The War Poetry Essay Sample

The War Poetry Pages
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War was declared on Germany on the fourth of August, 1914. Britain had not fought a major war for over 100 years, and the general public attitude towards war was that Britain were indefatigable, and Germany would indisputably be subjugated before Christmas, 1914, and a glorious victory would be won over Germany. Very little thought was passed to the immense loss of British and civilian life that would be mourned by millions. This was mainly due to the moral produced by propaganda in the form of posters, poetry and film. The high-spirited propaganda lured many credulous young men into the glorious, valiant perception of war, which could be theirs, should they wish to participate.

This poem, “Who’s for the game?” by Jessie Pope was written at the beginning of the war and only echoes a pro-war attitude. It contains very little negativity about the war. This poem was written for “The Daily Mail” newspaper and encourages young men to take an active role in the war. The poem greatly exaggerates the glory and triumph of the war. The mood of the poem is evident from the light-hearted vocabulary used in the title and the stanzas. The title “Who’s for the game?” proposes absolutely no peril, and suggests that the war is in some way reminiscent to a game of Cowboys and Indians, however on a much grander scale. “The biggest that’s played.” This is very powerful, implying that the winner, is not only a winner, but an undefeatable champion of champions, which would appeal greatly to a young man, making the unapparent risk seem worthwhile, possibly fun. Pope then makes a reference to danger “The red crashing game” Although this is not a direct reference to danger, “Red” often symbolises danger, as in the fantastic, out of this world novel, by John Steinbeck, “Of mice and men” In which the dress worn by the young girl in Weed, and the red often worn by Curley’s wife symbolises the dangers of interaction with them.

Pope once again suggests that war is in some twisted way similar to a game played by children. “Grip and tackle”, perhaps a game of rugby or football, which would attract most young men. “Rather sit tight” Too chicken to risk you life for your country and miss out on all the glory, rather stay safe at home with the women. “Who’ll give his country a hand?” This is a major understatement of the sacrifice the average soldier would have to make, as if winning the war would be such a simple task. “Who wants to turn to himself in the show, and who would rather have a seat in the stand.” This is another underestimation of the war, comparing it to a theatre performance. Who would rather help their country accomplish their goal, than helplessly watch from a distance. The challenge of war is emphasised in a more realistic tone “It won’t be a picnic” However most young men would welcome the challenge. “Yet eagerly shoulders a gun” Despite the danger and risk of war, who comes forward to assist their country. Pope suggest that it is better and more gallant to return from war injured or even dead, than not to join in and miss out on an ideal opportunity to prove you loyalty, manhood and strength.

“Back with a crutch” “Sit tight and miss out on the fun” “But you’ll come out alright” Many of the soldiers wouldn’t return from war with their lives. “For there’s only one course to pursue ” For England this course is certain victory, however Pope suggests that the only course for a young man is to sign up with the military. Pope uses personification to describe the trouble that Britain is facing, in which Britain is described using “Her” rather than “It” Personification is the attribution of human characteristics to things. The young men would be far more willing to fight for something with spirit and emotion, which would value and appreciate their accomplishments and sacrifice, than a land mass. “Your country’s up to her neck in a fight” The men are also more likely to fight for a person than an object. The next line “And she is looking and calling for you” also uses personification to describe Britain, the sentence creates great pressure upon the young men, as many would have joined up to avoid being accused of being a coward.

Pope wrote “Who’s for the game?” In the safety of British soil and at the time had no idea of the of the duration of the war and the tremendous loss of military and civilian life which Britain and the World would suffer.

Women also played a major role in the persuasion of men to join the forces. Woman were told that they should not be seen in public with a man who is not in uniform, as these men were cowards and traitors to their country. Women were given white feathers to hand out to men who were two pusillanimous to risk their lives in the “Supreme Sacrifice”

Rupert Chawner Brooke was one of the most successful poets of the First World War. He was born in Rugby, Warwickshire on the 3rd of August 1887. “Peace ” is a pro-war poem and reflects the enthusiasm of the message portrayed by the propaganda at the start of the war and is ignorant of the harsh reality of war. At the beginning of World War Two, no poems were written portraying the enthusiasm that Pope and Brooke had shown, as the nation had suffered tremendously in the wake of WWI, and war was no longer perceived in the heroic and glorious perception. Brooke suggests that war is a unique chance to escape from the dull, boring lives and the repetitive routines which the majority of the young male population at the time may have suffered and loathed. Brooke implies that all should feel grateful and appreciate war as it is a marvellous gift from God, as if it was a reward for the boredom, which had been suffered for so many years. “Now God be thanked” The youth of the time are made to feel special, as the war has fallen into a time when they are lucky enough to be the ones who have been given the unique chance to prove themselves.

