Although we are looking at World War 1, war poetry was around before then. It first came to Britain in the 19th century during the Boer War, when more people were able to write due to a push for mass education at the time. This meant that soldiers could express their feelings and record their experiences through poetry. They told their story first hand, describing the reality of what they saw every day. During the Boer War people began questioning why Britain was fighting the war in the first place.
Anti war poetry was used to get their views across to the government for the first time.
In the early 1900’s, poetry was usually romantic and sentimental. The Georgian poets thought poetry should be more accessible for everyone, and the poetry in the First World War was an expansion of this.
At the beginning of World War 1 the attitude of most, including the poets, was patriotic and excited. This is shown in two of the poems I’ll be looking at; ‘Who’s for the Game’ by Jessie Pope, and ‘The Soldier’ by Rupert Brookes.
Soon, however, people began to feel dubious and become sick of the death that the war brought. This is reflected in ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ by Wilfred Owen and ‘The Hero’ by Siegfried Sassoon, the two other poems that I’ll be looking at.
‘Who’s for the Game?’ was written by Jessie Pope, who was paid to write patriotic poetry to persuade men to join the war.
This poem is written as a metaphor describing war as a competitive, exciting game. The poet’s attitude to war is and eager and she thinks that everybody able should join up. She portrays war as a fun challenge, and seems to show contempt for those who wont sign up, describing them as those preferring to ‘Lie low and be out of the fun’.
The ongoing metaphor would be effective at persuading young men to join up; those just out of school would be able to relate to playing sports. Describing it as a game would make you feel left out if you didn’t go; you’d feel you were missing out on something fun. It also takes the dangerous aspect away from war; you may get a bruise or two in a rugby game but that’s all part of the fun, it seems to say. It plays on your vanity and pride, making one think you should be brave and join ‘the game’. The poet uses repetition of the word ‘Who’ in the majority of the lines, almost accusingly. The whole poem excluding the last stanza is made out of rhetorical questions, including the title ‘Who’s for The Game?’ This would make the reader feel as if the poet was talking directly to him, and that he should answer. In the last stanza there is a direct appeal to the reader; ‘Come along lads’.
The language in general in this poem is quite informal. The poet uses colloquial words and phrases like ‘Lads’ and ‘It won’t be a picnic’. This is because it makes the poem more personal to the reader. Also, many of the people who will be reading the poem won’t be able to read brilliantly, and it’s more ‘reader friendly’; the poem applies to everyone. The use of ‘it won’t be a picnic’ makes the readers see it as a challenge, and would make them feel brave and heroic if they were to sign up. The poet also uses personification at the end of the poem;
‘Your country is up to her neck in a fight,
And she’s looking and calling for you.’
This personification would make the reader feel more loyal to their country. It emphasised how important the situation is, and makes the men personally feel needed. Describing the country as female would make them feel protective.
The rhythm in this poem is simple and regular and the rhyme scheme is also simple, with alternate lines rhyming. The poem has a structure a bit like a children’s poem or nursery rhyme. This makes it catchy and easy to understand. The impact of this poem is that it would persuade a lot of people to sign up. I think that with the devices used it would persuade a lot of people to sign up, or maybe consider it. However, because I know that this poem is extremely misleading it makes me quite angry to read it and shocked at the propaganda that was used to get soldiers to join up.
My next poem, ‘The Hero’ is by Siegfried Sassoon. It describes a woman being told that her son has died honourably in the trenches. She reacts by trying to hide her grief, and she expresses how proud she is of her son. Then we are told how that the boy didn’t die heroically at all, and that the officer that visited the woman had lied to her. I think Sassoon is being quite ironic naming the poem ‘The Hero’ when the boy didn’t die as a hero at all. He’s quite angry that the officer would have to lie to the woman, and doesn’t think that the woman deserved to lose her son. I don’t think the poet is on anybody’s side, and is just bitter towards the situation caused by the war. I think he feels sympathy for the mother, because not only has her son died, she will never know the truth about him.
