‘The old lie’ was the traditional view of war, which is honourable, glorious and heroic to fight and die for your country. During the time when Tennyson wrote his poem, ‘The charge of the light brigade’ (1854), everyone felt that dying for your country in action was honourable. But this view of war slowly changed as life went through World War I. When Rupert Brooke wrote his poems, at the outbreak of war, everyone was filled with euphoria and the eagerness to fight for their England. During the war, a poet called Wilfred Owen wrote about the harshness of war and how the traditional view of war was false. This totally changed the view of the people of England towards war.
During the Victorian period, the British Empire grew and covered around a third of the world. This created much pride in being British.
The people then thought that it was noble and honourable to fight and die for your country.
Lord Tennyson was one of the poets to write representing the traditional view of war.
He wrote a poem called ‘The charge of the light brigade’ which was written in memory of the brave soldiers that died in the Crimean War in the Battle of Balaclava (Ukraine) which took place during 1854-1856. In about 20 minutes two-thirds of the British cavalry were killed but as Tennyson was assigned the duty of being poet laureate he had to write his poems in a positive way to keep the queen and the country happy. Tennyson does a good job of this by using repetition to a large extent to emphasise the power of the ‘Light Brigade’.
The way that Tennyson wrote this poem was in the way that society thought of war during the time. The poem is emphasising the glory and pride in fighting for your Britain and being British.
Tennyson uses a lot of repetition in this poem to really paint a picture of what was really happening at the time. His repetition of “Half a league” in the first two lines of the first stanza makes the reader think of the horses galloping towards the line of fire.
His use of personification describes how bad their situation was “Came through the jaws of Death” and “Back from the mouth of Hell” makes the reader think how bad it must have been to have been like ‘the jaws of Death’ but then has an effective use because it emphasises the bravery of the soldiers.
In the seventh line of the first stanza there is the line
‘Into the valley of Death’
This is a metaphor because you cannot really have a valley of Death, but also emphasises the bravery of the soldiers. That line also suggests that something terrible is going to happen later on in the poem. Also, this shows the way that soldiers are feeling as well because they were so eager to fight for their country that they would be filled with excitement.
‘Not though the solider knew
Some one had blundered’
The soldiers know! They know that something was wrong and that they are going the wrong way, but because they are British they would still carry on going even if it means death because they are being honourable to do so.
The use of diction in this poem also makes the whole idea of fighting for your country glamorous. Tennyson uses words like ‘plunged’, ‘honour’, and ‘wild’, ‘flashed’. All these are powerful words which emphasises the nobleness and strength of the men’s minds. When I read through this poem I could see and feel that I was in the middle of the action because of the diction which appeals to your senses.
‘Flashed all their sabre bare
Flashed as they turned in air’
His use of diction, ‘flashed’ make you imagine what it would look like if you really were there in the action.
At the outbreak of World War I, everyone was willing and desperate to go to war. Rupert Brooke was one of the poets that based his poems on what was happening during the outbreak of war. He shared the same view as Tennyson-that it is honourable and great to fight for your country (the traditional view of war). He really emphasised in his poems the euphoria that Britain herself was feeling. Young men were eager to fight and die for their country. Everyone still believed in the traditional view of war that it is honourable and noble to die for your country.
One of Rupert Brooke’s poems, “Peace” is one of the poems he wrote that shows us how England was feeling back then. He believes that fighting in this war will bring them peace and harmony. He even uses religious diction “Now God be thanked”, he is implying that even God is on their side.
Brooke wrote the poem in the form of a sonnet, which is rather unusual because this is meant to be a war poem and the sonnet form is meant to be for love poems. This would tell us that Brooke is trying to say that he and the country is in love with war. That it will bring peace to them all if they fight and die for your country is honourable and will glorify them.
“Oh! We, who have known shame, we have found release there”
The way that Brooke compares love to war is saying that he is trying to point out to everyone that war is more fulfilling than love.
“And all the little emptiness of love”
In the first stanza, Brooke uses words like ‘old’, ‘cold’ and ‘weary’ because he is saying that without this war the country would be such a dull place to be in.
“Glad from a world grown so old and cold and weary”
These words are an example of assonance. This is intended in slowing down the poem giving it a slow dull feeling as it takes longer to pronounce each of the words.