“And caught our youth” He sees the war as a chance to live a little and to brighten up their lives with excitement. “And wakened us from sleeping” Brooke refers to war as being reminiscent of diving into a pool of water, the immediate awakening and freedom, escaping from the world above, the rush of adrenaline and exhilaration. “As swimmers into cleanness leaping” The transaction from a world which there was no longer any undiscovered glories, only pastimes which had lost their significance long ago. “Glad from a World which had grown old, cold and weary.” Brooke looks down upon the cowards “Half men” with disgust. He urges others to do the same, to dismiss those who are not willing to lay down their lives for king and country. “Leave the sick hearts which honour cold not move” Brooke views fighting in Gods gift to young men, for king and country, as being equivalent to making a confession in church under God’s watch, to cleanse the soul, and redeem themselves of past wrong doings. “We have known shame we found release there.” Brooke suggests that although the war may be tough and painful, wear the scars with pride, as pain is only temporary, but honour is everlasting.

“But only agony, and that has ending.” The glorious and heroic departure which Brooke craved for and spoke so strongly about in his poetry was not to be his, as he died not fighting for king and country, but of blood poisoning, following a mosquito bite in Greece on the 23rd of April, and never saw active service (1887-1915). He was buried in an olive grove on the Greek island of Skyros. Brooke also had a younger brother called Alfred, who died shortly after him fighting in the Great War.

You could argue that Brooke died a “Half man” even though his intentions were that of a “True man” Soon after Brooke’s death his friend Winston Churchill who at the time was the First Lord of the Admiralty, wrote about him in “The Times” newspaper; “A voice had become audible, a note had been struck, more true, more thrilling, more able to do justice to the nobility of our youth in arms… than any other … The voice has been swiftly stilled.” Soon after this article was published Brooke became a national hero, for his brilliant poetry and for his great patriotism. Many of his poems were sent to the front line to inspire the weary soldiers. Brooke’s sonnets captured the mood of the time, and were a great success selling in the thousands. One journalist suggested; “a mystical figure, a legend almost.”

This poem by John McCrae “Flanders Field” is a pro-war poem. Flanders is a place in Belgium where many soldiers died in battle. The dead soldiers are calling out to the replacement soldiers preparing to fight. Death does not matter much to the dead soldiers who fought so bravely, only revenge upon their slayers “The foe” The dead soldiers tell their living replacements to carry on fighting the enemy “Take up our quarrel with the foe” The dead are now helpless and the new soldiers are the only ones which can prevent a reoccurrence of the fate of those who rest in beneath the poppies in Flanders fields.

They are passing on “The torch” The torch is the responsibility, which is changing hands to their counterparts. “The torch” passes from one generation of soldiers to the next, it imposes a sense of spirit and brotherhood similar to that of the Olympic Games. The dead soldiers have failed in their task and have paid the ultimate price, however they have gone to the grave in a honourable way. “To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high” The poem ends with a threat from the dead, warning them that if they don’t succeed and don’t try their hardest, the lives it has cost on achieving what they have gained so far will have been wasted, therefore the men shall go to war knowing that if they fail they shall have to carry the burden, shame and guilt of this, and those lost their lives previously will be restless and angry for eternity in their graves, despite the beauty and peace of the poppies growing above them in Flanders fields.

