Rouen by May Wedderburn Cannan

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There are various key ideas that have been presented in “Rouen” by May Wedderburn Cannan. She has made a great use of different literary devices to describe her realities of war on the frontline whilst she worked as a VAD nursing injured soldiers. Regarding its wider use in exploring ideas about the First World War; it is a primary source and is about her experiences and the feelings that she had undertaken. Therefore we have first-hand evidence to use to compare and contrast against other poetry of the time. Wedderburn Cannan makes great use of nature and environment to describe and illustrate what she had experienced.

She starts firstly by describing her transition to getting to Rouen and then speaks of all the young men with their “heart breaking mirth”; here she describes them as if they are all having fun and enjoying their comradeship. Thereafter she juxtaposes this idea with the “train full of wounded” who are being transported away due to the travesty presented thenceforth in Rouen. “Men who came from darkness and went back to dark again” – the continuous work that they had only ended once they had passed. This shows that the sheer realities of death were omnipresent in her service as a VAD.

She also makes reference to the “King”, “bugles” and our “island” although not to remember and be proud of them although to “forget the evenings… whilst the world slips slow to darkness”. Finally, she ends on the note that her “heart goes out to Rouen” and “the trains that go from there”. The language that Cannan uses within the poem is very emotive and she makes connotations with different things to help us feel what she is going through. For example “the voices of the Indians” – from this quote we can see a deeper understanding into her ideas about World War One.

She also constantly repeats “and” for effect and to act as a list that the idea of there being neverending problems with the sufferings of the men. This is repeated for every stanza except the last and it could also be seen as a way of her being overwhelmed by the situation emotionally and she just goes on letting it all out. The structure remains extremely mechanical and static throughout with thirteen quatrains; this is primarily extremely unusual for a poem and goes with the idea that she has become repetitive.

I think that this fits in with the idea that she feels emotionally overwhelmed and thus due to this, she keeps on with this release in chunks. The poem hasn’t been blurted out although it has been well thought and written showing that she must be from a well-educated background such as VADs had been. In “Rouen”, the persona seems to feels a sense of questioning and disillusionment for the purposes of the war. “And the agony and splendour when they stood to save the King? “.

This shows the feelings that they had towards the War and the leaders who were making this siege in Rouen with such bloodshed. To conclude, I believe that “Rouen” is a good and effective source to use in order to explore the events of the First World War for women VADs such as Wedderburn Cannan on the warfront such as in the city of Rouen. The language and structure link well with her having a rather mechanical style of writing and that idea that she has become emotionally drained and overwhelmed; and that as an educated lady – she has no other way to recapitulate these feelings.

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