War Poetry Essay

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War is a very sensitive subject for some people. Many people have different views, for and against. Two historical figures who share these disbeliefs of whether war is moral or not with each other are Shakespeare and Wilfred Owen (a WW1 soldier). Shakespeare was very pro war, believing it was very noble to fight and possibly die for your country. On the contrary Wilfred Owen had experienced war first hand, unlike Shakespeare, so he could offer a more believable reason for being Anti-War. In a realistic world, Shakespeare is being very patriotic and is blanking himself from the reality.

War is generally unpleasant and very graphic. However Shakespeare demonstrates a failure to grasp this point. Personally he has never been involved in any war or conflict so his reliability about the subject is left questionable where as Wilfred has actually fought in horrific condition and suffered we may be able to deem Wilfred’s work more suitable for the truth on the subject. People’s views were different in different times however and due to the vast time gap we may use this as a reasonable explanation for the varying viewpoints. Technology advances may be to blame for the change in opinion.

Instead of fighting with swords which are a brutal accessories for war along with the most basic of guns, soldiers in Owens era had to battle using the even more brutal means, such as mustard gas which would cause its victim to ‘cough to death’ and was unbearable for the victim their self and just as much, their comrades who would have to witness their friend die in such horrific means with no control over their fate. Owen had to witness this aspect which he describes within ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ Although this may play part of a major factor which changed the views from era to era the principles of war will always be the same.

The first poem, Written by William Shakespeare in the 17th century is a speech made by King Henry V before the battle of Agincourt. The poem is based around the idea that war will earn you honour and respect from your king and country by fighting and dying for your country. The second poem ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ views war from a completely different perspective. It is written around 400 year later by a soldier who actually fought in World War One. Wilfred Owen has split his poem into two sections, the first describing everyday life in war, the second describing a gas attack and witnessing death first hand.

Instead of glorifying war like Shakespeare, Wilfred points out the horrors and true reality of war. Many of the ideas contained within Shakespeare’s poem are purely about ‘Honour’. This becomes a very clear point when he says ‘But if it be a sin to covet honour I am the most offending soul alive’ Shakespeare is explaining to us that honour is something you should crave, sinful or not. Shakespeare is constantly telling us how much honour means to King Henry V and how much he would give to get rid of cowards. He states that ‘We would not die in that mans company

That fears his fellowship to die with us’. This is Henry’s way of saying he doesn’t want to be in the company of cowards if the time of death in battle would come and states ‘Let him depart; his passport will be made’ this maybe means that he want them out of the country if they are not prepared to fight. He also states that ‘the fewer men the greater the honour’ This backs up his claim about honour proving that they would rather have honour than their lives as the fewer there are of them the more likely they are to lose.

Amongst many of the other key ideas another which stands out is the promise of ‘Immortality’ which King Henry V promises to all those who fight alongside him. This is of course not true as immortality is nonexistent however whilst fight they may feel like this and if they die or get injured they have no fears as having wounds from Saint Crispin’s Day is a great honour. We find this out when Henry V says ‘Then He will strip his sleeve and show his scars/And say “These wounds I had on Saint Crispin’s Day. ‘

This backs up the fact that being injured is a form of pride one shouldn’t go looking for but would not fear if it happened and then he may use the scars as a medal. These also back up the claim of being immortal by showing that they survive after such events. Wilfred Owens poem completely counter-acts Shakespeare’s words. He forgets the subject of honour, he doesn’t mind whether there are 10 or 10 million fighting as honour means nothing to him. He states in as many words that fighting like he was is not worth any share of honour. He tells us how ‘Men marched asleep’ and how they were ‘Drunk with fatigue’.

This paints a vivid picture of how the soldiers are fighting. Hinting to us that they are very tired and want nothing more than sleep but no do most actions subconsciously. The key points which Owen makes are strongly about the negativity of war. However this negativity is contained within different sections, description of life on the front lines as a soldier, the witnessing of a gas attack and then a description of how he perceives war. He backs these up with firsthand accounts of life in war and having to witness the death of a comrade killed by gas that he refers to as ‘drowning’.

This is not how many perceive war they tend to not realize the fact that they will see their comrades die before them. He describes war to be ‘Obscene as cancer’ a very deep subject which many people may be able to relate to as it describes mainly that u must face the fact that you probably will die as a result unless it is cured, in war terms the war coming to an end. Shakespeare’s attitude is very patriotic as stated previously. His beliefs are that all men who are not cowards should fight for their country with the clear understanding that they will more than likely die.

However if such an event happens they are compensated by being remembered as a hero. He demonstrates a very negative opinion to people he deems cowards is well. When he says ‘he which hath no stomach to fight Let him depart’ Proving how much he would not like to be associated with them. Owens attitude of this poem is that he uses it more like a warning. He doesn’t want people to join the army in search of honour as he states it clearly won’t be found. Owen doesn’t want more innocents being killed b because of this and has a very valid point in my opinion.

The language used by Shakespeare In his poem is entirely of a persuasive nature. On numerous occasions he refers to the constant idea of honour and cowardice in sentences like ‘ The fewer the men the greater the share of honour’ and ‘But if it be a sin to covet honour/I am the most offending soul alive’. Instinctively people do not wish to be identified in this way so this becomes a really persuasive point. However this point is not truth it is just a convenient lie. Choosing not to fight in war doesn’t make anyone a coward this is just the opinions or Shakespeare.

He has created a very believable lie in which he will use to attract many young and men with lives ahead of them to fight in a war which the odds are stacked against them In unfavorable amounts. In the poem by Wilfred Owen he also uses persuasive language but with a different intent, this time to discourage people from fighting a war. Instead of glorifying war he homes in on points such as description of horrific scenes and conditions such as ‘His hanging face, like a devil sick of sin’ describing the unimaginable just like it would be for the devil to be sick of sin.

Another phrase ‘Coughing like hags’ is also used as we can all picture this unpleasant image and we can all relate to it immediately. Wilfred also hints to us that he had recurring dreams of his friends dying when he says ‘In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering, choking, and drowning’. This is an awful thing to have playing on your mind and Wilfred knows we will know so uses this purposely to describe his time fighting in the war. Throughout the poem Owens points come across a lot stronger and make it easier for me to believe which would be more like war today.

Times have changed since Shakespeare wrote his poem but still in my opinion war should never be glorified it is a deep complex subject that is difficult to understand fully. However from the words of Wilfred Owen I now have a clearer idea of what and everyday soldier would have to endure. Shakespeare’s opinion of honour don’t appeal to me, I wouldn’t like to die under the false pretences that I would be remembered as a great hero when chance are I probably wouldn’t.

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