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Explore the Portrayal of War in the pre 1900 poetry -

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Introduction

Explore the Portrayal of War in the pre 1900 poetry - "Before Agincourt" by William Shakespeare and "The Charge of the Light Brigade" by Alfred Lord Tennyson and also in the post 1900 poetry of Wilfred Owen - "Dulce et Decorum Est", "The Send Off" and "Anthem for Doomed Youth". Before 1900, war was always seen as a glorious thing. People truly believed in the words of the ancient writer Horace, "Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori." This phrase can be translated, as "It is a lovely and honourable thing; to die for one's country". Pre 1900 war poetry was strongly patriotic and glossed over the grim reality of death, preferring instead to display the heroic aspects of fighting. If death was mentioned, it was only in a noble and glorious context. As there was no media coverage of war, the non-combatants did not know the true story. Poets like Alfred Lord Tennyson, who never actually participated in any war, did not portray a realistic outlook of combat. However after 1900, as media coverage increased, non-combatants finally began to learn of the true story of war. Although there were still poets who wrote of the glories of fighting, poets such as Wilfred Owen, who fought and in the end was killed during the First World War, began to write realistically, showing war in a true light, removing any romanticism. In the poems I am going to look at, we can see a clear divide between the poetry of the pre 1900's and that of the post 1900's. A good example of this pre 1900 approach to war is "Before Agincourt" from William Shakespeare's play "King Henry the Fifth." This is a speech written in blank verse, which is appropriate for such a significant subject. This speech is an attempt by King Henry to raise morale among his troops after having passed among his men while in disguise and discovering total self-desolation caused by the knowledge that the French outnumbered the English by ten to one. ...read more.

Middle

This conveys excitement at the men's bravery. Tennyson's method is very different from that of Wilfred Owen. Although recording a military blunder, "The Charge of the Light Brigade," portrays the popular image of the time, that death when encountered in battle is a glorious thing. As I have already said, Tennyson was portraying war in a very romanticised way. In his account, there is none of the gory realistic details of war, which as we will see, are a prominent characteristic in Wilfred Owens's poems. By the time the "Great War" of 1914 to 1918 occurred, a great shift had occurred in the portrayal of war. This was partly due to the increase of media coverage, but the main reason was that poets such as Wilfred were actually speaking from experience. Wilfred Owen was an English man who was teaching English in France when the First World War began. He returned to England and joined the army and was a junior officer at the battle of the Somme. He was sent to a military hospital in Edinburgh when suffering from trench fever and concussion and it was here he met the poet Siegfried Sassoon who persuaded him to write poetry about the war. In 1918, Owen rejoined his regiment and he was killed a week before the armistice. His aim of his poetry is best summed up in his own words. "Above all I am not concerned with Poetry. My Subject is War, and the Pity of War, The Poetry is in the Pity." Owen's poetry describes as soldier's life in war with grim realism and is in complete contrast with the poetry of the pre 1900's. The first of Wilfred Owen's poems which I will look at is "Dulce et Decorum est". The title is in Latin, which would suggest that this poem was written for well educated people who would realise that it was start of the phrase, "Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori". ...read more.

Conclusion

Owen also appears to be saying that the sound of the rifles is the only prayer being said for the dead men. The poem concentrates on showing what isn't present. It emphasises again that there are no prayers or bells and the only voice of mourning is the sound of shells going off around the men. The only memorial for their lives will be in mind of a few at home who wait anxiously for word of these men. This poem emphasises again and again the lack of any glory or honour or heroism associated with these men who fought and died for their country. The pace of this poem is slow, a memorial which almost mocks the ideas of those who feel death on the battlefield is a glorious experience. It is typical of Owen's poetry. Every last detail is recorded of what death is really like in war. After studying the portrayal of war in poetry it seems clear to me that in the pre 1900's before mass media coverage was introduced, the general portrayal of war was that of it being honourable, patriotic and much glorified. Writers such as Alfred Lord Tennyson and William Shakespeare never actually were present during any battle and wrote simply in response to popular belief. After 1900, as the media started to give more accurate accounts of the atrocities of war, less non-combatants pedalled such a romanticised view of war. It was poets such as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon who wrote their views on war. These views were realistic as such men actually participated in the war itself. Siegfried Sassoon sums up what he feels war is all about. "War is an undignified sacrifice of soldiers due to political errors and insincerity." Such views are so different to pre 1900 poets nut in my opinion these grim realistic accounts reveal what everybody should know. No one should be tricked into thinking that "It is a lovely and honourable thing; to die for one's country." Harvey Allen 5P ...read more.

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