Poems and verse have been recited for countless centuries. The main reason poets wrote and recited poems was because they understood poems as being the best way of expressing their feelings and putting their emotions across. Poets felt that by using poems they could give a clearer image of an event or topic.
The topic that we are investigating in poetry is war. War poems have been recited from the earliest recorded times and the theme of war has had a deep influence on many poets from these times. The early romantic view of war was that it was noble and heroic. Jessie Pope was a poet who agreed with the romantic view of war and believed that it was brave and honourable to go and fight for your country. However such poets as Owen and Sassoon came along and expressed the idea that war was wrong and seemed to be extremely critical war. They appear to disagree with the pressure that was being put on young men to join the army believing it to be unfair and unjust.
Within my study I am going to try and show the conflicting attitudes that poets had to the topic of war. The first poem I will write about is going to be a pre 1900 poem; secondly I will discuss a pro-war and to conclude I will write about an anti-war poem. After haven written about these threes different poems I will try and show the contrasts and similarities between them and the poets attitudes to war. To finish I will give a personal opinion about war and the three poems.
My first poem, which is a pre 1900 poem, is “The Drum” written by the poet John Scott who was a Quaker, one of the first groups who were opposed to any kind of fighting and violence. He wrote “The Drum” in 1782; a time when people where beginning to question the need for war.
Scott begins his poem by telling us how he hates the sound of the drum and how that the beat just keeps going on and on. “I hate that drum’s discordant sound, parading round, round and round.” John Scott this line in the next stanza to try and give the impression that the “discordant” sound of the drum is almost driving him mad. In the next two lines Scott tries to show the effect that the beating drum has on the “thoughtless youth.” He describes the drum as a war call which is trying to tempt men out of their homes to go and fight for their country. He then goes on to say that the flashy uniforms and shiny weaponry are just another scheme to entice men to go to war. “Of tawdry lace and glittering arms.” When Scott says “when ambition voice commands,” he is trying to say that sometimes man’s ambition can take control of them and eventually their ambition becomes like one of their officers commanding them to go to fight and die in faraway lands.
The second stanza starts off much the same way as the first however instead it gives a personified view of the drum as Scott says, “to me it talks of ravage plains.” The key words in this line is “to me it talks,” as this shows Scott’s own opinions of the drum and war. In the second stanza tells us of some of the consequences and problems which can come from wars. He tells of how towns are burnt, lives are ruined, men’s limbs mangled and of how men groan. He then goes on to say that because of wars families are ruined as men die in wars, which leave women as widows and children orphans.
This is a well-written poem by Scott with every second line rhyming. This gives a steady continuous rhythm and reminds us of the steady repetitive nature of the drum. The poem also has some alliteration, which again helps with the flow of the poem. Examples of words that could be seen as alliteration would be “fight,” “fall” and “foreign.” In the first stanza Scott shows the temptations of war but in the second stanza he shows the true realities of war.
My second poem is a pro war poem called “The Two Mothers,” written by Matilda Betham-Edwards. She was a very famous Victorian writer who worked in her youth with Charles Dickens. From this poem you can see very clearly that it is a pro war poem as it quite purposely tries to put pressure on men to join the army.
The poem starts of with a kind stranger talking to the poor woman; the stranger says, “You must be mourning a son who has lately fought and died.” But the poor woman says, “I don’t mourn a son who has gone and fought in a war but instead I mourn of shame for I have 3 strong sons but not one of them will risk their lives for England.”
After I had read this poem I saw it as very clever because it manages to put pressure on young men to join the army without actually mentioning anything about men having to go to war. In this poem Matilda Betham tries to put across the argument that if you don’t fight for your country your mother will be ashamed of you. When you read the poem you can see that it is aimed at all the men in England.
My final poem is “Dulce et Decorum est,” an anti war poem written by a very famous poet called Wilfred Owen. Owen is one of the best war poets of all time and arguably the best.
In October 1917 Wilfred Owen wrote to his mother Gaiglochart, “Here is a gas poem I did yesterday… the famous Latin tag means it is sweet and meet to die for ones country. Sweet and decorous! While the earliest surviving draft is dated the 8th of October 1917, a few months later at Scarborough or Ripton he revised it. The title is ironic. The intention of the poem was not so much to induce pity as to shock, especially civilians at home who believed that war was noble and glorious. It comprises of four unequal stanzas, the first two in sonnet form and the last two looser in structure.
In the first Stanza Owen tries to set the scene. He does this by telling us of the horrible conditions and by using metaphors and similes such as “old beggars under sacks” and “coughing like hags.” The young men were barely awake from their lack of sleep and their once smart uniforms now resembled sacks. The men are unable to walk straight as their blood caked feet try to negotiate with the mud. Owen mentions that the men were so tired that they stumbled as if they were drunk. “Drunk with fatigue.” Owen then goes on to say of how the gas shells were fired behind the soldiers and they were unable to hear the hoots to let the men know that they were under a gas attack.
In the next stanza Owen goes on to tell how the men reacted when they realised they were under gas attack. He says that there was a sudden panic as the men fumble to try and get their gas masks on. “An ecstasy of fumbling.” He mentions of how one man fails to get his gas mask on and the effect that the chlorine gas ha on him is vividly described as he stumbles through the murky greenness surrounding him. Owen uses metaphors of both “burning” and “drowning” to portrait the contrasting agonies of the dying man. He also uses onomatopoeic words such as “guttering,” “writhing” and “gargling.” Alliteration is seen in words such as “wagon,” “watch” and “white” and implications of evil are seen in words like “devils,” “obscene,” “cancer” and vile and to the nightmarish qualities of the dying soldier.
By the end of the fourth stanza Owen concludes with a bitter attack on the hypocrisy of the propagandist who try to tell the youth about the glory and honour of dying for your country. He accuses these people of lying to the youth exploiting their naï¿½ve desire to achieve something noble in their lives. The innocence of these young soldiers is emphised in the description of “vile sores on innocent tongues.”
After studying these three poems I have discovered that many poets throughout history have been greatly inspired by the topic of war. Also I have seen that not all poets saw war as honourable but some believed that it was stupid. For example Jessie Pope was one of these poets who believed in the romantic image of war that it was honourable to die for your country but Wilfred Owen believes that going to fight a war is wrong. He has seen the reality of war and condemns people for putting pressure on young men to join the army.
Out of the three poems I have studied “The Drum” and “Dulce et Decorum est” could be described as anti-war poems as they are very critical of war and the poem “The Two Mothers could b described as a pro war poem as it tries to pressurise men into joining the army.
My favourite of the three poems would have to be “Dulce et Decorum est” I like this poem a lot because it is very descriptive and it gets Owen’s point of view across very well. Before I read Owens poem I believed that it was a good thing, men going to fight for their country but after reading Owen’s poem my whole opinion of war was changed dramatically; now I believe that war is horrific and going to fight for country is stupid although some people see refusing to fight as cowardly. The words Owen uses to describe war put you off the whole idea completely and make you think war is the most terrible thing in the world.