Does the Poetry of the First World War reflect the changing attitudes to War Paper
Poems in the early part of the First World War were ‘pro war’ which means that they were saying that the war was good fun with women and uniforms. The main aims of the poems were to get men to join the army and fight the Germans. After two years of the war in July 1916 the battle of the Somme took place, 60,000 English soldiers died each day. Anti war poems started to be written about how bad war really was, but these poems were hardly ever published in newspapers or magazines, as they still wanted men to join up to fight.
The two ‘pro war’ poems that I have chosen are ‘Fall In’ by Harold Begbie and ‘Who’s for the Game’ by Jessie Pope. The Recruiting poems of 1914 were required because, unlike most European countries, we did not have conscription and therefore did not have a large army. They saw the war was going to be long and hard and recruiting poems and posters made people volunteer for the army until conscription was introduced in 1916.
‘Fall In’ by Harold Begbie does exactly what it is meant to do. It makes people feel ashamed about not going and fighting for your country. The title ‘Fall In’ is like a command, which they use in the army saying you must fall in, group together and fight. It also has another meaning say you are going to fall in to the army. You do not have a choice but you will fall in.
“What will you lack, sonny, what will you lack. When the girls line up on the street, shouting their love to the lads come back”
These are the first three lines and are saying that when the other men who joined up for the army come back, you will be left on your own with all the girls wanting the army men.
“And grin till your cheeks are red?”
Here the man Begbie is talking about his embarrassment about not being in the war and his face is going red.
“When your children yet to be clamour to learn of the part you played”
Begbie is saying that if you have children who are yet to be born and they want to know about what you did in the war, what will you do when you cannot answer them?
You will miss out on your children looking up to you; this is what Begbie is saying.
“When you sit by the fire in an old man’s chair and your neighbours talk of the fight”
Again Begbie is telling you when your friends will talk about the war for years to come they will not respect you when you answer that you did not go. Begbie is saying that you will miss the respect from friends.
“Your head shamed and bent? Or say – I was not the first to go. But I went, thank God, I went”
Begbie is saying this to make people who have not gone to war yet feel that it does not matter that you have not gone yet, but there is still time to join to get all the things I just said you will miss.
In the last stanza Begbie is saying if you do not join up and the war was lost it will be your fault that we lost.
Begbie is trying to make the shirkers feel ashamed for not volunteering by telling them of the things they will miss out on. Things like, the women when you return from war, by your children looking up to you and the respect of your friends and neighbours when they talk about the war in years to come. Then towards the end of the poem he says that you can join up now, you were not the first to go but you went.
The second ‘pro war’ poem I will look at is ‘Who’s for the Game?’ by Jessie Pope. The great soldier poet, Wilfred Owen, particularly detested her. In this poem she tries to make war sound like a game.
The poem is based on the game rugby.
“Who’s for the game, the biggest that’s played…?”
She is saying who wants to join the army, come on, its just a game come and play.
“Who would much rather come back with a crutch, Than lie low and be out of the fun?”
Pope is saying that it is better if you go to war and get injured than just having to lie low, rather than people talking about you not going to war and missing out on all the fun of war.
Throughout the poem Jessie Pope uses slang, “sit tight’ and “up to her neck”. She does this because it will be young men joining the army and they do not want to be sitting in the pub reading a formal poem, which they will not understand and just read the first line and put it down. They want to read in the way most of these men would talk.
Rupert Brooke was a highly popular ‘pro war’ poet. He was unaware of the conditions in the trenches which motivated by poets such as Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg and Siegfried Sesson on the front line.
The two anti war poems I have chosen are “Dulce et Decorum Est” and Disabled. I felt that of the poems that I was given to choose from, these two told a tragic story of what war was really like. Wilfred Owen at the time seemed to be bitter. His reason for being bitter is that he read the ‘pro war’ poetry by writers such as Jessie Pope, who was writing about the joys of war, how fun it was and how the ladies will love you.
I have chosen “Dulce Est” because the poem describes the hardships for a group of soldiers who have to struggle through the life of war in the trenches. I have chosen “Disabled” because it shows the struggle of one man who has lost his legs and his arms at the elbow. All he has are the memories and they seem to become more distant as the days go on.
“Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Patri Moria” translated into English means “It Is Sweet And Honourable To Die For One’s Country”. If someone is reading the poem for the first time and learns of the English meaning of the title before reading the poem they may feel it is a poem that makes you think of the army in a good way.
After reading the poem a number of times I have come to a conclusion that Owen named the poem this because of the strong statement that he makes in the poem. In a way I get the feeling that Owen was mocking the saying but I don’t think he was mocking the army as a whole.