Brooke emphasises this point by the use of diction in the first stanza, he uses words with long vowel sounds, ‘leave’. This emphasises the dullness of the world because of the absence of the excitement of war.
In the last line of the last stanza
“And the worst friend and enemy is but Death”
This is an example of an oxymoron, where the words friend and enemy are opposites but are put in the same line. I think that Brooke was intending in showing us that death is not something bad, that death is a glorious , heroic thing to do because Brooke uses the word ‘but’. This closely links back to the traditional view of war.
In the last stanza, the use of euphemism softens the harshness of words like ‘death’ which also softens the harshness of which society did not want to consider.
“Naughty broken save this body, lost but breath”
The euphemism here that Brooke has used refers to them to be ‘asleep’ for death.
Another one of Brooke’s poems entitled ‘The Soldier’, Brooke’s most nationalist poem. His repetition of “England” really emphasises him being patriotic towards England. The way that Brooke wrote his poems had lead to the British government in using his poems as propaganda to recruit new soldiers to fight in the war. Brooke also uses diction like “field”, “flowers”, “rivers” and “suns”, this creates a romantic image of war for the reader.
Wilfred Owen wrote about the same time as Brooke did but their poems were very different. Owen was actually fighting in the war as for Brooke he had died from malaria on the way to war therefore only wrote about what he thought was the glory of war. As for Owen, he had seen the reality of war and is now telling society that war is not the same as it was before. That now new technology had turned war into nothing more than a pointless massacre. In hi poems he writes about the bitterness of death and how dying for your country in war does not prove to be glorifying.
During World War I, Wilfred Owen was caught in a shell explosion which resulted him suffering from neurasthenia (shell shock), this was a quite serious mental condition. He was sent to Craig Lockhart War Hospital where he was kept for quite some time. This was when he started to write his war poems. He returned to the front line and on the 4th November just a week before the war ended and was caught in a machine gun fire and died.
Owen’s poems really changed society’s view of war because in his poems instead of telling them how much glory and honour from fighting in war, he would tell them the fear and horror that they would get from it.
“All a poet can do is warn. That is why the true poets must be truthful” (Owens introduction to the collection of poems)
One of his many famous poems he wrote was called ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’. Being a poet who is writing against the ‘old lie’ as Owen would put it, this poem entitled ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ meaning ‘it is sweet and fitting to die for your country’. It is kind of contradicting Owen himself. He uses the title in a sarcastic but bitter manner which shows his great dislike of the phrase.
“Bent double, like old beggars under sacks
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge”
In the first two lines of the first stanza, Owen immediately uses plosives like ‘bent’ and ‘beggars’ to give the reader a very negative feeling. This is a contrast to one of Tennyson’s ‘The charge of the light brigade’
“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
As you can see, Tennyson’s poem starts off with a positive and lively stanza. It gives the reader a sense of excitement from the beginning unlike ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ by Owen.
In Owen’s poems he is trying to point out how war would dehumanise people and how terrible and harsh it is out in the battlefield.
“Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind”
This war had made young active men into inhuman objects, and is really showing that war is not as it seems back home.
In the first stanza Owen’s choice of diction like ‘trudge’ makes the stanza quite slow paced to really emphasise how the soldiers were really like then. That they are so tired then that they could barely move across the battlefield.
“And towards our distant rest began to trudge”
He here is almost saying that these men are basically fighting not because they want glory and honour for fighting for their country, but they are fighting for this rest that they see to think is more important than the honour and glory that they thought they would get from this war.
“Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots”
In the first stanza Owen is showing how tired the soldiers are, that they are simply fighting this war in hope and search for a little rest. The soldiers are so tired that they had to march asleep. Owen uses harsh and violent words to emphasise their conditions.
Owen wants to put across the point that war is like hell and it is not what you think it is. He does this by the use of diction throughout the poem which makes the poem more personal and persuasive to the reader. He uses words like “you” and “my friend”. Also, in the third stanza he adds his own opinion as if he was talking directly to the reader which makes also makes it more personal. He uses harsh, corrupted words in the last line of the third stanza to show the horrors of what war brings to these people.
