Does it really matter that you go into battle? According to Julian Grenfell it was a thing of virtue and patriotism. In his poem entitled “Into Battle”, he talks of the glory and joy of tumbling over the ridge into the brazen frenzy.
Julian Grenfell highlights the emotions felt before going to World War One. He galvanises the joys of war by euphemism. His diction entices the reader into thinking that the only way to fully enjoy life was by following Destined Will. He insisted that the true way to lead a human away from a stagnant and boring life was to go and fight for your country. “Dulce et decorum est” – this quote from the title of another poem significantly portrays what Grenfell thought. Although Wilfred Owen was contradicting the idea of grandeur in his poem, Grenfell believed that the struggle for survival was only a natural course to take.
The title Into Battle seems to suggest a jaunty and uplifting motion. The idea of going ‘into battle’ was one to look forward to. Grenfell starts off the poem by using Mother Nature to inspire young men. He romanticises the notion of war by likening it to the growth and rebirth of the earth. The strict rhyme and rhythm give a sense of security. The balance insinuates that everything fits into place and a soldier has a purpose in life. Reference to the naked earth, spring and bursting trees shows the imagery of the youth of the young soldiers. Has increase – this portrays that the man is growing spiritually in commune with nature, and it adds a reassuring note to the poem. This continuing parallel emphasises the link between man and earth. He truly believed in ‘pro patria mori’ which means that it is right and proper to die for your country.
A soldier is depicted as a vivacious life force like the bursting trees. The recurrent citation to the sun, warmth and gaze symbolises that everything to with war is idyllic. The repetition of and suggests a long list of positive aspects. It has a biblical resonance, with an authoritative stance; it is only a win-win situation. It states a fact rather than proposing an argument, which also leads me to believe that the poem is used as a type of propaganda (printed in The Times in May 1915).
The rhyming scheme adds a soft simple touch to the poem; every alternate line rhymes and it gives a feeling of calm. The comfort is extended to the reader by assonance, where soft sounds are repeated again and again to add assurance – and take warmth, and life from the glowing earth. The rhythm is very slow and elongated to make the reader emotive. It ignites passionate feelings of warmth and birth, which are always mentioned. There aren’t any cacophonous short sentences which stick out, but the sentences are made even longer by the use of and. Longer sentences seem to merge together and create a sense of smooth, curvaceous flow.
In stanza four, there is reference to celestial beings: Dog-star and Sisters Seven. This allows the reader to feel that they will be protected and pledges them to have faith in the Heaven. As many men were religious at the time, a note to biblical activities was very tranquilising. Poems written by Sassoon were so unpalatable and harsh, that the public refused to believe what warfare was really like. To get out of the suffering, soldiers looked to God as a source of hope and solace, but the wounded had lost all optimism in religion.
The poem is relatively simple and it is aimed at the naturalistic men. It plays on their naive need to be strong and faithful. Courageous hearts and nobler powers suggest that men who have such courage will be recognised for their efforts – nothing will be in vain. The songs and hymns may be of death, but that leads to eternal bliss for the soul. The personification of the joy of battle takes him by the throat is quite euphemistic as there is no direct mention of death, blood or gore.
The ecstatic feeling of triumph is portrayed by the repetition of the word joy. His dictions is very contained and he makes sure that none of the words sound jarring. The soft wings are an impression of how angels will come to take those who have fallen for their country. Overall, it is romanticised and not in the least bit pragmatic.
Many poems look at opposing aspects to those described in Into Battle, namely those written in Spring Offensive. However, I have chosen to compare “Into Battle” with “Does it matter?” by Siegfried Sassoon, simply because it is different. Sassoon sets a completely distinct tone, atmosphere, mood and image to his work. He uses numerous literary techniques to portray his true feelings.
Unlike Grenfell, Sassoon uses virulent words which seem to attack the reader. One gets the feeling that Sassoon was foaming at the mouth by the time he had finished writing the poem. He launches into his scathing attack almost instantaneously, without giving the reader any time to think.
The structure of the poem is very different to the one in “Into Battle”. It is short (only three verses), sharp and succinct. He knew only too well the consequences of living through war and then having to come and live it every night in your dreams. He uses sarcasm to pretend to agree with the civilian speaker at the beginning of each of the stanzas and then contradict them by ending the verse on a very sardonic note. He knows the harsh reality of war and therefore he wants to portray the true effects of the poor soldiers. As unpalatable as it may seem, the soldiers who didn’t die were shipped back home in their dozens to be caged up in homes. He knew that all that awaited them was a meaningless life of torment where everybody would politely nod out of common courtesy, but when they turned their backs, they would gallivant off as fast as they could in the opposite direction – counting their lucky stars. The wounded would be left on the side with no-one else to care for them, save but the solace of a pint or two of burning rum.
The title in itself asks a rhetorical question which obviously has an answer. Of course it matters! The reader can feel the spite and vehemence oozing from the poem. Sassoon talks about three different types of possible injury sustained during war. The first: losing your legs; he highlights all the things that injured soldiers are not able to do. The mention of others is aimed at the officials and general who of course have no need to fight, and so they spend their time gobbling their muffins and eggs. It’s not the lowly rations that the soldiers have to bear with, but it is very similar to a normal English breakfast of the time.
The second stanza talks about losing your sight and the only consolation is that you can’t actually see the people gawping at you when then walk by. It is so ironic that people at the time thought that there would work for the blind – when this is perceptibly not true. Brail was not invented and there was no way for the blind to work. The repetition of the phrase people will always be kind adds to the extensive irony, because he knows that people are only being polite and decent. A blind man’s only hope was to turn his face to the light and feel the warmth. This is exactly what Grenfell encouraged his soldiers to look forward to. Yet, Sassoon uses the sun as a beacon of hatred and abhorrence, unlike Grenfell.
The final injury was the shell-shock, and the horrific dreams from the pit. The typical questions and answer technique he uses is even more effective here because a soldier relives the death-defying moments every night. One may think that the sleep was a route to escape from the hell on earth, yet sleep was just a reawakening of what they had been through. He suggests that drinking will make you glad and jaunty like the rest of the drunkards, but instead it isn’t the typical joyous mad, yet one of depression and misery. He uses the idea of “pro patria mori”, but to the extent that it isn’t what everyone makes it out to be.
The happy-go-lucky rhythm seems to suggest a bouncy and light poem, but it in fact is the exact opposite. He works on cruel opposites and heavily relies of satire. Each sentence is short, sharp and pointy. He has used strong consonants: hunting, sight and matter. The repetitive usages of the’t’ sound adds emphasis to this. He has even used a rhyming scheme to make the poem look jovial, but the rhyming words are contrasting too: blind – kind and glad – mad.
He uses colloquial style language to really hit out at the virulent truths and shows how war is not romantic. He uses anapaest metre (where two unstressed syllables are followed by a stressed one) to symbolise the incongruous aspects of war. Everything is completely different to what the public imagine it to be. The glass painting which Grenfell took so long to paint with his intense pathetic fallacy and elaborate words has been immediately shattered by Sassoon’s concise blade.
Both poems are so contrasting to each other, that it is quite oxymoronic. Grenfell focuses on the idyllic, romantic, pre-war propaganda, whereas Sassoon highlights the aftermath and consequences of was. The structure, rhyme scheme, rhythm and literary techniques are also in contrast. Grenfell has a slow, soft and comforting style, on the other hand, Sassoon has written a cacophonous, satirical and virulent poem.
I personally prefer “Does it matter?” because it is not at all pessimistic, but really depicts the harsh realities of war. I, in fact, despise how those like Grenfell have tried to romanticise war just to have lead more young men to their deaths!