The first stanza is not like how a pro war poem starts they are not all having a laugh wearing nice uniform, being cheered at by the ladies, they are staggering through mud, tired bleeding, and this is was Owen wanted you to think what war was really like.
“Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, Knock-kneed, coughing like hags… ”
Own is trying to say that these men came into the army as fit young men and now war has turned them into old hags, bent over and staggering.
“Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs”
The soldiers are fed up. They are so tired that even when the flares go off behind them they don’t have the energy or even feel like turning around to see them.
“And towards our distant rest…”
The reader and the men are lured into a false sense of security as we think they are safe from bombs.
Owen says this because they have been walking for a long time and is like they are wearing shoes of blood but what he is really saying is they have been treated like animals because Horses hoofs are shod. The men have been treated in an inhumane way, like they are worthless.
“Drunk with fatigue”
Owen is saying that the soldiers are so tired that it is as though they are drunk. Owen is trying too saying that the soldiers are as though they don’t know entirely what they are doing. They are just being led along like zombies.
“Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind them”
Fine-Nines are gas bombs that the Germans used in the war. Owen is saying that the men are so tired that they are just blanking out the sounds of these gas bombs, as they are behind the lines and think they are not in range. The bombs are personified as is they are moving slowly and are weary.
The pace of the poem quickens in the 2nd stanza. The soldiers are woken by a gas attack. This effectively shatters the mood that Owen has told of us in the opening stanza. The soldiers are now woken by the fact that their lives are in danger and they now have to be fully aware of all their surroundings.
“Gas! GAS! Quick boys!”
The men have just woken up they are still half-asleep the first sign of “Gas” is in lower case as they have just seen what going on. The second “GAS” is the man shouting for their lives as they try to find their gas masks.
“Dim through the misty panes and thick green light, as under a green sea, I saw him drowning”
The green light Owen talks about is the gas falling down on them. Owen uses a simile saying that the man is drowning in a green sea, which he means by the colour of the gas looking like the sea. The reality is that the man is drowning, when a gas attack takes place, the lungs fill up with fluid and drown on your own bodily fluids.
“The ecstasy of fumbling”
Owen does not mean that there is an adrenaline rush. But medically it means a morbid state of nerves, which means that your nerves are making you think of one thing to do, which in this case, is to put your gas masks on.
“Fitting the clumsy helmets…”
Owen is either saying that the men are clumsy in putting the helmets on or the helmets clumsy by letting the gas in.
Owen tells us how this memory has stayed with him. The sight of a dying man lunging at him in a plea for his life.
In the short 3rd stanza, Owen seems to have a great fear of the gas attacks when he talks of them. Owen talks of all of the nightmares he has had because of the war and this event.
” In all my dreams before my helpless sight”
Owen is dreaming about that man, which was dying before him Owen dreams about it because there was no way in which he could help him.
The 4th stanza is back to the slow pace of the 1st stanza. In this stanza Owen is accusing the pro war poets of doing this, making young men to join the army and just to go to their deaths. He was addressing mainly Jessie Pope because on the original draft he writes under the title, “To Jessie Pope”
He describes how the man was taken away and then Owen walked behind and saw his face. Owen is still haunted by the nightmare.
“If in some smothering dream…”
Owen describes his dreams as smothering because when he sleeps that is all he can think of the man dying.
“We flung him in”
The dead bodies are treated like meat there are so many deaths it becomes like a routine thing. In the first stanza he say “blood shod” like animals are shod once again here is another reference to them being treated like animals.
“My friend, you would not tell with such high zest to children or ardent for some desperate glory.”
Owen is saying that if you could see the things he had seen then you would not believe the lies that the pro war poets tell you. By saying this he is expressing the bitterness he has not only for the army but the situation as a whole.
Owen adds more examples of this throughout the last stanza.
Owens main question to the reader in the last stanza is before going into the army think carefully of what you are doing as you might get and see something in great contrast to what you may have imagined.
The poem is describing a terrible shocking death by gas, how can it be sweet and honourable to die for ones country if you die like this. This is the country that sold him the old lie.
“Dulce ET decorum est. pro patria moria.”
In ‘Disabled’ Owen is describing a man who has no legs and his arms have been amputated at the elbow. He is in an institute, a nursing home of some sought. This poem is an angry response to the type of patriotic poetry with made light of disability and which glorified death. Instead of writing and millions of dead or injured, he focuses on one person.
