A comparison of the way in which soldiers joined the army
Extract A is a poem called ‘Dauntless Dan’ was written by Maurice McGill for his father who fought in the Boer War from 1899 to 1902. The poem is a celebration of Dan McGill’s bravery on the battlefield and his endless amount of skill. The poem ‘The Conscript’ is Extract B and was written by Wilfred Wilson Gibson and it is centred on the controversial issue of conscription. The poem must therefore have been written after conscription was introduced in England in late 1916, not long after the Battle of the Somme in World War 1.
Gibson’s poem is a description of the processes of conscription, and the attitudes of people towards it at the time. ‘Dauntless Dan’ takes on the form of an Ode, incorporating a rhyme scheme into its structure. This has the effect of giving the poem a jaunty air and making it easier to remember and recite, rather like many patriotic war songs sung during World War 1. giving the subject of the poem a label such as ‘Dauntless’ in the title adds to the effect of presenting Dan McGill as somewhat a legend, intriguing people to read the poem.
Maurice McGill neglects to use caesurae in his poem to enable it to flow smoothly, however, the lines alternate between 8 and 6 syllables in order to maintain rhythm, again rather like a song. There is one exception to this trend, in line 4 ‘And said here’s Dauntless Dan! ‘ the exclamation mark is used to make the reader stop abruptly, causing them to remember the name and appreciate the reputation attached to the subject in question. The poem has an extremely patriotic theme, using phrases such as ‘lusty cheers’ to appeal to those reading the poem to join up or encourage their sons and husbands to go to war if there is one at the time.
The way the poet describes the way that Dan joined the army makes him all the more heroic, as it takes true bravery and patriotism to volunteer to fight for ones country. Dan is portrayed with a mythical air about him, a man who is the envy of all his friends, but loved by them all the same. The use of words such as Lusty and Ardour make it more appealing to join up to the war and have the chance to fight alongside Dauntless Dan. Gibson’s poem is in the form of a sonnet about the conscription in Britain introduced in late 1916.
This poem also features a rhyme scheme, however the poem does not have a constant rhythm as the lines are of different length, so it is not as spry as ‘Dauntless Dan’. The title ‘The Conscript’ takes away any identity from the soldier in question, as anybody could be a conscript. This enhances the notion that conscripts are not very widely celebrated due to the fact that they did not volunteer for the army and therefore do not show any exceptional signs of heroism worth exulting in. This view stretches to the extent that the soldier who is conscripted is not even important enough to be named in the title.
This is mirrored with the attitudes of people towards soldiers once fighting had been made compulsory, as it was seen that it was a legal duty, rather than a duty that one undertook for love of ones own country. This patriotism was only celebrated before conscription took effect, which is why Dauntless Dan is presented as such a hero. Gibson uses many caesuras, particularly commas and semi colons to alter the pace of the poem so that the reader has time to stop and reflect on what is said in the poem. ‘The Conscript’ is written in an angry tone with a hint of irony.
The poem vents at the way conscripts are recruited and passed for fitness to fight, saying that the doctors are even bored with the process of having to pass every one of the men, even if they are clearly not fit to fight. Gibson describes the process of conscription as very dull and dreary ‘Indifferent, flippant, earnest, but all bored, The doctors sit in the glare of electric light’ it gives the impression that the whole process is automated, that each applicant is fit to be sent to fight, making the doctors redundant in their analysis and creating the feeling of indifference.
Bodies of men for whom their hasty award means life or death, or the living death’ this quote is significant of the poets view, as he sees the soldiers being treated as bodies, like ammunition being fed into the machine gun that is the war, regardless of the loss of life and humanity. Gibson outlines that the decision of the doctors could mean life or death for the prospective soldier, but what is interesting is the use of ‘the living death’ which is perhaps significant of trench life at the time, reminiscent of letters written by Wilfred Owen to his mother stating the atrocious conditions of life in the trenches.
Gibson goes on to describe one particular man who came before the panel of doctors for assessment, who looked ;as cadaverous as one already dead’ but the doctors are unmoved by the sight of a man who is clearly in no condition to fight. The poem ends with a very moving image of the last man standing with his arms outstretched, possible for examination by the doctors, and his head drooping as he has no energy left, however Gibson describes his head as thorn crowned and his hands and feet as having glowing nail marks, an unmistakable image of Christ on the crucifix.
This image is symbolic of death, and how this future soldier is doomed to die, like countless others, in order to save the lives of so many of his fellow countrymen. His fate is mirrored with that of Christ and even though the soldier remains nameless, the reader feels certain compassion for him. The poem Dauntless Dan can be said to have been presented in a romanticised, idealised way for a number of reasons. The way people are celebrating his existence is comparable to the way a child might speak of a comic book superhero, flawless and in a sense, better than any average human being is.
They took him to rifle butts… without a single spill’ this quotation supports the idea that Dan has a certain luck or charm about him, as if God is watching over him. This idea is appealing to people who are afraid to go to war because they think they might die. The notion that God is on your side so you cannot fail is used in many songs and speeches written about the war. It can be said that Dan has broken free from the ranks of ordinary people ‘They tried his ardour for to damp by regulations stringent’, and is now unstoppable, driving the war effort and encouraging others to join up.
This is the dream of almost every person, to be idealised by others is the ultimate goal for people who read about Dauntless Dan. At the end of the poem, Dan is forever immortalised within our minds as he ‘now ranks among the best’, meaning that he has gone on to a higher lever. Through death, he has escaped mortality and is now with God, a reassurance for people worried they may die in the war. This evidence has led me to agree that the poem ‘Dauntless Dan’ truly presents Dan as a mythical figure, romantic and idealised in the minds of those looking up to him. The Conscript’ is presented to the reader by Gibson in a very stark and realistic manner, due to several features of the poem. Gibson does not attempt to conceal the eventual fate of all the men. ‘Of mangled limbs, blind eyes, or a darkened brain’ this quote is significant as it is a precursor of things to come. For example, the soldiers could end up with mangled limbs or being blinded, or having a darkened brain, meaning of course that they could be shot in the head, resulting in the brain being darkened by the flow of blood.
There is no element of romanticism or idealism, as the soldiers remain nameless, and therefore unacknowledged and uncelebrated. The poem is more identifiable with modern day society, where individual soldiers are not celebrated in the way the Dauntless Dan is. There is no gaiety or joyousness in ‘The Conscript’, only graveness and a feeling of desolateness, mirroring with the way people would be feeling during the First World War, especially after the Battle of the Somme.
I would have to agree wholeheartedly that ‘The Conscript’ is presented with a stark realistic approach. To conclude with, I would have to say that the two poems describe the way in which soldiers joined the army in very different ways. ‘Dauntless Dan’ presents the idea of patriotism and volunteering to fight through bravery and courage, whereas ‘The Conscript’ shows that the process of conscription is far less glamorous and it is not worth celebrating the fact that these innocent men are being driven to their deaths without the slightest feeling of compassion or remorse.