “legless”, thus highlighting its graphic horror on the reader. As well as this the mention that he was “sewn short at elbow” indicates how he has been dehumanised as now he is made to sound like a piece of clothing. Whilst at the start we were an observer we are now given full access to his feelings and emotions making it far more evocative. This sense of pathos experienced by the reader is further increases with a reminder of what he used to have: “Voices of boys rang suddenly like a hymn, Voices of play and pleasure after day.”
The “voices of boys” only serve to remind him what he will never be able to experience again: joy, pleasure and energy. The mention of a “hymn” arouses the sense of religion. It could be that he feels he has been forsaken by God and now he doesn’t even have his religion to give him hope. In the second stanza it seems as if we are going into his positive memories: “When glow-lamps budded in the light blue trees, And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim.” Each stanza is separated by asterisks creating the impression that the man is drifting in and out of consciousness. With the introduction of the second stanza it seems that we are drifting into positive memories with of “light blue trees” creating a peaceful mood. Moreover, the mention of “girls” indicates a sense of lost romance. However, this sense of calm is immediately lost with a sudden volta: “In the old times, before he threw away his knees.” There is a visceral sense of shock here as the mood dramatically changes.
Whilst he was at peace reminiscing on his past memories of joy, he is now suddenly reminded of his current situation. He has now become aware that he will never be able to experience joy again: “Now he will never feel again how slim Girl’s waists are, or how warm their subtle hands;” It seems he is aware that he will never know the joy of love and friendship again. His desire for physical love makes the reader sympathise even more. As the poem moves into the third stanza it segues into another positive memory. However, these constant reminders of what he used to have ultimately only pain him more. Yet he still looks desperately from some memory to salve his pain: “He’s lost his colour very far from here, Poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry.” This phantasmagorical image of “shell holes” shows how he has lost all of his dreams and hopes bolstering his sense of pain. Not only this it intensifies the sense of regret and anger at himself for being influenced by propaganda. It is almost as if war has drained him of everything. In the fourth stanza there seems to be an indirect attack on Pope: “After the matches, carried shoulder high. It was after football, when he’d drunk a peg.”
This could be interpreted as an attack on Pope. Here Owen is indicating that this man will never be able to play football again due to his injuries suffered at war. Whereas in “Who’s for the game?” Pope, in an attempt to convince young men to volunteer, compared war to a team game. Furthermore, in “Fall in” and “who’s for the game?” there was an indication that those you did volunteer would experience a heroic welcome when they returned. However, in “Disabled” the returning soldier does not receive this response: “Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal. Only a solemn man who brought him fruits.” Owen is again satirizing Pope and her poem “Who’s for the game?” with the suggestion that he would have been given more praise for scoring a goal than going to war. This is highly ironic since Pope compared war to a game in “Who’s for the game?” As the poem ends Owen gives one final indication of this man’s pain: “How cold and late it is! Why don’t they come And put him into bed? Why don’t they come?”
The repetition here of the question “Why don’t they come” augments his sense of pain and suffering whilst indicating his longing for an end to his nightmarish existence. Owen has cleverly focused on an individual person rather than a faceless mass to make it easier for the audience to sympathise and empathise. Thus, Owen stresses the horrors of war through his description of one man’s life after the war. Another of Owen’s most recognized poems is “Dulce et Decorum est” which translated means sweet and fitting it is. This title is not meant to be taken seriously as in the poem Owen adopts an angry, bitter tone to talk about the horrors of war. Straight away Owen stresses the horrors of war with his description of these young men: “Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through Sludge.” Here we learn about the soldier’s wretched condition as they return to the Front. The use of similes comparing these soldiers to “beggars” and “hags” is very powerful considering they were young men. There is a suggestion that they have been reduced to old weak women. This shows the appalling conditions that soldiers experienced in the war.
Owen is trying to communicate to the reader the true effect that war can have on people through his vivid description of these men returning to the front. In continuation of this, Owen carries on to bolster this impression of their hardships: “But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots.” Here we can see how mentally and physically drained they are as they “limped on”. Furthermore, they seem to have lost their senses as they are now “lame”, “blind”, and “deaf”. This powerfully communicates their distress and wretched condition. As well as this they are dehumanised with the mention that they are “blood-shod”. They have now reached a state of pain and suffering that they are no longer recognized as humans. With the introduction of the second stanza Owen focuses on one man who could not get his gas helmet on in time: “Gas! Gas! Quickly, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling …And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime… Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.”
Here Owen allows the reader to see through the eyes of a soldier. Consequently we are able to empathise with this soldier on a personal level as we can experience what is happening from the first person. We are seeing the true horrors of war through this one soldier’s perspective rather than the ideas presented by such propagandists as Begbie and Pope. The description is very surreal and chaotic due to the powerful visual and aural imagery present. Owen uses a powerful underwater metaphor to compare the soldier succumbing to poison gas with drowning. This metaphor helps the reader to vividly picture the scene consequently making it far more effective. Also, the mention of a “green sea” suggests the soldier’s helplessness and pain as he dies. Moreover, the unforgiving horrors of war can be seen with the mention that he was “flound’ring like a man in fire”. This simile indicates the pain he was experiencing as he died and further stresses the horrors of war. In the third stanza Owen looks back from a new perspective at what has just happened to his friend: “In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.”
The commas used here serve as a pause prolonging the sentence making it seem more saddening. Another way of looking at this is that the pauses are meant to be sighs, expressed by Owen as he watches in horrors as his friend dies before him, knowing there is nothing he can do save him. In the fourth stanza Owen attacks those people at home who uphold the war’s continuance unaware of its realities: “If in some smothering dreams you too could pace … And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin; Owen is suggesting here that if those people who are ignorant to the horror of war could experience his own “smothering dreams”, which replicate in small measure the victim’s sufferings, then maybe they would change their perceptions. The “you” whom Owen addresses could imply people in general but it more likely it applies to the propagandist poets who influenced his work. The sufferings that are experienced at war are described in sickening detail by Owen to shock the reader.
The verbs “writhing” and “hanging” denote an especially virulent kind of pain. Whilst the simile comparing his face to a “devils sick of sin” indicates that he has somewhat experienced hell on earth in the form of war. Thus we can see how Owen stresses the horrors of war through his vivid description of one man’s sufferings at war. Owen ends this poem with a somewhat angered bitter line that represents his attitude to the propagandists: “The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro Patria mori.”
This translates to “the old lie: sweet and fitting it is to die for one’s country”. We can see just how disgusted Owen was by the propagandists in this poem. Therefore, we can see just how Owen stresses the horrors of war through his vivid and descriptive writing about soldiers in the war. The main purpose of “Dulce et Decorum Est” was to make people aware of the true nature of war. Similarly, “Disabled” also attempts to communicate the horrors of war. Both these poems were influenced by the works of propagandists such as Begbie and Pope who wrote poems unaware of what war was really like with the intention of manipulating young men into volunteering.