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AS and A Level: War Poetry

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Writing about World War One poetry

  1. 1 Although it is easy to try and position poems as either ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ war this is quite a simplistic division. Many poems have an ambiguous attitude, perhaps demonstrating a variety of thoughts and ideas. Be sure to assess possibilities of different perspectives within poems as well as between them.
  2. 2 It can be useful to analyse World War One poetry in comparison to other war poems written both before and after.
  3. 3 Studying the female voice offers a different perspective on the war.
  4. 4 Some contextual knowledge of the time and of the poets is helpful, although this information should only be used if directly relevant to the question and if it enhances poetic analysis and contributes to meaningful discussion.
  5. 5 With any poetry it is unwise to try and guess at how the poets were ‘feeling’ about their experiences. Keep focused on the poems themselves.

When analysing poetry you might like to consider some of the following

  1. 1 The perspective, tone and register of narrator is a good place to start analysis. Remember that these can differ within poems. Be sure also to distinguish between the poet and the narrative voice.
  2. 2 Titles, openings and endings can be a good way to start your analysis.
  3. 3 Look for patterns and oppositions (or lack of) that emerge.
  4. 4 Consider effects of other poetic techniques such as: use of imagery, semantic fields, phonological devices etc.
  5. 5 Consider the effects of structure and form; it is important to recognise the insights this analysis can provide.

Writing essays on World War One poetry

  1. 1 All essays should be well planned with clear points which enable a progressive structure.
  2. 2 Introductions should clearly address the question, perhaps determining position of argument/discussion to follow.
  3. 3 Each paragraph should ideally begin with a topic sentence which addresses the question, evidence from the poem/s to support the point (with quotes embedded), and detailed analysis using appropriate technical terminology. Remember that feature spotting does not demonstrate any useful knowledge and understanding of a poem.
  4. 4 If relevant, contextual references to World War One or the poets can inform and develop points and comparative points with other war poems (from before and after) are often insightful.
  5. 5 A concise conclusion should make a final summary that directly addresses the question. Ensure all essays are proof-read to avoid errors.

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  1. Explore Owens Use of Metaphor in Mental Cases

    The reader is taken aback by the words that Owen uses, but the real shock is essentially confirmed through his use of metaphor. The reader feels a deeper sense of just how horrific the situation is for these soldiers. The use of the words ?flying muscles? create images of fragility and gore but the use of ?shatter? as a metaphorical description of these muscles has a deeper impact; it is the external imagery that generates the primary shock. But it is through the use of metaphors such as ?These are men whose minds the dead have ravished? that we perceive a much stronger sense of their suffering.

    • Word count: 1782
  2. In the elegy "strange Meeting ", Owen brings the horrors of wars and their devastating effect on those involved, he emphasizes their part in hindering the world from progress

    Owen says that common words associated with wars like chivalry , courage and gallantry do not describe wars, not really, instead war is pain , sorrow and loss . He emphasizes on the destructiveness of wars to those involved . He says " yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned " , so they are " encumbered " physically with their uniforms and sacks and emotionally with too much sadness and sorrow brought to them by war . Those sleepers are " too fast in thought or death " to be stirred .

    • Word count: 993
  3. How does Thomas present war in "As the Team's Head Brass"

    was killed on the night of the blizzard reinforces this allusion, and he uses words that are normally associated with dead combatants, such as ?fallen? to reinforce this idea. ?By a woodpeckers round hole? this could be interpreted as a bullet wound adding to the interpretation that the elm tree represents a dead soldier, also the way he specifically mentions that it?s a woodpecker hole, instead of just a normal hole could be a reference to machine guns, which were said to sound like woodpeckers.

    • Word count: 841
  4. The theme of war and destruction is presented through the poems Anthem for Doomed Youth and Reservist, written by Wilfred Owen and Boey Kim Cheng

    Irony can also be seen through the title as ?anthem? is usually being associated with love and passion. In this way, Owen shows his opinions on the ridiculousness of the war. ?What passing bells for these who die as cattle?? projects an image of a slaughterhouse through this use of simile. Imagery of unnecessary murder of the young men and mass burials parallel the ideas of cattle being slaughtered mercilessly and thus emphasises the crazy sacrifice that the soldiers gave.

    • Word count: 1247
  5. In the poem Dulce et Decorum Est Owen effectively discusses the true sadness and horror about war

    The word choice of 'dreams' highlights the irony in this quote where even a scene as horrifying as this, is still incomparable to other encounters that he would qualify as nightmares. This idea is further explored in the inclusive language ?If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood come? from the froth-corrupted lungs? the inclusive language and truncated sentence shocks the readers with horrifying depiction of a gas attack. The tone of reflection and horror emphasises the traumatic experience of the soldier and how he will always be haunted by it.

    • Word count: 890
  6. 'Tears' by Edward Thomas

    ?Tears was written in January of 1915, only a few months before he enlisted (from Wikipedia). In this poem he talks about the effects of the war, and this has an air of patriotism about it, it is almost as if he has decided to go to war while writing the poem. The "tears" lead the reader to believe that he is very sad about something, and the tear?s "ghosts" lead us to believe that he has been bereaved for a while. This sadness is be twofold: he is sad about all of the needless death of the soldiers, who are going off to fight a war that they know little to nothing about; and he is sad about his call of duty, should he enlist or not.

    • Word count: 1054
  7. "Attack" by Sassoon critical analysis

    ?Attack? is a short poem of 13 lines and only one stanza written in speech rhythm with some rhyme. The detach structure of the poem represents mankind losing direction and righteousness inn life in times of war. The poet adopt a calm yet emotional tone on serious and agonising subject as shown bye the words: ?make it stop.? The poem begins with time and ends with reference to Jesus, who western time is centred around. This implies end of humanity. The caesura in ?the barrage roars and lifts.? Contrasts with the enjambment that is found throughout the poem. The language used creates effectives images in the poem.

    • Word count: 591

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