The reality of war was now becoming apparent as the horror stricken public who had once so strongly persuaded Britain’s male youth into joining the war were now praying for their survival as they were slaughtered in thousands at the mercy of modern artillery and weapons of mass destruction. Black mourning clothes were worn in the streets, by 1915 heroes and ideals were badly needed to justify the mounting casualties and to help console the bereaved. Joining the war was no longer considered a “Supreme sacrifice”

Wilfred Edward Salter Owen was born on the 18th March 1893 at Oswestry, Shropshire. Wilfred and his family lived in a slum district. Wilfred was an assistant vicar, following the strong religious beliefs of his mother, however he found this profession too tedious and later became an English teacher in France. When the war broke out, Owen enlisted immediately and became a Second Lieutenant in the Manchester Regiment. He one the Military Cross for Conspicuous Gallantry. Owen suffered from shell-shock and was treated at Craiglockhart hospital. During his stay he met Seigfried Sassoon where they discussed their work together. He would have met many soldiers suffering from severe incidents, much of his poem “Disabled” would have been form from these encounters.

“Exposure” a poem by Wilfred Owen tells the war as it took place in reality. In this poem it emphasises the harshness of spending the winter in the trenches, and the deaths caused in fighting off the extreme conditions, not the enemy. “Our brains ache, in the merciless iced east winds that knive us.” This was a killer that was overlooked by many brave, honourable soldiers. In the winter the conditions were as much of a threat as the enemy. The silence of night disturbs the men, as it is so unlike the constant bombardment of shells that they had to suffer during the day. “Wearied we keep awake because the night is silent” The waiting and the poor conditions which tormented the soldiers day after day drained the soldiers of any hope and they were overcome with misery, when not long ago they had been so high spirited.

The constant anticipation of the attack drove many insane, for war was more mentally torturing than it was physically torturing. “But nothing happens” The no-mans-land lying between the allied trenches and the enemy trenches was covered with a mass of barbed wire, its purpose was to slow and prevent an enemy attack on the trenches. The dead often lay tangled in the deadly wire. Owen describes the wind howling through the barbed wire as the dead crying out in agony, caught amongst its brambles. “We hear the mad gusts tugging on the wire, like twitching agonies of men among its brambles.” The soldiers ask themselves “What are we doing here?” as they are constantly tormented by the agony of war, having been deceived by the glorious, heroic perception of war described in the poems by Pope and Brooke.

Dawn brings new opportunities and a fresh start, however this is not true for the men fighting alongside Owen, dawn brings a repeat of the previous days, inflicting more misery and torture upon the troops, pushing them further into a pit in which there is already very little chance of them escaping from. “Poignant misery of dawn begins to grow.” The sentence “Nothing happens” is repeated frequently throughout the poem, as this is also contributing to the death of the soldiers, besides the weather. The quicker something does happen the quicker they can end the misery and return home to see their family and friends, however their chances grow slimmer while they are inactive in the trench only dreaming of past memories and the beautiful English countryside, which they thought they had grown out of so long ago. The had joined the war to get away from such things and to experience the adventure which Pope and Brooke had spoken so boldly of, now they longed for the things which they had once hated.

Owen talks of weary men drifting into a dream world “Sun-dozed” where the trenches are “Grassier” and in these dream worlds they revisit old memories, their houses, however the doors and windows are closed preventing them from entering, as if the soldiers are now ghosts, unable to return home from the living hell they subside in. “Is it that we’re dying?” Then the soldiers awake from their distant memories to face the severe reality. “We turn back to our dying.” The men are plunged into deeper despair as they watch their friends and comrades, being collected by the burying-party, as they pause momentarily over recognised faces, frozen by the severe weather. “Pause over half known faces. All their eyes are ice.” Owen once again emphasises the sentence “But nothing happens.”

Wilfred Owen was killed on the 4th October under ferocious fire as he tried to help with some duck-boards near the muddy waters edge. Ironically the war ended seven days later on the 11th November.

“Disabled” is a poem written by Wilfred Owen after the war about a young man, who like many others was fooled by the idea of returning from war as heroes, and the rest of his life was instantly taken away from him, although he still lives on. The poem describes the horrific consequences, which many soldiers and civilians suffered in the war. The poem begins with the line “He sat in his wheelchair waiting for dark.” This may be interpreted as “Waiting for death” rather than “Waiting for dark” He sits in solitude, unable to move without assistance, as he has lost many of his limbs. He listening to the voices of boys running through the park. “Through the park, voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn.” He will never again be in a relationship with a woman, they pity him for his immense loss and handle him like he is a contagious illness. ” Now he will never feel how slim girls waists are, or how warm their subtle hands. All of them touch him like some queer disease.” He was an attractive man with a face that an artist wished to paint.