Sassoon has used various poetic devices to convey irony. He says almost mockingly, ‘Because he’s been so brave, her glorious boy.’ The boy hadn’t actually been brave at all, and I think this could be true for everyone who died fighting; that there is nothing glorious about it. He also says that the Officer told the woman ‘some gallant lies’ but he probably partly told the woman the lies because it would be easier than telling her the truth. Maybe the brave thing to have done would have been to tell her the truth, although I don’t think Sassoon blames the officer for lying. The poet also uses alliteration when describing how the boy died; ‘Blown to small bits.’ This emphasises how horrifically he died, and that there was nothing gallant or glorious about it. It’s quite a brutal image.
Sassoon uses interesting vocabulary to get his point across. He says that the woman would ‘nourish’ the lies, which implies that she needs these lies to survive and be healthy. This is an expansion of the saying to ‘feed’ someone lies. He also uses interesting imagery when describing the mother’s reaction;
In the tired voice that quavered to a choke’
This image implies that she’s trying to hide her feelings but you can tell that it’s not working. The word ‘broke’ suggests she broke down when trying to bottle up her grief. Maybe it was her hope that broke, or her heart. ‘Quavered’ is quite a touching image because it makes us think that she is trying not to cry, and trying to be brave because apparently her son was.
The description of the boy as a ‘Cold footed, useless swine’ seems incredibly harsh after the first part of the poem, which was quite gentle. It seems quite disrespectful, as this boy has just died and you would expect praise and grief. The word ‘swine’ describes Jack as a pig, which is very derogatory. It’s a complete contrast to what he’s just been telling the mother, and shocks us.
The poem end’s with;
‘And no one seemed to care
Except the lonely woman with white hair.’
This is a moving image that makes you pity the woman immensely. Calling her ‘lonely’ implies that she has no husband or other children, which makes us feel for her more. ‘With white hair’ suggests that she’s quite old. Saying that only she cares makes the one death seem quite insignificant, and hints about the many thousands of other men that died at war. It leaves the poem with a poignant, sad ending.
The rhyme scheme of this poem changes with the stanzas. The first and third stanzas are made of rhyming couplets. The second stanza is made out of rhyming alternate lines with a couplet at the end. The change in the rhyme scheme draws attention to the lines in the second stanza, and emphasises the huge change in tone within the poem. This would be more obvious if the poem was read aloud.
This poem was a huge contrast to Jessie Pope’s ‘Who’s for The Game?’ Sassoon’s poem was mainly about death, and how dying in war wasn’t glorious at all. Pope’s poem was the opposite; it was written to persuade people that going to war was very heroic and brave indeed. Pope’s poem mentions nothing about death, even though it was such a huge part of the war. Jessie Pope probably had had absolutely no experience of what fighting at the front was like, whereas Sassoon wrote this when he’d been fighting. The poems are about completely different aspects of the war, and are expressing completely different opinions. Sassoon uses more imagery in the language to make the poem sad, whereas Jessie Pope uses techniques such as the personification of England to make the reader feel patriotic.
In ‘The Soldier’ by Rupert Brooke, the poet’s telling us that if he dies in the war the place where his body lies will be a part of England. He talks about how wonderful England is, and that it’s a worthwhile thing to die for. He’s explaining that he will always be a part of England and that he’s proud to be from there. The poet has a very idealistic, patriotic view of war and describes England as idyllic and perfect. There really is little sense of the reality in this poem, and he is very naï¿½ve. The tone is reassuring and comforting and Brooke seems to accept death as necessary to save his seemingly wonderful country. When Brooke wrote this he hadn’t actually experienced real fighting yet, which might explain why it’s so idealistic.
The language used is quite descriptive and formal; for example ‘blest by suns of home’. This reflects the topic, which is quite a serious but idealistic one that wouldn’t suit informal, colloquial language. He uses peaceful sounding words; ‘Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam.’ This uses effective imagery, and makes us see England as a heavenly place. This is said even more obviously in the last line; ‘Under an English heaven.’ This suggests that when he dies he would go to somewhere as beautiful and peaceful as England.
