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 rhyme scheme, as did the recruitment poetry, and a patriotic style. In this poem, Owen declared “Oh meet it is and passing sweet to live at peace with others, but sweeter still and far more meet to die in war for brothers...” These lines illustrate Owen’s original belief that it is “meet” or fitting to die in order to “save the soul of England.” This was a belief that Owen later mocked, when he had returned from battle, in “Dulce et Decorum Est”.
“Dulce et Decorum Est”, one of the best-known poems of the twentieth century, demonstrates Owen’s departure from his early writing style, demonstrated in “The Ballad of Peace and War”. The title of the poem, itself a mockery of Owen’s earlier work, originates from a poem by the Roman poet Horace. The phrase was much-quoted throughout the nineteenth century, when the British Empire was at its peak, particularly during the Boer War and at the start of World War One. The complete phrase, “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.”, means “It is sweet and fitting to die for your country.” Owen refers to this phrase as “the old Lie” and uses it to attack the stay-at-home supporters of the war. The style of the poem is a contrast to the ballad style of Owen’s original poetry. Although Owen has continued to use the simple ABAB rhyme scheme, “Dulce et Decorum Est” displays Owen’s use of grammar and enjambment to give the poem a sense of disorientation, whilst also mocking the simple rhyme scheme used in recruitment poetry such as “Who’s for the Game?” by Jessie Pope, showing their inaccuracy to his audience. Owen also uses short sentences and capital letters in lines such as “Gas! GAS!” to convey the sense of panic he experienced in the trenches. Another technique employed by Owen in “Dulce et Decorum Est” is the use of sensory language to create graphic imagery. Lines such as “Gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,” conjure up horrific images in the mind of the reader. All of these techniques help Owen to achieve his purpose of expressing the horrors of trench warfare to the reader, thereby counteracting the effects of pro-war recruitment poetry. “Dulce et Decorum Est” was originally addressed directly to Jessie Pope, a poet and war enthusiast, who wrote poems such as “Who’s for the Game?” in support of the recruitment campaign. Owen refers to Pope in the final lines of the poem as “my friend” and declares that Pope would not be so quick to encourage “children” to join the army if she had experienced life in the trenches. These lines are used by Owen to emphasise the fallacies of the recruitment campaign, which was led by those without experience of trench warfare.
Jessie Pope was a well-known journalist who helped the recruitment campaign by writing war poetry for the Daily Mail and the Daily Express. Her writing reflected popular attitudes within society during the First World War and Pope herself has become infamous after Owen’s reference to her in his first draft of “Dulce et Decorum Est”. Pope’s poem “Who’s for the Game?” compares war to sport in order to achieve the purpose of recruitment poetry, which is to persuade men to join the army. Using lines such as “Who’ll toe the line for the signal to ‘Go!’?” and colloquial language such as “It won’t be a picnic,” Pope creates an informal, friendly style whilst building the comparison of war to sport. This implies that war is a trivial, fun pastime like sports, which adds persuasive clout to the poem, particularly as sports are a traditionally male activity. The friendly style of the poem also helps to achieve Pope’s purpose because the reader is more likely to trust the content of the poetry if they feel a bond with the author. Pope’s use of language also contributes to this style. Pope’s choice of adverbs, such as “eagerly”, hold positive connotations which subconsciously imply to the reader that the war will be “fun”. This is a contrast to Owen’s choice of language in “Dulce et Decorum Est” and “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, where words hold negative connotations, thereby expressing the horrors of trench warfare. An example of this is Owen’s use of the word “haunting” with implications of death. Another technique used by Pope to achieve her purpose is the use of rhetorical questions, such as “Who’ll give his country a hand?”, which force the reader to ask themselves these questions and doubt their opinions if they differ from those of the author. Additionally Pope’s simple ABAB rhyme scheme, contrasting to Owen’s ironic use of enjambment to twist this rhyme scheme in “Dulce et Decorum Est”, gives the poem a catchy style which mean the poem itself is more likely to remain in the reader’s mind and is therefore more likely to evade their conscious opinions and persuade them into Pope’s point of view. However, in “Who’s for the Game?” Pope personifies England as a woman who needs help, referring to the country as “she”, which acts as a persuasive technique for men by stimulating their tribal instincts to protect females. Similarly, Owen uses the distress of women to instil emotion within the reader, in the line “the pallor of girls’ brows” in “Anthem for Doomed Youth.”
