Themes in War Poetry Essay Sample

Themes in War Poetry Pages
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Before World War One, war was seen as glorious and honourable. These attitudes are reflected in the phrase Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mari, translated this means that it is sweet and fitting to die for your country. It was a firm belief that everyman should fight for his country. However, World War One changed this attitude that people had, as they had seen the effects of war on people.

Warfare before World War One was believed to be men on horses battling or men on foot with swords and shields facing the same weapons as their own from the opposition. Over the years, technology has progressed and developed. New weapons were introduced and implemented during warfare, tanks and helicopters were brought in and this modified the whole perception of warfare and altered the idea of war to the reality of war and how it was during a battle and on the battlefield.

In this essay, I shall be looking at the Patriotism of war, the Irony in war and the horrors of war. I will use my social, cultural and historical knowledge and by using particular poems, I will support my idea of the attitudes changed after World War One. For this essay I will be looking at six different poems, two for each theme I am looking at. For the Patriotism of war, I will be using ‘The Call’ by Jessie Pope and ‘To An Athlete Dying Young’ by A.E. Houseman. For the Irony in war, I will be using ‘The General’ by Seigfried Sassoon and ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson. For the horrors of war, I will be using ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ by Wilfred Owen and ‘Mental Cases’ by Wilfred Owen.

Jessie Pope is an excellent example of pre-war poetry because she writes with very strong patriotism. She encourages people to go out and fight for their country, for glory and honour, for the king and for the people of England! Her poetry blinded the men from the horrors of the war, and gave them visions of, “banners and rolling drums”. The brave young men left England swelling with pride, sure of victory, eating the “empires thanks”, no idea that they would be crawling back, distraught, mad and in most cases, not at all.

The poem follows the same rhyme scheme in each of the three stanzas. A,B,A,B, then three lines of C and back to B. Line A is always encouraging the reader, telling them of the glory and how wonderful it is to fight, always asking who, “who’s for the trench?” in this way she is addressing the reader with a rhetorical question. Line B is a question, “would you my laddie?”, or a slight variation, again addressing the reader, almost daring them to refuse or take on a challenge. The lines of C put the reader to what they are fighting for and, dare them to be cowards.

After the war, Pope was contrasted as an unreliable source next to a first hand witness such as Owen, who wrote in direct opposition to her. She was thought a bad poetess who didn’t understand the actual truth and concept of war. But just because she had an opinion, which was opposed by witnessed of the war, she was labelled as wrong and unreliable. Pope wrote with patriotism rarely expressed by woman of that time. She was expressing her opinion, not talking about every solider on the front line.

“The soldier” is a prime example of Brookes understanding and personal outlook on the deserved sympathies of the soldiers of WW1.

The first stanza follows an A,B rhyme scheme, though occasionally using half rhymes. The second stanza follows an A,B,C rhyme scheme, only the last line is a half rhyme. The rhythm is constant and relatively slow, with the use of commas and full stops, which helps you to fully understand the meaning of each line. The title, ‘The Solider’ is meant to refer to what every soldier should feel when going into war. Although the poem expresses one mans opinion, written in the first person, it inspires people to feel the same way. Patriotism and use of language is represented by “If I should die, think only this of me:” The opening line emphasises bravery. This soldier knows that he might die and asks only that the people remember what this poem represents, “That there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever England…”

This is a clear representation of patriotism, that it is good and honourable to die because wherever your body lies, will become part of England and in this poem, England stands for all that is good and strong. “In that rich earth a richer dust concealed” and “blest by the suns of home” emphasises this. The first stanza also describes how England bred this solider and made him happy.

“Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,” as if to say England has always served you, it is worth to die for what make you who you are.

The main feeling portrayed in the second stanza is that you, the solider, are English, thus representing the top nation and will be eternally blessed. The lines reinforce this: “Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given.” The thoughts that England gave to you are now being given back somewhere else to honour England. As you have done this, you shall be blessed, in other words.

The poem is written with real feeling for his country. The reader is blinded from the horrors of war and at the same time filled with patriotism.

‘The General’ is a short simple poem. Siegred Sassoon uses irony in most of his poems. In this he refers to the leaders higher up in the ranks that send these men to their death, say they were “incompetent swine” and “the soldiers he smiled at are most of ’em dead.” The overall picture the poem portrays is that of lions being led by donkeys. “But he did for them both by his plan of attack”, this suggests the same, that the Generals did not work hard enough and this is reflected by the number of soldiers who died during the war.

The rhyme scheme is used to continue the flow of a slow pace. This is to create the sadness of death. The impression created is a horrid, dull morbid atmosphere, which makes the reader understand and comprehend the times of the war.

The next poem I am going to use is, ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’. This supports ‘The General’ as they are both poems, which have an irony theme.

‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ is a repetitive poem, so that it can convey a point to the reader. It uses the sentences “Rode the six hundred” and “Into the valley of Death” repeatedly to show the mistakes of the General, even though he knew it was wrong, a mistake to let them go on. “Someone had blundered.”

The brave soldiers who were proud to fight for their country never neither questioned nor queried the order. “Theirs was not to make reply, Theirs was not to reason why.” They lost their lives being respectful, in the sense that they were told to go out and fight for their country even if it meant they were to die during battle. They did not question the General as he was of a higher status to them, they would not question the strategy he was following, even if it meant the soldiers losing their own lives. “Theirs but to do and die: Into the valley of Death, Rode the six hundred.”

The main similarity between the two poems, ‘The General’ and ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ is that the meaning behind the poems is the same. Its main point that, the soldiers did as they were told by the Generals without asking questions, eventually lead to their death. The brave soldiers died during the battle because the Generals with their status and power lead did not do their jobs properly and as a result the soldiers lost their lives. The main difference in the poems is the length of them, ‘The General’ is a much shorter poem in comparison to the ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’.

The last theme I will be looking at in this essay is that of Horror and how it is conveyed to the reader through the language used and the imagery the poet wants the reader to create in their minds as they read the poems. I will be using two poems called, ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ and ‘Mental Cases’ both of which are written by Willfred Owen.

When looking at ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’, there are signs of rhythm, rhyme, imagery and a theme with suitable language, which enables the reader to visualise the poem. The A,B rhyme scheme, use of commas, semi colons and long sentences are all used to slow down the pace of the first stanza. This is changed in the second stanza as the soldiers are trying to survive, the pace quickens, and this atmosphere is created with the use of small words and short sentences. Which is done through the first line, which has small words and exclamation marks which quickens the pace “Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling”. With this quote it is also possible to see the change in pace that the soldiers had to face, the gas bombs were upon them, they had seconds to react to protect themselves. The change of pace is echoed simultaneously with the change of imagery that Owen is creating, so the reader can sense the soldiers’ urgency. The change in the pace of the language reflects the mood of the poem, enabling the reader to be drawn into the theme of war and especially the horrors of war that the soldiers faced.

The poem contains similes, such as “His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin”, describing the effects of the gas on a young soldiers face. Metaphors are also included, such as “incurable sores on innocent tongues” describing the effects of the gas attack on the innocent soldiers who wanted to serve for their country, not knowing that this was how they were going to die. The similes and metaphors have been included to engage the reader within the poem. The imagery created is engrossing the reader making them feel that they are actually witnessing this particular horror of war, the gas attack described in the poem.

This poem is focusing on the young soldiers who are faced with the horrors of war, which are not witnessed or endured by the people who do not serve for their country. The effects of this are aging the soldiers, “like old beggars”. Personification is also used which involves the reader more actively in the poem by creating visual imagery, so they can try and feel the suffering of the soldiers was like. “Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.” The words used by the poet are very visual allowing imagery to be created instantly, as the lines are read.

The language used in the lines of the poem create an atmosphere of unpleasantness for the reader, it reflects regret as so many “innocent” lives are lost in the war. A good example of a similie, which reflects this is, “Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud”. The life out on the battlefield and in the trenches was very different to what the young, enthusiastic soldiers expected. This was because a completely different picture was painted for them to encourage them to be patriotic and want to serve their country in battle. Owen uses a lot of similes, metaphors and personification in this poem, to try and communicate to the reader, what conditions and horrors the soldiers faced, which they probably had not expected. They had to try and survive through although most did not and many watched as fellow soldiers, their friends died, while they were helpless in stopping the suffering of the horrors that war brought along with the battles.

Owen makes the reader feel like they are actually witnessing the events of the gas attacks by creating imagery for the reader through the language he uses. He wants us to try and imagine what the soldiers witnessed and felt. “In all my dreams, before my helpless sight”, with these words he is portraying a haunting image that the soldiers would never even have dreamt of seeing, now confronted with these scenes they are utterly helpless and cannot aid the suffering soldiers. “guttering, choking, drowning.” Is an image of what is happening to the soldier, his skin is melting because of the gas bombs. They were injured in the attack because they were not alter enough to react quick enough as they were, “Drunk with fatigue”. “Bent double, like old beggars under sacks” this refers to the once young and healthy soldiers who have altered due to the amount of weight that they have to carry all the time. One of the aspects that they were not made aware of was the effect the weight would have on their backs.