Brooke repeats ‘England’ and ‘English’ a lot in this poem. This emphasises how much he loves England, and that he thinks a lot of it. He also personifies England as a mother; ‘A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,’ which makes us think that England really is worth dying for, as much as someone that you love. Brooke uses alliteration with ‘foreign field’ which emphasises the phrase and makes the poem sound smoother. The poem is almost like a letter or a last request of someone about to die. There is an element of hope at the end, while talking about heaven. This maybe implies that Brooke is religious, although maybe his worship is for England. When talking about death, he says that he will remain ‘A pulse in the eternal mind’. This suggest that he will still live on even when he is dead, and he’ll be remembered for dying for such a wonderful country as England. This might imply that he thinks his heritage is the most important part of him.
This poem is a sonnet and is structured in an octave and a sestet. The first stanza rhymes in alternate lines, in a Shakespearian rhyme scheme. The second stanza rhymes in the pattern of E F G E F G, which is a Petrarchen rhyme scheme. The first stanza (the octave) tells us how he wants to be remembered, and the second tells us how he will continue after death. This is quite a peaceful poem about quite a harsh topic. You get the impression that he’s quite naï¿½ve, which makes me quite sad because soon he’ll see the true horror of war. It’s quite a nice way of looking at death, but we know that when you die in war it’s not like he describes it.
Although this poem is also patriotic, it’s quite different from Jessie Pope’s. It’s not bouncy and exciting like ‘Who’s for The Game?’ It’s much more serious with more complex language. Pope does mention loyalty to the country, but her poem is mostly about war being a game. This poem has a more intricate rhyme scheme and structure. Both of them make war seem less brutal and horrific than it is. Pope’s poem is more purposeful and is directed at a certain audience, whereas Brooke’s isn’t obviously directed to anybody.
‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ by Wilfred Owen is about how soldiers that die in the war don’t get proper funerals, and how the only funerals they get are the sounds of the guns and the memories of people back home. Owen suggests that proper religious funerals wouldn’t be fitting for the men. I think Owen is angry for the soldiers that died. He feels that war has no point, and he’s angry at hypocritical religious people. I think in the first half of the poem he shows his anger, and in the second half he’s showing sadness and sympathy for the people who have lost loved ones.
Wilfred Owen uses similes in this poem; for example, ‘die as cattle’. This shows us how pointless the deaths were, and what a waste of life they were. It also suggests the huge number of men who died, and that they didn’t have any choice in their deaths. Metaphors are also used, for example ‘the monstrous anger of the guns’. This personifies the guns and shows us how angry the guns sound.
Owen uses rhetorical questions in this poem. This grabs our attention, and makes us feel we should answer. It’s also slightly mocking, he asks ‘What passing-bells for those who die as cattle?’ when we know that there are none. The language is fairly complex and descriptive, and also quite strong and passionate, for example ‘demented’ and ‘wailing’. A lot of the vocabulary is to do with funerals, for example ‘prayers or bells’, ‘choirs’ etc, which emphasises the point of the poem. ‘No mockeries for them from prayers or bells’ implies that if the men did have funerals it would be hypocritical and unfitting for their violent deaths. Owen also uses alliteration in the poem; ‘stuttering rifle’s rapid rattle’. This makes the sentence onomatopoeic, as the words are quite punchy and sound a bit like the rattling gunshots.
This poem is also a sonnet. It’s made out of an octave and a sestet. The rhyme scheme is quite complex, first rhyming alternate lines in the first half and then E F F E, ending with a rhyming couplet. The octave has quite a fast pace, whereas the sestet has a slower pace, which gives the poem contrast.
This poem makes me angry and sad. It shows what a waste of life the war brought. It makes me feel quite bitter. I don’t think Wilfred Owen was religious, as the poem is quite cynical when it comes to religion. I think it’s not pretentious at all, and Owen’s use of speed and pace is very effective.
‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ expresses very different views to those in ‘The Soldier’. Although they are both about death, Wilfred Owen definitely doesn’t think that it’s a glorious thing to die for your country. While ‘The Soldier’ hints that the author has religious views, ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ seems to mock religion, especially the funerals. When Wilfred Owen wrote this he had experienced quite a bit of death and fighting, whereas Brooke hadn’t experienced much. Owen uses quite harsh language whereas Brooke uses soft, gentle language. Owen is talking about death on a huge scale; his poem represents the loss of thousands of lives. Brooke talks about one death- his own- which he has yet to experience.