Disability is not on the battlefield with bombs going off and people being blown up, it is at home, after the war, after the glory of winning. People will only think about the men who died in the war, not the people how have been, dehumanised and will have to sit in some home for the rest of the their lives. This is why the poem comes across as so shocking because in the days of the war people didn’t know about the disabled people just about the people who died.
“Till gathering sleep… ”
The man is waiting for the night to come for him to sleep, as he hates to die, as he cannot do anything. I think the man sees sleeping as an alternative to death and he wants to end his life.
Owen tell us about how he used to be, before he became injured, he used to like going out to have fun on the town at night, but now he just wants to go to bed and forget about the memories
At the start of the 4th stanza it says, “One time he’d liked a blood-smear down his leg,” This is ironic as he liked getting injured and bleeding and it is as if he enjoyed it now it has got it a millions time worse.
“It was after football, when he’d drunk a peg. He’s thought he’d better join”
He had drunk a peg of beer so he was probably not in the right frame of mind when he decided to join the army. It also says
“Someone had said he’d look a god in kilts, That’s why; and may be, too, to please his Meg”
He is saying that he joined the army because he would look good in a uniform. I many of the ‘pro war’ poems say that is one of the good things about war the uniform. He also joined because of a girl called Meg, who he was trying to impress, which it also says in ‘pro war’ poems that when you join the army you get all the women wanting to be with you.
The young man had lied to get in to the army “Smiling they wroth his lie; aged nineteen years” The men who were recruiting even knew that he was lying but they still wrote his name down.
“Germans he scarcely thought of…” he join the war note knowing about what was going on he had never thought about the Germans before.
He talks about the evenings. He says that at this time the towns atmosphere was fun and happy everyone is dancing having fun. Owen makes the town sound romantic so that would feel for the man more. He says the girls look upon like he has some kind of disease. He talks of how he will never again feel the waist of a woman. He also talks about how he threw away his knees in the war.
His was once a lovely face which now he looks old. His back is now in a brace and this was the back that was not so long ago was a strong as anything.
He has lost his colour just like losing blood. He feels as though he has poured his life away down endless shell holes; he wonders what he has been given for this. Nothing.
“And leap of purple spurted from his thigh.”
“And no fears of fear have come yet”
He had thoughts of all the swords and other weaponry that he would receive in the army. He had great thoughts of wearing the smart uniform.
He thought that playing football was great, the buzz he got from the cheering. People thought of him as hero. He thought that people would cheer for him in the army; he wanted to be a hero in the army.
He thinks of the army spirit, the pride in his unit. He tells about how he was given cheers and the noise of the drums as he leaves. He is so very optimistic.
When he is brought back the cheers were not like the ones before the cheers are in contrast to what he imagined. This is ironic to him. Only a few people cheered when he came back only one man inquired this man was the priest.
He will spend the next few years doing as the rules say. People will just take pity on him.
He talks of how the women ignore him for the strong people. People with all their body.
His final thoughts of the poem are one of total depression. He thinks that life is pointless.
He is so helpless he can’t go to bed without someone being there to help him. He feels as though he only has a few years left. He wants to be put to death as he feels like he has nothing to offer or that his life tolerable and he feels as though nothing that he does or feels will make him feel his life is worth it.
As you can see from both poems they are very powerful. Each of the two poems makes a statement. One difference between the poems is that Dulce Est is a view on the army that concerns a whole array of the army. With Disabled it is just a description of the pain of one person. One thing that I feel both poems have in common is that they both talk about how they were lied to and how they were sold a lie. This is true, If a person wanted an example of army life at it’s worst then I would show them Dulce ET Decorum. However if I was asked about a poem that describes a poem where a person can see how the war affected people. II would recommend the latter
‘Disabled’ is in my opinion the most moving of the stories as it represents a man’s struggle for his life. This man can offer nothing to his country now. He can’t even offer himself something that he feels will make his staying alive worth it. Whilst the majority of the people in Dulce Et are still alive this man’s soul, has in effect died. He has lost his colour and can’t get used to the fact that he is unpopular.
I find Dulce Et Decorum to be the more shocking of the two poems. My reasons are as follows, although Disabled is a very moving and powerful poem in it’s own right, it only describes the view of one person in the army. I think that what makes Dulce Et so powerful is that Owen speaks for the masses in the army when he talks of the daily horrifying sights and regular attempts by the Germans to gas them.
Reading these poems can enlighten a person. Many people say that they live stressful lives and are under extreme pressure. If you think of what these young men must have gone through it can put a lot of things in to perspective. Day in day out these men had to have the weight of a nation on their shoulders this is before they have to dodge land mines and gas attacks.