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How are changing attitudes to the First World War reflected in the poetry of the period?

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Introduction

Patrick Thompson 61959 18th September 2009 How are changing attitudes to the First World War reflected in the poetry of the period? Task: Studied the literary tradition of war poetry. Studied a range of poems from Tennyson and Newbolt through to Sassoon and Owen. Conditions: Done in class and own time War has been written about for hundreds of years from ancient epics hundreds of years ago to sonnets of the modern conflicts of today. Times and attitudes have changed a lot since then. In the ancient Anglo Saxon story of Beowulf. A warrior named Beowulf attacks and defeats an evil dragon name Grendel. Beowulf is praised for his bravery and heroism. His people deeply respect and honour him this attitude is then carried on for the next few hundred years, the warrior deserved and got glory for risking his life to save others.Then in the medieval period the chivalric code came along. Knights replaced warriors as the most honorable and righteous people of their masters kingdom. Their master to whom they would lay down their life's for nobly. The knights were thought of as doing god's will on earth and fighting evil, they were almost godly in their actions and were known for protecting the weak, honouring the land and worshipping god. When the Renaissance came there was a rebirth in the interest of classical literature from the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome. These stories also honoured and praised the soldier. This attitude was taken up in Renaissance Europe and is reflected in the poetry of this period. Another few hundred years later the Victorians took an interest in the Medieval Poetry they were fascinated by the chivalric code and began to write their own poems reflecting the same attitude as the Medieval poets. The rebirth of chivalric traditions can be seen in the works of Arthur Tennyson who discovered and rewrote the ancient story of King Arthur and the Round Table. ...read more.

Middle

Finally he asks what you will be doing while your brothers "stand to the tryants blow". Will you be at the pub or playing football, do you not care about fighting for good or if your country falls? He is calling these men that don't go to war cowardly, he says they will be rejected, humiliated and mocked for being so useless and cowardly. Throughout the poem "Where will you look sonny" is continuously repeated and forces the men to consider and justify why they are sitting at home while England is at war. Who's for the game by Jessie Pope compares the war to a game making it feel playful and safe far from the harsh realities of trench warfare. She calls the game of war "the biggest thats played" like it is some kind of huge sport. Pope criticizes those that "sit tight" back home while other men are out their fighting for their country and having the time of their life too and praises the men that are up for giving the country a hand. In the third stanza she asks who would rather "come back with a crutch, than lie low" acting as if its a simple game of rugby where the worst that can happen is you break a leg, not once does she even mention the possibility of death or the realities of war its all just a game. Pope refers to England as a woman who is "looking and calling for you" again convincing young men to enlist into the war. The second genre of poems that came after the outbreak of the First World War were poems that maintained the patriotic and heroic image of war yet acknowledged the possibility that it was dangerous and you could die. The Volunteer by Herbert Asquith starts with "here lies a clerk" meaning the man is dead it then describes his pre war life, where he was a young clerk working in the City of London. ...read more.

Conclusion

In the next stanza Owen talks of how he dreamt about that man "guttering, choking and drowning" right before his eyes he is haunted by the experience. In the fourth and final stanza Owen describes how if you could stride behind the wagon that they threw this poor soul into and see his "white eyes writhing in his face" and if at every bump you could hear "the blood come gargling from his froth corrupted lungs" then you would not repeat the old lie Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori with so much enthusiasm. This last stanza is squarely aimed at Jessie Pope and the other pro war propagandists who talked of the glory and the honour of the war. If they had seen the reality they would not be so quick to praise this terrible conflict. Owen's poems are very gentle. He is not filled with rage and anger but are filled with regret at the horror and loss of life the war has lead to. For hundreds of years leading up to the First World War, war had been regarded as honourable right from the Roman periods up to the Victorians but during the course of the the first world war something changed. At the start the poetry still maintained the belief that recruitment poems talked of honour and even fun and adventure not even acknowledging any negative effects of the war. Then came poets such as Rupert Brooke who still believed in the honour of fighting for their countries and were very patriotic, but they also showed a possibility of death in their poems. Then to Owen and Sassoon who were completely anti-war. Yhey despised the entire war and this is shown in their poems they don't build up an image of some great and brilliant battlefield they simply tell the hellish reality of war. Poetry of a period is a great way to understand the society and mind frame of that time as the poetry slowly changed so did people attitudes. ...read more.

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