How is war portrayed differently in Birdsong and in the poetry of Wilfred Owen?

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English Literature

Sarah Jones.

How is war portrayed differently in ‘Birdsong’ and in the poetry of Wilfred Owen?

The outbreak of World War One in 1914 affected not just politics and the shaping of the modern world, but also on literature. Wilfred Owen’s poetry, written ‘on the butt of his rifle’ in the trenches, gives a harrowing real-life account of life in the trenches. Meanwhile, Sebastain Faulkes novel ‘Birdsong’ is a retrospective look into the lives of soldier’s fighting in France during the First World War.

In Part One of ‘Birdsong’, Faulkes depicts life in France with the Azaire family before the war. This is particularly effective when impressing upon the reader later in the novel the effect the war had on the country itself. When recounting a boat-trip the protagonist, Stephen Wraysford, takes with the Azaire family, Faulkes describes the surrounding scenery as “The gardens were formed by the backwaters of the Somme.” This shows the contrast between an idyllic location suitable for family boat-trips, and the site of one of the most terrible battles in history. However, in the same passage, Faulkes seems to allude to the terrible events that would happen. “Their hectic abundance seemed to him close to the vegetable fertility of death,” is possibly a suggestion that this place would be a place of death. Furthermore, “the brown waters were murky, and shot through with the scurrying of rats from the banks where the earth had been dug out of trenches and held back by elaborate wooden boarding,” seems to be an a description of the army trenches on the banks of the Somme. The location in whole is described as “a stagnation of living tissue which could not be saved from decay.” This line clearly hints at what is to come. Sebastian Faulkes’ description in this passage mirrors what is going to come in the novel.

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A key difference that must be noted in the portrayal of war by both writers is of course the different genre of writing. Sebastian Faulkes’ prose allows for detailed character description and elaborate story telling. Throughout the course of the novel, the reader is introduced in depth to a large cast of characters. There is first the journey of Stephen Wraysford, from his clandestine love affair with Isabelle Azaire to his appointment as an officer in the army. Alongside this, you have the stories of Jack Firebrace, Michael Weir and Elizabeth Benson. The poetry of Wilfred Owen is usually ...

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