World War One Poetry
World War One began on the fourth of August 1914 Troops from Britain, France, Italy and Russia the USA fought troops from Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey. There were many reasons for this; Germany and France were quarrelling over who owned the Alsace-Lorraine region. Russia was fighting the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Germany about who should control the Balkan States and Germany was also eager to gain power over other European nations. There was fighting on land and sea, yet we especially remember the men who fought in the trenches, as they played a major part in this horrific war.
We often refer to this as Trench Warfare – a new and shocking type of warfare which characterised the bloody battles of World War One. The trenches were in the Western part of Europe and were home to millions of men between 1914 and 1918, living in horrific conditions for days at a time. They spent their days with nasty medical conditions such as ‘Trench Foot’ and had to see scarring memories every day of their lives. Over the war time years 8,538,315 men were killed, 21,219,452 were wounded and 7,750,919 were taken prisoner by the enemy or were pronounced missing.
Under these awful conditions many men found it hard to cope and needed a way to escape from everyday trench life and explore their feelings more deeply. Many of these men did so by writing beautiful poetry which has changed poetry forever. Many poets wrote patriotic poems, which would have inspired many men to sign up for the Armed Forces. One of these poets was Rupert Brooke; he was born in Rugby in 1887. One of his famous poems is called ‘The Soldier’ this poem tells of any soldier who could die for his country when he is away from home in a foreign field where he has been fighting.
He tells the story of how the foreign field would be “For ever England” and if an English soldier would die it would be so “under an English heaven” Brooke goes on to glorify England further making his point that England is the right side to fight with. The great patriotism shown in this poem is achieved by his careful use of words which bring across powerful imagery, such as the “foreign field” Brooke uses the words “England” and “English” constantly which help us to feel patriotic too. The poem succeeds in making me feel a sense of patriotism too.
However, Brooke only talks about death, of which he had not yet experienced when the poem was composed so I feel able to criticise him as not knowing the extent to which he was writing about and the feelings of which death portrays. I can infer that Brooke has written this poem as a form of propaganda, but I don’t feel it reached its potential as most people are not as patriotic as Brooke. Another style of poem is propaganda, of which I will be concentrating on Jesse Pope. The first thing that stands out is that Pope is a female and would not have been anywhere near the War, let alone the trenches.
Pope’s first poem is called ‘The Call’. This poem informally asks “Who’s for the trench – Are you, My Laddie? ” It uses lines like ” who longs to charge and shoot” This line implies that a soldiers life is easy and fun, and this would encourage young men to voluntarily sign up to the forces. In my opinion this is terrible and makes me dislike Pope intensely as she has lied and wouldn’t be implying was fun if she had experienced it herself. The poem was written in three verses which each consist of three lines.
Every other line has a question and Pope has used plenty of repetition which makes the reader feel the question is directed straight at them. The rhythm of the poem is fast, which may not be a good thing as the message may not be absorbed fully by the reader. Pope has allowed me to express no emotion but anger towards her poem, offending me with her lack of comprehension for the true emotional sufferings of war. The poem is not intellectually written and it resembles a nursery rhyme and thus does not display a depth of emotion that can be seen in the work of others, such as Wilfred Owen.
To improve the poem, more appropriate and complex language should have been used and more description would have helped, yet overall I think this poem is insulting as Pope never has experienced the true horror of War. Another of Pope’s poems is called ‘Socks’ and again is all in aid of propaganda. ‘Socks’ again is a poem which tries very hard to get men to enlist in the Army. This time Pope tries to catch the reader by writing the part of a mother, making socks to send away to her son who is at War. One of the first lines reads: “Keen and merry, but his lip
Quivered when he said good-bye-” The last stanza reads; “Wonder if he’s fighting now, What he’s done an’ where he’s been; He’ll come out on top, somehow-” These two quotes would particularly stand out to young men who read this poem. They will understand from this poem that they will go to War worried and concerned but they definitely will return, and they definitely will return victorious having fought the enemy and won. I feel this is definitely again the wrong attitude which should have been portrayed as it would have filled men’s heads with false hope.