“In all my dreams before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.”
The second stanza of the poem is mainly aimed to horrify the readers as he describes the death scene of a soldier caught in a gas bomb. His use of diction in this stanza creates an atmosphere that creates a picture for the reader to see.
“GAS! GAS! Quick, boys!”
He uses short and easily pronounced words to speed up the pace of this stanza to emphasise the how frantic and how panicking the soldiers were feeling.
“Dim through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning”
He uses a simile here “as under a green sea” and he uses that because he is emphasising that once you are caught in one of these attacks, that if you’re that little bit slower then you are bound to die. The word “sea” emphasises this.
“An ecstasy of fumbling”
The first line of the second stanza, this line usually is seen in the love genre therefore a contrast. Owen is now saying that they are now doing it to save their own lives.
“If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Bitter as cud”
Throughout this poem he continues with his harsh diction. In the last fourth stanza there is a line:
“His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin”
Owen says that even the devil is sick of war, that it is so bad that it is worse then being in hell. Then he quickly follows this line with a harsh and bloody scene of the soldier in the wagon. I thought that this was very effective as it still keeps the reader feeling horrified by what is in front of them.
“Of vile incurable sores on innocent tongues”
This line shows that some of the soldiers were just young innocent kids, this was because before the war many people still thought that fighting in this war would bring them glory and honour to them and their families. So even if the people were underage they would put themselves down as the required age in hope that they would get through to fight the war.
“My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory”
Owen ends his poem in a slightly sarcastic manner because he probably knows that by the time the reader gets to the end of the poem that they have totally changed their view on the war now. So he is saying that now that you know what war is really about, are you still that eager to tell your children that fighting in war for your country is great.
“The old lie: Dulce et Decorum est”
He ends the poem with this line saying that now you have read the poem, you now know that what you believed before is nothing more than a lie.
‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ is a comparison to Tennyson’s ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ because both are about the same subject. The attitude in the poems is very different. In ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’, Tennyson repetitively uses words like “honour” and “glory” as for Owen he uses “blood”, “
Another one of Owen’s poems is called ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ which is an elegy which is a song for the dead. It is a comparison from a typical funeral back at home to the type of funeral the soldiers get on the battlefield. This poem is not a brutal and harsh poem like ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ but a rather sad poem.
This poem is written in the form of a sonnet. The octet is describing the type of funeral the soldiers would get on the battlefield; the sestet is talking about the type of funeral back home. In this poem he tries to show what little ceremony or remembrance the soldiers receive.
In all of his poems he uses alliteration and onomatopoeia to a large extent, to help the reader develop an aural image of the scene and to stress certain words to highlight the horrors of war. “Anthem for Doomed Youth” is no exception to this and contains examples of both alliteration and onomatopoeia. He uses alliteration to create a heavy and dead tone, such as “dusk a drawing down”. This gives a depressive tone and is at the end of the poem. Owen uses the “dusk” to bring an end to the poem. He uses onomatopoeia, to convey that death was swift, and most men did not live long, he emphasises this in “rifles rapid rattle”.
This poem has this dull steady pace that gives the image of a funeral which is achieved by long vowel sounding words like ‘these’, and ‘monstrous’. It is also achieved by the repetition of ‘only’ which symbolises the ringing of funeral bells.
“What candles may be held to speed them all”
The first line of the sestet, the candles symbolising the light of someone’s soul (metaphoric candles).
In this poem Owen is trying to say is what kind of glory you get if you do not even get a proper funeral that people would remember you by…
“No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells”
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs”
On the battlefield they do not have any of those, but then they are replaced by the “demented choirs of wailing shells”. This is personification which makes the poem more alive, the word “demented” makes the reader feel uncomfortable as it is quite a horrible word to use in this sense.
From studying the three poets I have found that as the war progressed the views of war had changed dramatically from Tennyson’s traditional view of war that it was honourable and glorifying to fight for your country. Then it was Brooke’s view of war that it will bring peace and harmony to us if we fight in this war. Then finally Owen’s view of war which was that war is as bad as hell. As we can see the change in the views which brought an end to the old traditional view of war as Owen had succeeded in telling the people back home that war is not what it seems, and that the traditional view of war was in fact a lie.