Compare the ways in which war is presented in at least three of the pre-1914 poems you have studied
War poetry was a popular form or writing during Crimean and Boer wars, which was generally written by higher ranks who had received an education. Most war poetry described the true horrors of war but was never seen by the public during that time because the media tried to get people to sign up by using propaganda to make war look glorious and beautiful. The Crimean war was fought during 1854-1856 at Crimea in the south of Russia. The war began due to Britain and France fearing Russia’s ambition to expand its power southwards as the Turkish Empire collapsed.
In September of 1854, the Allies landed in the Crimea. In October, the Russians attacked the British base at Balaclava. During this battle, the disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade took place. The British cavalry commander mistook his orders to retake some guns held by the Russians. Instead he told his men to charge the main position of the Russians, which was at the head of a valley bristling with artillery. The 600 horsemen gallantly obeyed but two thirds of the force were killed or injured.
The Charge is the best known example of heroism and stupidity of war. W. H. Russell, a correspondent for The Times, became famous for his reports from the Crimea. He reported on the Charge of the Light Brigade which was read by Lord Alfred Tennyson. This provoked him to write a poem based on the report. The poem contains six stanzas which reduce in size, representing the loss of men. Tennyson portrays war a positive which is illustrated with words such as, ‘flashing’, ‘charging’, ‘plunging’ and ‘honour’. Whilst there is no mention of bloodshed, there is talk of ‘the Jaws of Death’ which creates an image of them riding into a Jaw (this was the position of the Russian weaponry).
To recognize that a blunder has been made, Tennyson wrote ‘Theirs not to reason why, Their’s but to do and die’, which is saying that they can’t ask questions or refuse to follow orders, they just have to do it and if it means they die, then they must die. This is enhanced by the repetition of ‘Canon to right of them, canon to left of them, canon in front of them’. Therefore Tennyson projects the real dangers the cavalry were faced with. The fact that they are surrounded by canons and have no way out, death is almost certain.
Despite many soldiers being killed, depicted in the final stanza of the poem, the war is portrayed positively and as glorious unlike the later poems that were written in the Boer War, like Thomas Hardy’s, Drummer Hodge. War poetry was also popular in the Boer War which took place during 1899-1902. This was fought between the Britain and Dutch Boer settlers in South Africa (Orange Free State). The British wanted control of the diamond and gold deposits. The British Empire claimed victory in 1900, however the Boers continued to fight using guerilla tactics. Due to this the British adapted a ‘scorched earth policy’.
There were a lot of young boys who signed up to go to South Africa as a Drummer Boy. Thomas Hardy wrote a poem about this called ‘Drummer Hodge’. It is about a Drummer Boy who goes to South Africa from the north of England who was killed and how he is not respected in death. This idea is shown in the line ‘They throw in drummer Hodge to rest’. He is furthermore ‘unconfined’ which is therefore similar to other poems such as Hyenas where the bodies are so poorly buried that the hyenas can simply scatter the dirt aside before coming to a body of a dead soldier.
Comparing this poem to Dirge of The Dead Sisters, it depicts the cruelty of war to the individual/soldier. Hardy uses South African words in the poem and wrote ‘foreign constellations’ to emphasise the fact that it was an unknown land to him and he didn’t know what his country was fighting for. Hardy also wrote ‘His homely Northern breast and brain’ which means he should be at home in the north of England compared to being in South Africa. There are three stanzas which are believed to represent the three stages of Hodge’s life. Hardy also uses sibilance to contribute to the theme of the strange land by writing ‘Strange stars’.
Compared to Charge of the Light Brigade, war in Drummer Hodge is presented negatively. Although Hardy presents no direct criticism of war, he does not present anything that’s particularly positive. Drummer Hodge difference to another poem written during the Boer war, Rudyard Kipling’s, Dirge of The Dead Sisters. It differs in many ways, though primarily because it is written from the perspective of the women who tended to the wounded and the dead soldiers behind the front line. Dirge of The Dead Sisters heavily depends on the senses in order to enhance atmosphere and creates harsh images of war.
During the Boer war, the few women volunteer nurses, called from England, began to die of typhoid. Their courage and endurance was the inspiration for the poem called by Kipling, Dirge of the Dead Sisters. The poem is showing that the women could help on the Front Line, not fighting but helping. There is a contrast in the way that the Sisters were buried; ‘they were lowered down’ whereas Drummer Hodge was ‘thrown’ in. Comparing the poem to A Wife in London, Dirge of the Dead Sisters focuses on the Front Line whereas A Wife in London focuses on the Home Front, therefore we get a picture that the sisters played an active role in the war.
As you can see, war was generally presented negatively but can also be presented positively depending on the situation or the person writing the poem. It can also tell people the truth about war and not just what they would have read in the newspapers. The truth however is generally depicted in the poems written by those who have experienced war firsthand, where’s the glorious images generate came from those who are bystanders.