War Peotry

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Compare and contrast the poems by Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brooke that you have studied. Comment on the poets’ different attitudes to war and the effectiveness of their poetry in conveying their ideas and feelings.

The First World War began with flag-waving, parades and writers stimulated by theoretical morals. Additionally, this war commenced with heroism by the notion that ‘it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country’. And everyone thought that it was never going to last, as ‘over by Christmas’ was the national slogan. However, it shortly revealed to be a general failure to understand the true purpose of warfare. For many, the war came as an awakening to the full horror of what the twentieth century came to know as ‘the great war’.

"We must remember not only that the battle casualties of World War I were many times greater than those of World War II, wiping out virtually a whole generation of young men and shattering so many illusions and ideals; but also that people were wholly unprepared for the horrors of modern trench warfare. World War I broke out on a largely innocent world, a world that still associated warfare with glorious cavalry charges and the noble pursuit of heroic ideals. Those poets who were involved on the front, however romantically they may have felt about the war when they first joined up, soon realized its full horror, and this realization affected both their imaginations and their poetic techniques" (Norton Anthology of English Literature, Fifth Edition, 1891).

This war produced a substantial body of poetic work primarily because of the powerful mixture of emotions that inspired the general public to express their views through the written format. And poetry is the best of all to do so. As stated by Samuel Coleridge, poetry is ‘the best words in the best order’ and so in this sense the poet can perfectly express his/her views and emotions through this form.

A significant part of the battle occurred in the trenches; termed as trench warfare. Soldiers of various nations lost their lives here, mainly by ‘going over the top’; climbing out of the trenches and charging at the enemy, almost became inevitable for them to be driven to their deaths. The conditions were as described by many as being horrifying, where in every season, there was a major problem; in the winter these would get extremely muddy and subsequently slippery, whereas in the summer, the flies and other insects would feast upon ignored human flesh like no other animal. Blown off limbs and flesh were consumed in a matter of days. The disgusting stench from these decaying bodies were another cause of deaths in the trenches as killer diseases spread rapidly; cholera, typhoid and ammonia are to name just a few. However, one must take into account that not every soldier has seen this bloody side of war, and thus their perspective of war is rather obscured. Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen are two such wartime soldier poets that had contrasting experiences, and hence this made their poetry of the same corresponding nature.

Rupert Chawner Brooke was born on 3 august 1887, and was brought up in the comfortable security of a home that dedicated to the principles of ‘holiness and well being’. He went to Rugby school, where he did extremely well in all aspects of the curriculum. His overwhelming physical presence, sharp intelligence, charisma and politeness, influenced all that he met. After Rugby, he moved on to graduate at the king’s college in Cambridge. And gaining a degree in the second class of classical typos, he dedicated most of his time to poetry and soon, he developed his unique style through the use of period diction. He heard the outbreak of the war when present in a music hall and not long after this, he enlisted, and was commissioned into the R.N.V.R for the expedition to Antwerp. During this time, he wrote his most renowned works; the five ‘war sonnets’- ‘peace’, ‘safety’, and ‘dead’ and ‘The Soldier’. Furthermore, it was on this very trip that he suffered from various illnesses, but in the end it was the secretive blood poisoning, which led to his death on 23rd April 1915.  Overall, Brooke gained a minimal experience of the war and hence the attitude expressed in his poetry can be considered to be a delusion to other war poets or even civilians that lived the experience.

The work of Brook illustrates a time in England, otherwise known as the ‘golden era’ that occurred just prior to the Great War, where the upper classes lived in absolute luxury. They didn’t knew what was coming their way as they kept on enjoying everything that Britain had to offer: quality school education, permanent employment (that is if they required it) and access to the political leaders as well as powerful members of society. Due to this, the gap between the rich and the poor became even wider during this period and the tension could almost be sensed among the lower working classes. The war came at a time where it was probably least expected and this gave a massive blow to the whole system of classed society. However dreadful the war actually was, it eventually produced an equalled society. Capitalism had been abolished and socialism was now firmly in place. Brooke’s generation was quite possibly the last high classed society.

Wilfred Owen was born on 18th March 1893 in Oswestry. Owen loved poetry from an early age and wrote various outstanding pieces. And it was his local school that really discovered his emerging talent in this criterion. After leaving school, Owen was appointed as a lay assistant, where he wrote various letters and poems, which show the first stirrings of compassion that, were to characterize his later poems about the western front. Having heard of the declaration of the war, he decided to enlist in September 1915. The next year, he was commissioned to the Manchester regiment where he fought on the western front for nearly two years. Being on this front for so long, Owen started to suffer from concussion and only after a few days, he was invalided home with shell shock. When in England, Owen was treated at the Craiglockhart hospital, where he met another war poet, Siegfried Sassoon.

Sassoon had a similar experience to Owen; he saw many troops dying in the bloody battles. And due to this, a similar attitude of war as Owen, who inspired and encouraged him to unearth a language from his very own wartime experiences. Owen was then able to write some of his most powerful and expressive poems: ‘Anthem for doomed youth’ and ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’. These were contaminated with protest against war and social criticism of the time, as he often sympathised for those he was battling against than his own relatives back home. In 1918, he was awarded the military cross for his heroics in a recent encounter and on November 4th of the same year, he was deceptively shot while helping his men at the water’s edge.  

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‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ and ‘The Soldier’ are all centred upon the theme of war, but approach the subject from contrasting perspectives; whilst the first two are describing the extreme struggles faced by the soldiers, the other is presenting the pride and the pleasures involved in combating for your own country.

'Dulce et decorum est' follows a loose iambic pentameter and is an expression of Wilfred Owen’s recent war time experience. There are three stanzas which contain unequal number of lines; the first and second consist of 8 lines whereas the last is of 12 ...

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