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The Changing Role of Poetry in the First World War

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Introduction

Toby Leckie 6th December 2004 GCSE LITERATURE POST-1914 POETRY ESSAY: The Changing Role of Poetry in the First World War In this essay I will discuss the changing attitudes of poets during the First World War. I will select a range of poems that will cover the early days through to the end of the war and explain how the texts were used for different purposes. I will also show how the language of the poetry went through gradual changes. Poetry written in 1914-1918 about the war had four basic phases: expectation, experience, protest and finally reflection. I will cover all four in this essay. Britain's entry to the war was forced upon us. The army was sent into action after Germany threatened Belgium, a country we had promised to be allies with, Britain seemed to dive into an unplanned and very vulnerable situation. The people seemed to have no idea of what was about to happen. The attitude across the country seemed to be one of all the young men going off to fight the enemy, and all of them coming home heroes. There was an attitude that war was a patriotic sacrifice and almost a passage that young men should go through, to come out as civilised, and experienced, human beings. The poets writing at the time, such as Julian Grenfell wrote of the warmth of comradeship and left alone the possibility of actually dying over there. ...read more.

Middle

The last stanza tells of the weather being the murderer of many soldiers in the trenches while they were waiting to go into battle. In these horrific conditions men were stuck in trenches for weeks, defending their country, and even though many died, it seemed unimportant for still the poem finishes on "But nothing happened". By 1917 the real essence of the pitiful situation being suffered by the troops was becoming more and more clear in the poetic works. In his free verse "Lost in France", Ernest Rhys spent the first eleven lines setting the reader up with a description of the attributes of a ploughman. He told that "He could see a crow three miles away" and that "He could make a gate, and dig a pit," All of this leads the reader to expect just about anything but the last line. This is thrown at us in a devastating way, immediately dragging us back from this picture that has been so skilfully painted: "And he is dead" No amount of bravery and skill could have saved this man in the filthy trenches of France. Rhys wants you to know that he died, as so many others did, needlessly and without commotion. In "Anthem for Doomed Youth", Owen writes about the relation between soldiers and cattle waiting to die. ...read more.

Conclusion

Sassoon continued to stir the emotions and consciences of his countrymen long after the guns fell silent. One of his most expressive pieces of his later work is called Aftermath. Sassoon wanted to stress the importance of remembering the lost men who fought for their country. The first two lines of poem read: "Have you forgotten yet? For the world's events have rumbled on since those gagged days". The dream of a better world, which fuelled the great revolutionary wave in the aftermath of the war, had much to do with what had been suffered by many in the trenches. Sassoon is worried that the memory of this might be lost to future generations: 'But the past is just the same--and War's a bloody game... Have you forgotten yet? Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you'll never forget." The First World War did bring about many changes- socially, politically and technologically. As well as this, 1914-1918 saw a complete change in the style and structure of poetry. The strictness of rhythm and rhyme were cast aside in favour of more accessible and straightforward forms as the war progressed. The language became more colloquial. These ideas and many oh coupled with the free verse style of Rosenberg finally freed the poet from the earlier restraints and allowed them to more easily express their feelings and to the public. Word Count: 1756 ...read more.

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