In this essay I will compare two war poems, discussing how each portrays warfare with reference to other poems and poets. The two I have chosen to focus on being ‘Peace’ by Rupert Brooke and ‘War photographer’ by Carol Ann Duffy.
At first glance anybody would mistake the two poems to be based on a different subject matter all together. Rupert Brooke makes war out to be a fantastic opportunity for the men of England, whereas Carol Ann Duffy portrays war as an emotionally painful experience. Clearly the two writers have very different attitudes towards war, and are trying to get across to the reader a completely different view.
In ‘Peace’, England has been wakened from its day-to-day life. The chance to become honourable, in an exciting adventure is given to the fresh generation of men. In ‘War Photographer’ a war photographer has returned from his latest job to his quiet home in England. He develops the spools of film he took in the front line. As the pictures appear, he remembers the horror of the situations he was in. He sends them off to the Sunday newspaper for which he works, and the editor chooses the ones he wants to print. As he goes on his next job, he knows that his pictures may not do any lasting good because people who see them in newspapers do not care. Both poems condemn the people of England. Rupert Brooke suggests that the people of England are dirty, they need cleansing and Carol Ann Duffy suggests that those who read the newspapers and view the pictures are ignorant.
The very first couple of lines of each poem, portrays these very different views:
Now, God be thanked who has matched us with this hour,
Taken from ‘Peace’, straight away we are given the impression that war is a good thing for our country because god had sent it.
In his darkroom he is finally alone
With spools of suffering set out in ordered rows.
Taken from ‘War photographer’, immediately we are persuaded that war is something to be glad to get away from, as suffering is everywhere.
To understand these different views of war we can study the historical context of each. In 1914, the British people had forgotten what war was actually like because there had not been a major conflict for a century. People were ashamed of strikes and riots of the average day, and the extremes of wealth and poverty. In August 1914, war seemed a renowned adventure and this is reflected on Rupert Brooke’s poem, which captured the pre-war national mood of optimism in England. Carol Ann Duffy’s poem was written after an experience of war and this reflects on her poem also.
Rupert Brooke wrote several poems, which were admired in their day. His poem ‘Soldier’ gave similar views of war to that of ‘Peace’.
Brook is proud to be English, and he expresses thoughts and images of honour, glory and sacrifice in both of these well-respected poems.
Carol Ann Duffy portrays similar views to those found in Wilfred Owens ‘Dulce et Decorum est’. He uses words which are ugly in texture to describe the horrifying images of pain and suffering. Both poets have had the experience of war, which they have expressed the best they could in their own style.
The use of language in the poems is specialised for the point the writer is trying to put across to the reader. Both poems are written in the present tense, as if the events are happening now. This makes it more real and more shocking. The title ‘Peace’ is ironic. Peace is considered the opposite to war, and is associated with what is wanted from war, but peace to Rupert Brook means war, he wants a change and this seems the perfect adventure.
Nothing to shake the laughing heart’s long peace there
This connects with the contrast between the situation the photographer is in, and his home he longs for. He longs for the peace that Brooke dispelled:
Rural England. Home again
To ordinary pain which simple weather can dispel,
The drastic difference between Rural England and the country he is working in at war makes home seem a world away.
Carol Ann Duffy uses photographic terms to put images and meanings across to a reader:
‘The only light is red’
These terms back up the subject matter of the poem. The man is ‘In his darkroom’, this suggests that his mind is filled with dark thoughts after all the terrible events he has witnessed. The red light could be a reminder of the blood shed at war. These images undermine those given by Rupert Brooke:
‘…no ill, no grief…’
‘And the worst friend and enemy is but death’
This gives a reader the idea that war is painless and death is a friend, as you will be dying with honour, which is the worst that can possibly happen.
Both poems have various lines that rhyme, which help to emphasise the poet’s message. In ‘Peace’ there are clear links between ending words of most lines:
‘…sleeping’ and ‘…leaping’
‘…weary’ and ‘…dreary’
‘…mending’ and ‘…ending’
‘…breath’ and ‘…death’
Rupert Brooke uses opposites in rhyme, such as breath, a sign of life, and death. He goes from one extreme to another, this connects with the extremes of the life in rural England, and the life at war that the photographer experienced. In ‘War photographer’ there is a pattern between the rhyming couplets. The second and third lines rhyme, and the fifth and sixth lines rhyme in each stanza. The ending words of each line are key words, which Carol Ann Duffy would have wanted to stand out, and stick in the readers mind.
‘…eyes’ and ‘…cries’
We can see what the photographer sees and hear what he hears.
‘Peace’ is in the form of a sonnet (a poem of 14 lines and a set verse pattern). Brooke chose to write in this form because it’s a good way for him to express personal feelings in his poem. It also separated stanzas and helped him to deal with related ideas. The first stanza is concerned with the tedious day-to-day life in Rural England, and the second considers the exciting life war can bring.
‘War Photographer’ is written in four regular stanzas, which helps to emphasise the regular, tedious and uninteresting pattern of the photographer’s job. It begins with him arriving home from one job and leaving for the next one, as if his life runs in a cycle.
In conclusion the way in which warfare is portrayed in ‘Peace’ and ‘War Photographer’, depended strongly upon the historical context and the ideas and attitude of the poet. Rupert Brook described death to be the worst that could happen at war, its simple quick and honourable to die for your country, whereas we are given images by Carol Ann Duffy of the horrific suffering and pain of war.