How the views of Poets on war and patriotism have changed since the 1900s
I would like to examine how the views of war and patriotism have changed since the 1900s. To do this I will be studying three poems: “Vitai Lampada” written in 1892 by Henry Newbolt, “Disabled” written by Wilfred Owen during World War 1 and a modern poem called “Why Patriots are a Bit Nuts in the Head” which was written by Roger McGough in the 1960’s. Each expresses a different view of war. “Disabled” and “Why Patriots are a Bit Nuts in the Head” show similar views but from very different perspectives, while “Vitai Lampada” is quite patriotic and glorifies war.
Vitai Lampada” conveys the heroic and patriotic values of war. Henry Newbolt suggests that war and defending the British Empire is an important part of everyday life, he also believes that when one soldier dies another is given his soul which he describes as being ‘a torch of life’, this is meant to be the soldiers’ fighting spirit. The poem begins on an English school’s cricket pitch where a group of young boys are playing cricket, at the end of this verse we hear the line ” Play up! play up! and play the game! “, this phrase is meant to encourage the boys on the team to play with more enthusiasm and dedication.
In verse two the cricket game is being linked to warfare when we are suddenly taken away to a desert where a British legion are fighting for their lives and seem to be losing to the opposing force. The British battalion are just about to give up and surrender when all of a sudden they hear the voice of a schoolboy who is quoting the line used earlier on in the poem, “play up! play up! and play the game! “, this was a common phrase used by cricket supporters too encourage their team. This seems to give the soldiers a new lease of life and they start fighting again.
This may have happened because whenever they hear the familiar chant they remember their school days and the greatness of Britain. In the third verse we are reminded that young boys should be taught the values of patriotism, loyalty and tradition while they are still in school. The poet also states that fighting for your country is an heroic act and that if you die whilst fighting for your country you will have passed on a light and given somebody else a new lease of life and a new reason to continue to fight for Britain.
It is clear from the patriotic language used in the poem that the poet believes in patriotism and the defence of the empire. The poem was written at a time when Britain ruled over one third of the world and was permanently fighting countless enemies in many different countries all over the world. It was also believed at this time in history that the most patriotic thing that a man could do was to fight for his country. War was considered a great adventure and an honour if a man died heroically in battle.
The phrase ‘the river of death has brimmed his banks’ in verse two, is a good example of a metaphor. It describes death as being a river and since so many of the soldiers have died, death has actually overflowed with the number of souls which are leaving the soldiers bodies. There is a rhyming pattern in Vitai Lampada, the pattern is ‘a, b, a, b, c, d, c, d ‘, this pattern occurs in every verse of the poem. There is a strong use of words beginning with the letter ‘S’ in this poem, for example ‘sake, selfish, sodden and square’.
Nearly every one of the ‘S’ words start off with a ‘seh’ sound which slows down the rhythm of the poem and makes it sound quieter and more calming even though the poem is about war. “Disabled” shows us the suffering of wounded victims of war who fought valiantly alongside their comrades but who shall never be known as heroes. The forgotten soldiers that people always seem to ignore, the tortured souls who suffer in silence with terrible wounds, scars and disfiguring disabilities that shall never leave. Those maimed people whose lives have been destroyed by near fatal injuries shall never again be able to lead a normal human life.
The poem begins with an image of a young man sitting in a wheelchair in the middle of a hospital garden. This man has lost his legs from the knee down and his arms from the elbow. He is listening to the sound of the young people outside the garden walls, cavorting in the park. This is a soul-destroying experience for him as he can no longer participate in these activities even though he is only eighteen years of age. The poet imagines the young man reminiscing about his life, before the war, when he was able to go out to the town and meet young girls.
The poet tells us what happened to the young man, the poet explains that a shell hit the young man and both his arms and his legs were blown off, the mans veins nearly ran dry as he lost so much blood in the middle of no-mans land. It is explained what his life was like before the war, when he used to play football and go out with girls, we are told that the only reason why he joined the war was to impress his girlfriend even though he was too young to be recruited, the people in the recruiting office wrote his lie willingly.
He had dreamed of fighting in a war that was heroic and fun, little did he know that he would end up living in a home, depending on other people to look after him. The people cheered for him when he came back into the town but it was just out of pity, they would cheer a goal louder. The boy still hopes that a woman will fall in love with him but he knows this will probably never happen due to his disability.
There is an irregular rhyme scheme in Disabled as it changes from verse to verse and each verse has a different amount of lines the longest being sixteen lines and the shortest having only three lines. Patriots are Nuts in the Head” was written by Roger McGough in the 1960’s, it shows a very unpatriotic view by mocking war and death. The poem mocks patriots by saying that patriots wear red, white and blue tinted spectacles, this is a reference to rose tinted spectacles, according to the phrase people who wear rose tinted spectacles see everything as being happy and rosy. By saying that patriots wear red, white and blue tinted spectacles that they see everything as being British.
The poet goes on to explain how useless death is, he talks about being posthumous which is an award given to a person who has died valiantly in battle. This poem has absolutely no literary devices, there are not even any verses in the poem only one long stream of thought. The three poems show three different views of war all of which are correct in their own way. I believe that war is a sad necessity which has to take place so people can lead a safe and secure life free from tyrants and dictators who threaten world peace.