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The Tradition Of War Poetry

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Introduction

The Tradition Of War Poetry By comparing and contrasting a selection of war poems consider the ways in which attitudes to war have been explored and expressed. When considering poetry written post 1900 concentrate on a selection of poems by Wilfred Owen. In order to investigate the development of war poetry, I decided to begin with one of the most famous poets of all time, and examine his thoughts and feelings on how war should be treated. I decided to begin with 'Henry V' by William Shakespeare. This poem is written in the play Henry V, just before the English begin the Battle Of Harfleur against the French. The poem is written in Iambic Pentameter, and is Henry V's speech to inspire his men into action with the sense of legendary heroic status that would be bestowed on them if they triumph. Henry V treats the war as almost like a trivial event that is not worthy of a moment's contemplation, which is emphasized when he says "The game's afoot". Shakespeare puts across this view not because this is what he or his character Henry V thinks, but instead what he wanted the army to believe. He was trying to boost morale, and did NOT believe that the waste of human life that war produced was an inconsequential matter. This is a dramatic poem, with an implied audience who are given an inflated opinion of their status, which is enhanced because they are ENGLISH. The next poem I feel it is important to investigate is the poem 'Charge Of The Light Brigade' by Alfred Tennyson. ...read more.

Middle

On the other hand the references to guns and rifles could not be more far removed and conjure up images of a terrifying experience in the trenches, a life that is far from innocent. The title suggests innocence with the use of the word 'youth' and also suggests an expression of loyalty and support to a cause i.e. anthem. Also, the word 'Youth' implies the beginning of life, and it is hugely ironic that it is really the end of their lives. The word 'doomed', however, adds a sinister touch to the sonnet and intrigues the reader to discover the cause of the 'doom' as well as the implication that they have no hope, as death is inevitable. Instantly Owen transforms the soldiers into cattle to great effect. This change makes the men seem weaker and more vulnerable to this inevitable slaughter. The next two lines transport the reader to the battlefield in contrast to the more peaceful country image portrayed in the previous line. These lines also give a sinister feel as with the use of personification the guns and rifles are transformed into monsters. The third line also has a more dramatic effect due to the use of alliteration: 'rifles rapid rattle' which emphasises the harsh and unrelenting sounds of the battlefield. The following line brings us back to the original theme of home life with a reference to 'orisons'. In the last few lines of the octave yet another peaceful and homely scene becomes something more sinister and frightening with the transition from mourning choirs to the 'shrill, demented sounds of the shells'. ...read more.

Conclusion

This passage is on its own to show how Owen is affected, and the fact that to him the gas attack is unending and inescapable. The next line begins with the conjecture that 'if' you could have my horrific experience and be plagued about it for all your life, you would not feel the same way. Here he is speaking directly to Jessie Pope about her tales of war. The fact that the body was 'flung' was not cruel, but necessary because they had to make a quick exit, and his 'white eyes writhing' show that he was still alive. The agony he is feeling is shown in his eyes and his face, which has stretched and contorted. He next uses a simile of how it is like awful, incurable diseases. The use of 'My friend' is ironic and sarcastic as well as the fact that he is so affected by what he's seen, anyone can be his friend. The word 'Children' is hugely plaguing in the way it is used here because children are so innocent and vulnerable, with childlike desires. The fact that the statement is called an 'old lie' shows that it has always been a lie. The war poems I have compared show both similarities and differences. Although, up until the First World War, the poets and events had changed, the image was almost always that war was a game. However, the First World War changed this, and people became startlingly aware that war was a horrific experience. Sentimentality was destroyed by reality. At this time, the poetry changed to dark and haunting poems of the atrocities of war. The message that poets had tried to send had changed. As Wilfred Owen said "All a poet can do is warn". ...read more.

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