The poet addresses readers in his poem with, “My friend”, he is directing the following lines to the reader so now he has changed the focus of his poem. At first the reader has been invited and consumed into the poem through the language, pace and imagery used. Now towards the end of the final stanza the reader is addressed directly with the words, “you would not tell such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory”. He has described some of the images that the soldiers witness to the reader, inviting them to imagine the scenes they saw. Now with the quote he is saying that after knowing what suffering and horrors the soldiers experience, you would not lie to children who want some of the glory of fighting for their country, without knowing the true consequences and horrors of war so they too can suffer what has only been described and not actually felt.

This poem by Owen is a very good example of portraying images of horror. The language used and the imagery which is created with this language and the pace set allows the reader to witness, from a very safe distance some of the glory attached to war. It is about an incident that the soldiers face.

After analysing Mental Cases, I noticed that there was no particular evidence of rhythm or a rhyme scheme within the poem. The poet may have done this on purpose to reflect the instability of the soldiers’ lives during the war. The lack of rhythm and rhyme could be to portrait the life of the soldiers during the war, as their life had become the same day in, day out, with the marching and the fighting.

The poet has increased the amount of imagery included in the poem, so the reader is able to visualise and experience how the soldiers may have lived during the war. This may also be done to see what it would have been like and why they would have become mentally unstable due to the images, sounds and horrors they faced with everyday.

“Who are these? Why sit they here in twilight? Wherefore rock they, purgatorial shadows,” this means that the soldiers are sitting in the dark, waiting for battle. “Drooping tongues from jaws that slob their relish, Baring teeth that leer like skulls’ teeth wicked?” These two sentences are used to show the tiredness of the soldiers after they sit awake, day and night waiting to be called for battle. “Stroke on stroke of pain, – but what slow panic,” The words ‘slow panic’ are used to describe the duration of the war, this is also a metaphor, Owen uses plenty of these and also similes such as “Dawn breaks open like a wound that bleeds afresh.” And “Baring teeth that leer like skulls’ teeth wicked?” “Fretted sockets?” is used to describe the appearance of their eyes, almost as though they’re sunken, because of their lack of rest and sleep. “Sleeping and walk hell; but who these hellish?” These questions, who are they? Who lives like that? These soldiers do nothing except from sleep for a short while and march through the hell that is called war.

All these descriptions of war are used to explain and illustrate how the soldiers lived and why they became mentally ill. Every small thing about how the soldiers lived contributed to their condition making it worse, causing them to deteriorate and force them to become mentally insane.

“These are men whose minds the Dead have ravished,” The minds of soldiers who keep on having flashbacks of other dead soldiers have starved – ravished. These horrific images are always in their minds, forcing them to constantly reflect about them, making them go insane. “Multitudinous murders they once witnessed,” The deaths of the fellow soldiers they have seen are memories, which also cause flashbacks, making the soldiers persistently think about the horror in which they witnessed.

“Always they must see these things and hear them, Batter of guns and shatter of flying muscles, Carnage incomparable, and human squander Rucked too thick for these men’s’ extrication.” The last four sentences in the second stanza indicate what the soldiers hear and see everyday, the reality of war and not what it was depicted to them.

“Awful falseness of set-smiling corpses.” This is the face of the dead soldiers that spin round in their heads. They are haunted by the images of the dead. “Thus their hands are plucking at each other;” This shows the soldiers are fidgeting and shows that their minds are becoming unstable because of all the images and scenes they have witnessed. “Picking at the rope-knouts of their scourging; Snatching after us who smote them, brother, Pawing us who dealt them war and madness.” These previous three lines are to conclude the poem by saying that someone should confront the people who sent them to this misery and give them these images and madness these soldiers have to live with. The word ‘brother’ is used in the second line, this is used to refer and talk to that someone who ‘dealt’ – convinced them to go and endure all this madness – dealing with the sights and smells the soldiers have seen.

The poem concentrates on the effects of war on the soldiers, the reality is that, they have to endure all the images that they are left with. The effect it has on them they are left mentally disturbed as a result of fighting in the war.

In conclusion it is possible to learn that the poets whom I have looked at have different ways in portraying war. This was made clear to me when I looked and analysised there work. The different themes can change and effect the way war is portrayed, for example, famous poets such as Wilfred Owen could influence poems becoming well known and therefore attitudes against war welfare could change as the theme of the poem which is written is more known of. It is possible to say poems famous of the time greatly influenced the way people saw and thought of the war, this is significant as the poets deliberately expressed feelings against war in this attitude.

In many poems, the poets deliberately question and address the reader, making them feel somewhat involved even thought they were not there to experience war first hand. This is done primarily to influence the reader’s opinion of the war and to greaten their knowledge of warfare through their own experience or personal opinions.

The message given from poems is still somewhat relevant; this is as we remember the lives of all the soldiers still today. However, the message cannot be seen as important as it would have been at the end of World War One as the war does not have a big control on the way we live or even the way we see it now.

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