Compare and contrast the poems 'Anthem for Doomed Youth' by Wilfred Owen and 'The Soldier' by Rupert Brooke. What are the poets' attitudes towards war and how do they convey these attitudes?

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Esther Tan

Compare and contrast the poems ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ by Wilfred Owen and ‘The Soldier’ by Rupert Brooke. What are the poets’ attitudes towards war and how do they convey these attitudes?

Wilfred Owen’s “Anthem for Doomed Youth” and Rupert Brooke’s “The Soldier” express opposing views towards war and matters related to it. Owen condemns war as the cause of immense and painful loss of youths, killed like animals. He also attacks the church, generally held to preserve human life and dignity, implying it is powerless and irrelevant in a war situation. Brooke expresses ready acceptance (his view is meant to be the general view) of possible death on his country’s behalf in grateful return to her for having “bore, shaped and made aware” him and enriching him spiritually. There is no reference to the horrors and pain of war. Apart from the poets’ different attitudes towards war, there are many other differences such as tone, imagery and language.

In ‘The Soldier’, Brooke’s sense of indebtedness to his country completely blots out any sense of loss or regret over possible death on her behalf. Brooke doesn’t even mention war in his poem. He is ready to give “back the thoughts by England given”. He accepts death in war as a suitable repayment to his country for what England has done for him. England has given him birth, her “flowers”, “ways to roam”, “air”, “rivers” and “suns” and made him like every other English person: special, privileged and worthy. In the line “In that rich earth, a richer dust concealed,” his is the “richer dust”, made by England. Here his physical being created and nurtured by England is gratefully returned to her. His appreciation and gratitude to England ring sincerity as reflected by his reference to these simple things (flowers, air…etc) – in other words, these things bear testimony to his sincerity. If Brooke had mentioned materialistic things like special rights, possession or power then it gives rise to the thought that his gratitude is questionable, because he has enjoyed privileges denied to others.

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In the second stanza, Brooke whole-heartedly declares that he will return to England what he has been given. In his poem, Brooke doesn’t criticise war or religion but emphasises whole-hearted readiness to return to England what he has been given. The spiritual being created and enriched by England is returned gratefully. Brooke doesn’t mention anything about the horrors of war. Even death is not presented as something repulsive or of a loss but instead as a repayment to his country. He feels indebted to England and is completely happy to settle his debt. He will return to England what she gave ...

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