“There was an artist silly for his face.” He threw everything he had away in the war. “He lost his colour very far from here, poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry.” “Colour” probably symbolises his youth which he lost as the blood ran from his mutilated body into the muddy earth below. He was an excellent football player, after matches he would be lifted shoulder high, and carried off the pitch like a hero. Now he wonders why he joined the war that foolish night after football when he had drunk a few bears, he was told that he would look great in a kilt.

This poem shows an ironic connection to Jessie Pope’s poem “Who’s for the game?” As Pope refers to war as being similar to a game, perhaps a game of football, the young man in the poem “Disabled” has just finished a game of football and is being carried off the pitch by his team like a hero, he is also carried back from war “…the game” Probably in a stretcher as he is disabled, however not as a hero but as a patient. “Someone had said he’d look a God in kilts.” He may have joined to please his girlfriend Meg, as if he did not, she would not want to be seen in with him, as he would not be a true man. “To please his Meg.” The recruitment office were more than willing to lie about his age, which shows their major requirement for recruits. He could have easily “Taken a seat in the stand” as he was too young, but like so many other young men he would rather have taken the risk and returned to his friends and family as a hero who has bravely risked life and limb for his country. “Smiling they wrote his lie, age nineteen years.” This poem shows that the effects of war are forever and most cannot be undone.

Seigfried Sassoon was born on the 8th of September 1886 in Kent. Sassoon received a privileged upbringing as he descended from a wealthy line of Jewish bankers and his family was well known in high society. Due to Seigfried’s overwhelming wealth, he resided without a profession and he devoted his time to gentlemen’s sports including fox hunting and cricket, poetry became a private interest for him. At the start of the war he enlisted in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, he later joined the First Battalion in Festubert, France. However at this early stage in the war, Sassoon preferred to write his poetry in the heroic perception, even though his brother had recently been killed at Gallipoli. Whilst serving in Somme a very close friend was killed, Sassoon began to show recklessness in the hope to avenge his friend’s death, this traumatic event was responsible for the anger Sassoon shows in many of his poems and the dramatic turn round in his style of writing. Sassoon later received the Military Cross for rescuing a wounded man under heavy fire. Later Sassoon threw the Military Cross into the river Mersey in disgust that so many lives could have been so recklessly lost in the insanity of war.

“The General ” by Seigfried Sassoon is an anti-war poem about the generals sending thousands of men off to their deaths, but thinking nothing of the loss of lives and repeating this for months on end. Sassoon is attacking those in authority who were consciously sending thousands of men to futile slaughter. Despite this the general is able to keep a smile on his face and maintain a positive attitude towards war. “He’s a cheery old card grunted Harry to Jack.” Sassoon feels that the general is responsible for the deaths of the soldiers, not the Enemy. The general is not given a name as Sassoon views the general as a heartless creature, rather than “Harry and Jack” who are the innocent victims who are being sent off to their deaths.

The names “Harry and Jack” were very common names at the time of the war, therefore are used in the poem as the reader probably knows a “Harry or Jack” as a family member or a friend, who is in the war, so they will feel more emotion for them as they are sent off to meet their deaths by the general. The general knows that he will not be risking his life fighting in the next battle, therefore he is able to remain “A cheery old card.” The general knew as he blew his whistle for the men to leave their trenches to attack the enemy, that the men would make little ground before being mowed down by enemy gunfire. This was the reality of war, which the public were unaware of, which Sassoon was trying to inform them of. Sassoon felt that the general’s incompetence was to blame for the great loss of life. “And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.” Sassoon uses a ‘Knockout blow’ in the last verse, which occurs in many of his anti-was poems.

Sassoon’s battle was over when in No-Man’s Land when he was accidentally shot in the head by one of his own men, although he was not critically injured it was enough for him to be discharged and sent back home.

