The representation of men who ‘lie low’ and refuse to fight as cowardly is typical of war poetry. In Rupert Brooke’s poem ‘Peace’ he mentions the ‘half men’ whose ‘sick hearts… honour could not move’ presenting their lives prior war as ‘old and cold and weary’. This idea is seen again in Julian Grenfell’s ‘Into Battle’ which claims that ‘he is dead who will not fight and who dies fighting has increase’ presenting fighting for your country as ennobling. An extract from ‘Letters From a Lost Generation’ expresses Roland’s opinion that it would be ‘cowardly’ if he were to shirk ‘his obvious duty’.
The pace of Pope’s ‘Who’s for the game’ captures the feeling of excitement for war and this enthusiasm is mirrored in a large amount of literature written at the start of the first world war. Roland in ‘Letters From a Lost Generation’ describes war as a ‘fascinating thing’ and Brooke compares soldiers going into battle as ‘swimmers into cleanness leaping’ capturing the determination and the idea of purification. This again reinforces the idea of men being enriched for being involved in war.
The presentation of men as being cowardly or incomplete without joining in the war aimed to make those at home guilty in order to convince them to fight. This is seen in the ‘Two Mothers’. It is similar to Pope’s poem as it aims to persuade men to join in the fighting, but it does not present war as a game. Instead, Betham-Edwards presents us with two mothers, one of which is crying ‘of shame, not grief’ due to having not one son that would ‘risk his life for England’s sake!’ This would have been a powerful recruitment poem in 1914, as men would not have wanted to disgrace their family. The first woman is not crying due to her son being ‘gallant’ ‘brave’ and the ‘nations pride’, stirring language that is compared to the other mothers’ description of her ‘three stalwarts’ as she is seen ‘weeping’. The overall opinion expressed in this poem is that it is far better to die fighting for your country, than to not fight and survive. The use of two mothers is very effective, as the attitude at the time would have been that men should protect women. This therefore, is used frequently in war poetry, often personifying England as a woman in order to give the impression of a country that needs shielding from danger, such as in Brooke’s ‘The Soldier’ that described England’s ‘sights and sounds’ and her ‘laughter’. This device is also used in ‘Vitai Lampada’ declaring that ‘Every one of her sons must hear’ and it is used again in ‘Who’s for the Game’ in the final line for impact, as Pope states ‘Your country is up to her neck in a fight, and she’s looking, and calling for you’. This line is slowed down in order to really compel the reader to fight and the use of personification increases the vulnerability of the country, and its need for protection. Confronting the reader as ‘you’ makes the poem direct and more persuasive reinforced by Pope’s use of conversational tone and colloquial language: ‘come along lads but you’ll come on alright!’
Fighting for ones country and not for self-benefit is often used within war poetry. Vitai Lampada states that participating in this cricket match is not for the ‘selfish hope of a season’s fame’ but stirring language, with words like ‘breathless hush’ and ‘blinding light’ suggest something more fulfilling. In Newbolt’s second stanza, he capitalises ‘Honour’ in order to place more emphasis on it and capture the feeling of patriotism. This was often typical of war poetry in capturing what is most important when fighting for ones country such as in Brooke’s ‘The Rich Dead’ where he capitalises ‘Holiness’ ‘Love’ and ‘Nobleness’ to show the ideals of war.
Emotive language is used throughout the three poems in order to stir up the reader, particularly in ‘Who’s for the Game?’ with Pope’s use of rhetoric, with her constant questions that pressurise the reader into giving the right answer. She imposes her opinion by spending three lines of each stanza describing the noble men who fight and the final line describing the man who sits out of fighting. To place her message across, Pope sets her poem out in 4 quatrains with a regular rhythm and rhyme scheme to make it memorable and to the point. Most war poetry took on a similar traditional form, as the ideas presented were to appear traditional themselves. An irregular structure, would be less effective in enforcing the ideals of war and the regular alternative rhyme structure in Pope’s poem helps to set the pace and feeling of exhilaration and determination. Vitai Lampada’s stanzas are twice as long as Pope’s as its purpose is different. Vitai Lampada aims to describe this ‘Torch of Life’ that is the honour of fighting, aiming at the public school boys who would already have a taste for militarism. Pope’s poem differs as it aims at more working class men with shorter lines and words of few syllables in order to effectively convince, and attract attention from the reader. Betham Edward’s ‘The Two Mothers’ is more similar to Pope’s poem with it’s to the point message and short stanzas. The poem is split into two, four line stanzas with regular alternative line rhyming scheme. This allows the two women’s predicaments to be contrasted and what they say to be more effective and memorable.
The joyfulness and enthusiasm for war seen clearly in these poems prior to 1914 could be argued to be disillusioning the reader into thinking war was just a game. However, in Vitai Lampada, Newbolt recognises the negative aspects of war within the second stanza using the image of a ‘river of death’ an effective metaphor that captures the possible vast numbers of soldiers whose lives have been lost. Newbolt refers to the Sudan War that had just been completed describing ‘the sand of the desert’ as ‘sodden red’. This stanza is filled with powerful and moving imagery to glorify those who died. This stanza is in stark contrast to the excitement of the first stanza but is not used to scare the reader, but instead aims to reinforce the idea of how noble it is to die for your country. The final stanza of Vitai Lampada concludes how a soldier should be in battle, having a ‘joyful mind’. The alliteration in ‘And falling fling to the host behind’ reinforces the determination and is an effective image of soldiers in battle.
Death is presented as noble within a vast amount of war literature. Brooke’s sonnet ‘The Rich Dead’ claims that dying makes soldiers ‘rarer gifts than gold’ and Lawrence Binyon’s ‘For the Fallen’ claims that through their courageous action ‘to the end, to the end they remain’. Death however is not dwelled upon among the propaganda and recruitment poems. Pope’s only reference to war not being this jolly, exciting ‘game’ is to ask ‘who knows it won’t be a picnic – not much – yet eagerly shoulders a gun?’ ‘The Two Mothers’ presents death as positive, with the cowardice of the other mother’s sons as the negative argument.
Overall, these three poems are typical of the literature studied so far as they aim to present war as an exciting and ennobling act to be involved in. The ‘fighting verse’ poems argue that to die for one’s country is the most honourable thing to do and they are all clearly patriotic. When discussing death, the poets present this as a positive aspect in that these people will be remembered forever for protecting England. The recruitment poets show enthusiasm for battle and by creating the image of the coward who will not fight, effectively would have persuaded soldiers to join in the fun’. It is clear therefore, that prior to 1914, this great enthusiasm for war was typical in the writings of the time.