World War One Poetry

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Caroline Stretton

GCSE English Coursework

World War One Poetry

Compare and contrast the purpose and style of Wilfred Owen’s First World War poetry with the purpose and style of contemporary recruitment poems.

The Ballad of Peace and War- Wilfred Owen                                                                                                          Dulce et Decorum Est- Wilfred Owen                                                                                                                           Anthem for Doomed Youth- Wilfred Owen                                                                                                                Who’s for the Game?- Jessie Pope                                                                                                            Fall In- Harold Begbie                                                                                                

“What passing bells for those who die as cattle?”                                                  Wilfred Owen, Anthem for Doomed Youth

“Who wants a turn to himself in the show?”                                                          Jessie Pope, Who’s for the Game?

The First World War began in 1914, following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on the 28th of June. The heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne was shot by Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb student. As retribution for this, Austria-Hungary demanded that Serbia punished those involved with the shooting. The conflict escalated as the Austro-Hungarian government deemed that Serbia had not fulfilled this demand and declared war. The major European powers had joined the war within a few weeks due to complex international alliances. Thus the original war had become the first global military conflict; the Entente or Allied powers, the British Empire, Russia, France and eventually Italy & America, against the Central powers, the Austro-Hungarian, German and Ottoman Empires. World War One is also described as the first modern war and is particularly noted for the use of trench warfare, which resulted in an estimated 8.3 million military casualties. When the war broke out in August 1914, Britain relied on a small professional force, differing from other European powers which had vast conscript armies. However, as the number of casualties grew and details of the soldiers’ harsh experiences in the French trenches reached the British public, men became reluctant to join the army. The reduction in volunteers led to the launch of a nationwide campaign by the Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener. This campaign aimed to develop ‘new armies’ made up of millions of volunteers. As part of the campaign, various newspapers published recruiting poems. These poems, combined with a nationwide poster operation, helped to create immense social pressure to join the army upon the nation’s young men. The recruiting poems were written by people, such as Jessie Pope, who had never experienced war and the poems’ catchy styles with simple rhyme schemes reflect their purpose of trying to encourage young men to join the war effort. The cheerful recruiting campaign, however, was a stark contrast to the harsh realities of trench warfare. Wilfred Owen drew on his horrific experiences in the war to write powerful anti-war poetry, with guidance from Siegfried Sassoon. Owen had been eager to join the army and was sent to France at the end of 1916; the horrors of battle quickly changed Owen and his writing. The sombre style of Owen’s poems reflected their purpose of illustrating the reality of war, contradicting the pro-war campaign. This recruiting campaign, however, became unnecessary after conscription was introduced in 1916.

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Before his own experiences in battle, Owen was a supporter of the war, drafting the pro-war poem “The Ballad of Peace and War”. Owen was eager to volunteer for his country and left his teaching position in France to do so, telling his mother “I now do most intensely want to fight.” The following spring, Owen returned home a changed man, suffering from shell-shock. “The Ballad of Peace and War” is a stark contrast to Owen’s later poems, demonstrating how his experiences in the trenches changed his opinion of war. “The Ballad of Peace and War” has a simple ABAB ...

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