War poetry from 1798 to 1865 was very important in informing and retelling information as there was little or no media coverage of the wars. However some of the poems have a biased point of view. An example of this is in ‘The Charge of The Light Brigade’ where Alfred Tennyson, as Poet Laureate, was obliged to glorify war. On the other hand four of the five poems I have analysed show the poets true opinion which is anti war (‘The Drum’, ‘The Battle of Blenheim’, ‘What the Bullet Sang’, ‘Come up from the Fields Father’).
Napoleon was leading France into battles all over Europe, large wars with organised armies led to large death tolls and journalists were beginning to report from the frontline. The nineteenth century was a time of change and upheaval around the world. Previously low levels of literacy had prevented news from travelling from the frontline to the people at home. The news would often be very distorted or exaggerated.
Soldiers in the nineteenth century expected to die in battle as it was considered an honour to die for your country. Most wars involved hand to hand combat; a total contrast to todays wars where with advanced technology they are fought over large distances with powerful weapons.
‘The Drum’ by John Scott was reprinted as anti-war propaganda for the Napoleonic wars. As a Quaker, Scott was a strong pacifist and disagreed with violence in any form. The poem uses contrasts as Walt Whitman does in ‘Come up from the Fields Father’ to emphasise the shocking aspects of war. Scott uses the symbolism of the Drum as in those days it was used to recruit men into the army. The repetition and regular rhyme echoes the sound of a drum.
Scott is anti-war. We can see this from the poem as he includes words such as ‘mangled’, ‘burning’ and ‘ruined’.
Alfred Tennyson ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ was written in 1854 during the Crimean War. Tennyson wrote the poem in response to an article in The Times by W H Russell. Considered a huge military blunder Tennyson glorifies the battle as obliged because of his position at the time of Poet Laureate.
The rhythm of the poem imitates the sound of horses galloping with repetition of ‘half a league’ indicates the movement of the horses. Tennyson creates the image of the soldiers being trapped by repeating ‘Cannon to the right of them’ with each side.
Tennyson also praises the soldiers by saying ‘Boldly they rode and well’, ‘That they had fought so well’ and ‘Honour the charge they made!’.
The heavily personified What the Bullet Sang shows a different perspective- the bullet. The bullets innocence created by Bret Harte shows his views are anti war. The theme of irony is strong throughout the poem where the bullet is searching for what it believes is its lover is actually its victim. The reader is lulled into a false sense of security as the poem sounds romantic but is then stunned at the contrast when the bullet says ‘What is this lieth there so cold?. The bullet sets out to achieve its goal of killing a soldier although it is unaware of this. This shows how death was inevitable for soldiers.
War has changed considerably since the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Now over large distances hand to hand combat has become a thing of the past. Advanced education allows us to make own decisions about war and whether we want to sign up or not. Media coverage is more widespread and knowledge of battles are known more easily. The poets ideas and opinions have changed how I feel about war and its consequences. Walt Whitman’s ‘Come up from the Fields Father’ has especially affected my views with its strong contrasts and affects on family life.