Explore how the theme of love is presented in Birdsong and a selection of poems by Wilfred Owen.

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Jennie Patrick

Explore how the theme of love is presented in Birdsong and a selection of poems by Wilfred Owen.

        Loving attitudes, though perhaps not as prominent as themes such as violence and pride, are intimately observed and explored in Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong and in many of Wilfred Owen’s War poems. Each aspect of love, as seen through the eyes of this First World War soldier and Faulks’ characters, is as interesting as it is diverse, allowing an impervious insight into the psychological effects that the War had on these men.

        Such a formidable event as war has a devastating effect on all parties involved. In total, the First World War saw the deaths of 420,000 English, 450,000 German, and 205,000 French civilians. Through the bleak and most shattering of ordeals, love will show itself in the strangest fashions; surfacing in new and unforeseen places, and overriding all tribulations. I believe the two texts I have selected support this view, portraying clearly many different features of the love that war made apparent, love that was forced to survive horrendous difficulties, and the love which was occasionally lost.


        Propaganda for The Great War sold a message of equality, duty and devotion, striking a patriotic chord throughout England with slogans such as: “Everyone should do his bit”, and “God bless dear daddy who is fighting the Hun and send him HELP”. This image of fearlessness, commitment and love for your country was heavily supported and can be appreciated when reading the poetry of Jessie Pope. Her poems are often used to demonstrate the sentiments on the home front, and are commonly taught in opposition to the ideas of the major war poets, including Wilfred Owen. In particular, his poem Dulce Et Decorum Est is studied as a direct antagonism of Pope’s views and beliefs¹. In this poem Owen’s use of strong diction and vivid figurative language such as; “In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning”, provides an indication of the horror endured by these soldiers, and also emphasises the ironic anti-war message that he is trying to convey: ‘How sweet and fitting it is to die for one’s country.’ This message was exactly the kind of patriotic love promoted by Jessie Pope and other pro-war poets of the time. The central conflict of the poem is the futility of war and the dehumanisation of men. Stanza one is written in the past tense, and is laced with metaphors and similes, such as: “like old beggars under sacks”, “Men marched asleep” and “Drunk with fatigue”. Its slow pace and encumbering images lead to a melancholic air, evoking feelings of a loss of faith towards God, one’s country and human kind as a species. Stanza two moves a lot faster, bringing the hellish imagery to life; “through the misty panes and thick green light, as under a green sea, I saw him drowning.” Its fast pace and graceless, clumsy tone works well to emphasise the speed in which these men were forced to move from half-dead to ready to save themselves from a grim and frightening death, and it’s focus on just one man in stanza three makes the poem as an exploration of human endurance seem much more personal and realistic. The love and patriotism promoted by the government and believed by those at home to be sincere, was in fact a façade used to lure men to their own deaths, a disguise that was uncovered by soldiers themselves; men who had experienced it all first hand, most of whom died in battle and whose legacies were etched into history with the poems they had written about their experiences. Owen is arguably the most famous and influential of all these poets, and no other war poem has evoked as much universal sensitivity as Dulce Et Decorum Est.

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        “They had become soldiers and were expected to kill the enemy not only by mining but with bayonet or bare hands if necessary. This was not the life Jack had envisaged when he volunteered.” The sentiments of each soldier in section two of Birdsong support the view of love and devotion to one’s country being lost due to the harsh and brutal conditions suffered, thus supporting the opinion that all hope and faith was abandoned once the soldiers realised that the things they were promised; a gallant victory, a speedy conclusion to the war, a hero’s welcome upon their fast ...

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**** 4 stars. This is a very good essay and a very valiant attempt to answer a question that could lend itself to a dissertation. The writer shows an understanding of both novel and poems and there is evidence of thorough research and wider reading. Good inclusion of social and historical contextual factors. Accurate use of terminology and well selected quotes to support arguments.