Another of Owen’s poems, written with extensive assistance from Sassoon in the summer of 1917, is the “Anthem for Doomed Youth”. The purpose of this poem, as with all of Owen’s later work, was to express the horrors of trench warfare to the reader, thereby counteracting the effects of pro-war recruitment poetry and developing an attitude of opposition to war within the reader. In the “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, Owen compares the dehumanized casualties of the First World War to the formal funeral ceremonies of peacetime in the “sad shires” of Britain. Owen also employs animal imagery and rhetorical questions, “What passing bells for those who die as cattle?”, as persuasive techniques to imply that the deaths of soldiers are treated similarly to the slaughter of cattle. The rhetorical questions are used by Owen to make the reader question their preconceptions. Owen also uses juxtaposition within lines such as “The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells.” to reflect the contrast of traditional funeral customs and the attitude towards death in times of war. This emphasises how life becomes devalued and people dehumanized during battle. This highlights the futility and illogic of war itself, thereby helping Owen to achieve his purpose. The sombre, sonnet style of “Anthem for Doomed Youth” also helps to achieve this purpose by reflecting the grave atmosphere of funerals. This reminds the reader of the high number of casualties caused by wars, helping to promote an anti-war attitude amongst Owen’s audience.
Harold Begbie’s “Fall In” is another example of a recruitment poem which reflected popular social attitudes towards the First World War in the summer of 1914. It was published in The Daily Chronicle and quickly became incredibly popular, even being set to music and sung in music halls with both related posters and badges produced. The purpose of the poem itself was to encourage young men to join the war effort. Begbie uses repetition and rhetorical questions in lines such as “What will you lack, sonny, what will you lack?” to make the poem easy to remember and therefore persuasive. The rhetorical questions are used by Begbie to make the reader question any anti-war opinions they may possess. The use of rhetorical questions and the use of personal pronouns, such as “you”, also create a personal, friendly style for the poem. This friendly style, also employed by Jessie Pope in “Who’s for the Game?”, is persuasive and helps to achieve Begbie’s purpose because the reader is more likely to trust the content of the poetry if they feel a bond with the author. In “Fall In” each verse has a different scenario, such as in “far-off winter nights”, to compare the results for those who fought in the war and those who did not. In each scenario the “lads who come back” are more successful so the plot of the poem helps achieve the poem’s purpose by implying that is “Wrong” not to fight in the war. Begbie also capitalizes right and wrong in the phrase “And Right is smashed by Wrong?” to personify them and displaying the choice in a simplified manner which removes any empathy for those who do not fight, produces pro-war emotions within the reader and achieving the purpose of recruitment poetry. This also contrasts with the timeline of Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est”, which describes only one scenario, not several, heightening the tension in each verse in order to build to a climax. Owen does this to sustain both the reader’s interest and their emotional involvement so his conclusion will be more effective and persuasive, expressing the harsh reality of trench warfare. Another similarity between the poetry of Owen and Begbie is their references to God, although both employ this technique for opposing reasons. In “Fall In”, Begbie uses God to support his view that able men should go to war by showing it, and the war itself, to be morally correct by declaring that “Britain’s call is God’s”. In contrast, Owen uses implications of God’s role in the war to provide connotation with death in the line “Shall shine the holy glimmers of their goodbyes”, in his sonnet “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, to achieve his purpose of emphasising the brutality of the First World War.
The recruitment poetry of Harold Begbie and Jessie Pope uses a friendly, informal style to achieve their purpose of encouraging men to volunteer for the army whilst Wilfred Owen uses a sombre style in his later works. Owen uses this style to achieve his purpose of counteracting the effects of recruitment poetry by expressing the horrors of trench warfare to the reader and developing an attitude of opposition to war within the reader. The different styles of the poetry reflects their contrasting purposes as the friendly style is used to display war in a positive light whereas the sombre style is used to express the harsh reality of trench warfare. However, both types of poetry, anti-war and pro-war, use rhetorical questions to force the reader to question any opposing opinions they may hold. In “Fall In” Begbie asks “Is it naught to you if your country fall and Right is smashed by Wrong?” and in “Anthem for Doomed Youth” Owen questions “What passing bells for those who die as cattle?” Both types of poetry also employ comparisons, albeit at opposite ends of the spectrum, where recruitment poets compare war to sport and anti-war poets compare traditional funerals with the miserable reality of trench warfare. To conclude, it is clear that Begbie, Pope and other recruitment poets employ persuasive techniques to achieve their purpose, as does Owen, although Owen had a contrasting purpose to the recruitment poets.