“Dulce et Decorum est” is very powerful poem by Wilfred Owen shows the true reality of war and is mainly aimed at the pro-war poets such as Jessie Pope. These pro-war poems have influenced many young men to join up to receive respect and glory. The poem describes the soldiers as they march through the knee-high mud, tired from fatigue of the intense conditions they have to face and the facts of modern warfare. Owen describes them, as “Old beggars under sacks coughing like hags.” This is what the young men of that generation have been reduced to, pressurised into joining to avoid being branded as cowards, those “Who would rather take a seat in the stand” as Jessie Pope described those who were lacking in moral fibre, in the poem “Who’s for the game” The men then find themselves under a gas attack. “Gas! Gas! Quick boys” The exhausted men fit their ill fitting gas masks.

“An ecstasy of fumbling, fitting the clumsy helmets just in time.” One soldier does not fit his mask hastily enough and is caught in the thick green gas. Owen describes his panic-stricken movements as if he were on fire. “And floundering like a man in fire or lime…” Through the thick green mist Own describes the soldier as drowning under a green sea. “As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.” The soldier throws himself at the nearest soldier in a final attempt at survival, but the gas has control of him and is slowly and painfully drawing him closer to death, as the suffocating gas fills his lungs with fluid.

“He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.” The man is inhumanely thrown into the back of a passing wagon, his face hangs down, his lungs spew blood from his mouth, as the wagon jolts up and down as it moves on to the next victim of the attack. “…the blood came gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs.” Owen ends the poem in an assault upon the poems supporting the splendour of war, the poem was dedicated to Jessie Pope. He says that if you had seen what I had seen, you would not spout such a positive enthusiastic message about war to young, highly susceptible, vulnerable youths. “My friend, you would not tell with such zest to children ardent for some desperate glory.” “Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori” This translates from Latin to- “It is honourable and fitting to die for your country”

Pro-war poems were mainly written by poets before 1915 and who took no active part in the war. The anti-war poets had first hand experience of trench warfare, and understood the mental and physical torture of everyday life that the soldiers had to face. It may be argued that without the poems which encouraged the men to sign up into battle, Europe may not have conquered Germany, and Britain would have been under great threat from German troops, it may be because of poets like Jessie Pope and Rupert Brooke who enlightened so many young men into the “Supreme sacrifice” that we are not under German power today. Therefore it would be wrong to dismiss the work of the pro-war poets as being immoral, as there work was just as great as the work of Wilfred Owen and Seigfried Sassoon, if not greater, as it is very easy to put someone off doing something, but it is a great deal harder to persuade someone into a matter.

At the start of the war the population was oblivious to the catastrophic massacre of life that would take place over the next four years and the immense suffering which would fall upon soldiers, innocent civilians and the endless pain of families losing loved ones. The glory of war had perished with the millions of young men who had fallen for “The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est” The repeat of WWII shows how little Europe learnt from the colossal consequences of the “Great War” even though the citizens of Europe was permanently scarred and the damage could not be undone. The title “The Great War” seems ironic and ill-fitting, as if there was one word that would be used to describe the war, it should unquestionably not be “Great” However the First World War would certainly be “Great” in the 1920’s if it was measured on a scale of destruction.

As the death toll mounted it became unambiguous to the public that they had just sent tens of thousands of men off to their deaths. Many of these deaths were unnecessary and the fault of military blunders, which could not be justified. New technology in warfare such as biological weapons caused indescribable amounts of damage, these weapons were extremely effective in the mass obliteration of immense quantities of militia, and were feared by many. As the bad news from Europe poured into Britain and flooded the front page of every newspaper, the populace grew more doubtful if they would ever see the once high-spirited male youth of Britain ever return from the chaos across the channel in the rest of Europe. As the war deepened the public began to understand that war was not about making heroes or role models, but it was about brutality and bloodshed. Even one of the greatest poets of the First World War, Seigfried Sassoon, renowned for his anti-war poetry, wrote about the greatness of war and the “Supreme sacrifice” It was not until suffered the wrath of war for the first time, that he started to write about the true atrociousness which were subjected to tens of thousands of people.

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