William Makepeace Thackeray Poems

Topics: PoemsPoetry

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As pre-First World War literary pieces, Thackeray’s ‘The Due of the Dead’ and Newbolt’s ‘Vitai Lampada’ share similar thematic threads, for example in the allusions to the ideals of honour and obligation, evident in the reference to ‘gallant, patient hearts’ and the personification of ‘Honour’ as ‘a name’ , in a contextual establishment where the majority of the upper class – to whom the poetic form of communication appealed most specifically to – lived behind an intricately fabricated fa�ade of religious morality.

Moreover, both poems also exhibit an emphasis on structure and rhythm, and while Newbolt opts for the effective poetic form of 8-line stanzas in a tight, regular structure, Thackeray utilises an ordered 4-line stanza structure with 8-syllable lines to maintain a constant rhythmic pace. There is also a prominence of rhyme with both poets employing the ABAB rhyme scheme, and the rhythmic structure explicit most especially in ‘The Due of the Dead’ provides an emphasis on the last words of each line, thereby complementing the poem’s aural quality.

Thackeray presents the central message of ‘The Due of the Dead’ effectively through the division of the poem into four distinct sections from the safe, interior home environment ‘with curtains drawn, and lamp trimmed bright’ in lines 1-4, through the heart-rending bombardment of the atrocities and horrors of war in lines 5-8 and the references to courage and honour in lines 9-12, to the culminant address to his readers’ sense of obligation to ‘these brave men’ who have met ‘a soldier’s doom’, in the final verses.

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Newbolt’s original setting in the first stanza ‘Vitai Lampada’ is also one of relative safety and security in a ‘bumping pitch’ where the only tension or apprehension is the ‘breathless hush’ of the spectators, and the solitary danger is that of failing to win a cricket match. In similarity to ‘The Due of the Dead’, however, as the poem progresses there is a sharp shift to battle imagery as the reader is enlightened to the harsh reality of a war which has caused ‘the sand of the desert’ to become ‘sodden red ‘.

Vitai Lampada By Sir Henry Newbolt

It is apparent, conversely, that Newbolt’s primary message differs largely from Thackeray’s: while the latter seeks to justify and augment our sense of obligation to dead soldiers, their families, and ‘those they loved best while they were here’, the former seemingly promotes the sense of blind patriotism and jingoism that ironically plagued an indoctrinated English public during the initial stages of the First World War. In retrospect, the motivational ‘voice of a schoolboy’ that ‘rallies the ranks’ in the face of a ‘river of death’ clearly contains a hollow dimension, and Newbolt’s implications can quickly be dismissed as a propagandist viewpoint; however the poignant and persuasive nature of the poet’s message to its target audience must not be underestimated.

The use of language and literary techniques in both poems is vital in assessing their effectiveness. In ‘The Due of the Dead’, Thackeray addresses the reader directly in the quotation, ‘Think you, it is enough, good friend…and there an end?’, in order to impose upon them the significance of his subject matter. There is also a pause created before the response to the aforementioned question by the transition to a new stanza, and this acts to allow the reader to dwell more on the implication of the question before its answer is delivered on unequivocal terms – ‘No’. The poet goes further to create an atmosphere of tragedy and pathos by the presentation of the damage caused by the soldier’s death in a list form – ‘Parents made childless, babes bereft/Desolate widows, sisters’ – with the use of alliteration focusing attention especially on the damage dealt upon beings of utmost innocence. Newbolt’s ‘Vitai Lampada’ displays an extended metaphorical comparison of sport (in this case, cricket) to the ‘game’ of war – an association that is characteristic not only of contemporary war literature, but is later witnessed in full force during the course of the First World War. The use of repetition in the final line of each stanza, ‘Play up! play up! and play the game!’, strengthens this extended metaphor and acts to reinforce the poet’s propagandist thesis, as well as supplementing the idea of continuity that can be inferred from the poem’s title.

There is also a large degree of similarity in the imagery used by both poems. Most prominently, the image of blood and death is present in references to battle, and both poets utilise this in the conveyance of the harsh veracity of war. Perhaps less apparent, however, is the common use of laurel imagery, and the implications entailed by this in both poems. Firstly, this image provides a subtle reference to Greek history – appropriate most especially in ‘Vitai Lampada’, where the passing on of the torch is symptomatic of the Olympic relay – that acts to confirm the upper-class, highly educated target audience to whom both poems are addressed. Additionally, it is notable that this image is connected with death, as well as victory. In ‘The Due of the Dead’, Thackeray refers to the heroism and honour of the soldiers ‘by whom the laurel’s worn’ in stanza 9, but then goes on to mention the laurel in association with tombs in stanza 13; this linkage of victory and death, complemented by a grave and sombre poetic tone, is evident not only in both poems, but is again characteristic of later early-war poetry.

Both poems also employ the use of personification, particularly in their portrayal of England: Thackeray’s ‘England’ is the communion of readers to which his poem is targeted, whereas Newbolt connects England to the cricket game, attributing it with the associated sense of security that is distant in the ‘dust and smoke’ of war – ‘England’s far’. In both cases the personification promotes the reader’s sense of pride and patriotism, however while Thackeray manipulates this into an appeal to our sense of duty to the relatives and loved ones of England’s ‘slain soldiers’, Newbolt injects accentuation into a paradoxical situation where, albeit the contrast between the safety of England and the horror of war is clearly evident, there is an mordant dimension of parallel in the transference of the ‘torch in flame’ – representative both of duty and pride – ‘to the host behind’.

In conclusion, therefore, while William Makepeace Thackeray’s ‘The Due of the Dead’ and Sir Henry Newbolt’s ‘Vitai Lampada’ express differing notions, both poems share a great deal of typicality with respect to context, in the presentations of their respective thesis.

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William Makepeace Thackeray Poems. (2019, Dec 06). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/paper-on-compare-william-makepeace-thackerays-the-due-of-the-dead-and-sir-henry-newbolts-vitai-lampada/

William Makepeace Thackeray Poems
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