Pope has again written this poem in an informal, almost infantile way. If I read this poem and I was thinking about conscripting it would have encouraged me to do so, but this poem is very wrong and should not have been published as it is a lie and has not much sense of realism to it The last style of poem is Realism poems, in my opinion these are the greatest War poems and they require a real talent to compose, and I feel it is a tragedy that these young poets were killed at War and could never bring the world more unique poems.
The First Poet I am commenting on is Wilfred Owen. Owen was born on March 18th 1893. He was teaching on the continent at the first break out of War. One day he visited a hospital for the wounded and in September 1925, returned to England and decided to enlist in the Army. One of Owen’s greatest works is ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est. ‘ Owen explains how the British public and press comforted themselves with the fact that, all the young men dying, were dying noble, patriotic, heroic deaths, that were all completely just.
The reality was quite different: They were dieing obscene and terrible deaths. Owen wanted to throw the war in the face of the reader to illustrate how vile and inhumane war really is. Owen explains in this poem that people will encourage you to fight for your country, but, in reality, fighting for your country is simply sentencing yourself to an unnecessary death. The breaks throughout the poem indicate the clear opposition that Owen believed in, the title of the poem means “Sweet and Fitting it is,” and then Owen continues his poem by ending that the title is, in fact, a lie.
Filled with powerful imagery and much irony, as Owen was eventually killed in the very war he opposed. Before his death, he was thought to be one of the best poets of the Twentieth century. War is not worth it, Owen feels, as he perpetuates to the World the lie that is; “Sweet and fitting it is to die for one’s country. This poem succeeds in making me feel plenty of emotion. It makes me feel as though I was incorrect to think War was just, because Owen tells me what the War was really like.
This poem is by far more powerful than any other poem from War time that I have read. Another of Owen’s poems is called ‘Disabled’. In this poem, Wilfred Owen, again, used wonderful language to describe the facts of life, after life in the trenches. In the first stanza Owen introduces the character, he speaks with a man sitting in a, “wheeled chair”, indicating that the man will never walk again. It shows that he must, for the rest of his days, be reliant on the help of others in order to live life.
The man hears voices in a park and shouts and screams indicating happiness – things that used to make him happy. Boys are pictured as playing after work, something he will never be able to do again. Owen tells of the man, “waiting for dark”, making me feel as though this man wishes for it to be night so that he is able to escape from his world of dependence and instead dream of the former life he has lost as a result of war. The idea of darkness allows him cared for by a mother-like force which allows him to escape from his life.
The idea of night is again mentioned when Owen tells how the man used to go out with girls at night with him realising that no girl will ever be with him again. This contrast between the fun he used to have at night and the escape it allows him to have from his new life is extremely powerful and makes the reader feel a great sense of sadness for the man. The use of the phrase, “before he threw away his knees” makes the reader feel as though the man thinks he did so on purpose.
In the following stanzas Owen tells of the days when the man was younger, talking about how he used to like a bit of “manly blood” on his legs, but this is again a contrast with the fact that he does not have any legs. The man was not even eighteen when he enlisted in the army and how his life is over. This poem is beautifully written and really shows the after effects of war – as the day the man in the poem went to war was the day the life he knew ended.
In Siegfried Sassoon’s poem the ‘Glory of Woman’, you are shown a range of the different roles woman played in war – something which is shown in an extremely effective way, from us being shown how woman helped the war effort in factories to their role as the mothers of the men fighting in the war. The poem is extremely interesting as it shows that Siegfried Sassoon has contempt for many of the woman who are at home, making comments such as “you love us when we’re heroes” but showing his anger that woman “can’t believe that British troops ‘retire'”, something which suggests that he believes woman do not understand the true horror of war.
The language and tone of ‘Glory of War’ is very different from the poetry of Jesse Pope, who as I have already said, is very insensitive when she talks about war, seeking to glorify it rather than understand the suffering that many men had to endure. Overall, I think the majority of the poems I have commented are amazingly written and were all crafted by extremely talented people. I feel it was such a tremendous waste of life when these men were killed during the war.
I also feel that the only people who can really write war poetry properly and it such a sensitive way are men. Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon do this in such an amazing way that it is in fact an insult that women such as Jesse Pope can call themselves ‘war poets’ as they clearly had no idea of what war was actually like. In my opinion war poetry will never be forgotten as it continues the legacy of all people who lost their lives tragically in world war one.