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First World War Poetry
An A-Level English Essay by Kevin Smith
(A student at St. Aelred's Catholic Technology College, Newton-le-Willows.)
"Examine some of the poetry of Sassoon and Owen analysing their main concerns.
How typical are these poems of writing about the First World War?"
The First World War truly earned its title as “The Great War”. This war was a new experience for the whole of mankind and as a result of the extreme and horrific experiences that many were put through it inspired many to record their experiences. Two Officers and also poets of the time were Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. With first hand experiences of the trauma of trench warfare they were able to pass on the true horrors of the war through the poems they created.
Sassoon was an Officer who had great respect for the men he commanded. He respected his soldiers and in turn they held him in high regard. However the reason Sassoon’s name appears so readily when we mention the war is because of the Declaration he published. Sassoon, though valiantly fighting for King and Country could not understand why the conflict was still going on. He wished to show the public back home in England what was actually happening in France. During a time he spent in Craiglockhart War Hospital he met the second great poet whose literature is now well known in many places. Through previous documentation, as well as knowledge from the fictional novel Regeneration, we know that Sassoon had an important influence on the writing of Owen’s poetry.
Owen’s poem Anthem For Doomed Youth describes a typical scene from one of the many battles which occurred during the First World War. The “monstrous anger of the guns” and the “rifles’ rapid rattle” can quickly establish an image in which we can envisage a lot of death and destruction. This type of description was extremely typical of much of the literature created during this period. The creators wished that those at home would have a better image of the true conditions of the war. Just as Owen also gives descriptions of the events during the dangerous setting, we also see it is not a very pleasant place. In The Last Laugh Owen also uses the intense and blunt sound of the “bullets” chirping. Owen uses an onomatopoeic word to allow us to believe that the bullets flew gracefully through the air similarly to a bird soaring through the breeze. These all add together to fill our mind with an empty field filled with machine gun fire. Though there is more to the war than just this, as we can see in Owen’s Dulce Et Decorum Est “we cursed through sludge” and Sassoon’s Suicide In The Trenches “In winter trenches, cowed and glum”. These poems show those “smug-faced crowds” that the conditions are much more hideous and horrifying than they could even begin to imagine. “While you are knitting socks to send your son”, taken from Glory of Women, presents an interesting dichotomy of a warm and cosy lifestyle in comparison with the desolation and destruction which is created on the front lines of the war. Sassoon uses the soft alliterative sound of “s” to show the gentle and almost luxurious atmosphere of those who remained at home. The comparisons between the home front and the war front are major themes covered in many of the texts created while the war was on, as we can also see from poet Everard Owen who describes in Three Hills, “a hill in England, Green fields and a school I know” which is compared with “a hill in Flanders, Heaped with a thousand slain”. Almost all of the poets who used writing to help deaden or reduce the psychologically damaging effects such devastation could inflict used description to inform the reader of the intensely gruesome surroundings.
Sassoon felt an immense animosity towards those who remained at home. He found it greatly irritating when someone in England saw him as they simply cheered as soldiers passed by. He was angry with the people who knew nothing of the war due to the level of their ignorance. The public expected patriotic behaviour though Sassoon used Suicide In The Trenches as one of his many tools to persuade otherwise. Here Sassoon informs us about another problem that many poets touched upon- the youthful boys. After being sent to fight in the trenches and ending up a lone survivor, the lad’s desperation reaches a critical level and he makes a conscious decision to “put a bullet through his brain”. This action though doesn’t sound like a sudden response; he had time to think about his actions prior to committing suicide and therefore decides that he should “put” the bullet where it seems to belong. The public whom lived in England never “spoke of him again”, this shows either the incredible ignorance that the British possessed or the immense censorship policies that were in place to prevent the release of potentially upsetting information to the hard working women back at home, who appeared to believe they were doing the right thing when they were to “worship decorations” (Glory of Women).
Owen also decided to write about “the pity of war”, a theme that is prevalent throughout a number of his works, and shines through tremendously during Dulce Et Decorum Est. This poem, easily the most recognised poem he created, informs us about the struggle the soldiers faced whilst returning to the safety of their barracks. They were “bent double, like old beggars”, full of ailments due to the poor living conditions, “coughing like hags”. Owen uses effective imagery, the imagery is possibly too vivid, to allow us to create a mental vision of an experienced gas attack. An intense feeling of depersonalisation stands out in this poem as “He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning”. The only thing that can be done is for the group of men to sit back and watch one of their comrades’ writhe as he is slowly asphyxiated. The poem They covers an important topic many other poems cover in war literature, “For George lost both his legs”, as this takes into consideration the issue of unnecessary deaths and the injuring of innocent people. Owen, in the last stanza of this poem tries to talk to us, the reader, with the hope of trying to convince us that the current course of action is not really working. He wishes that those who make up the strategic plans for assault could see what being along the front line is actually like. This type of death would certainly have been hidden from those at home as only heroic deaths were believed to occur, though pathetic and feeble fatalities are what actually occurred.
A major issue that vexed nearly all of the soldiers during the war, which is evident in Sassoon’s The General is the unbelievably high level of incompetence that the leaders of the war possessed “as he did for them both with his plan of attack”. The General is Sassoon’s anger and hatred towards the patriarchal armed forces personified through the creation of the General in the poem. This General represents all those who were in control of the important decisions that needed to be made regarding placement of hundreds of thousands of soldiers. The leaders lacked the experience, “we met him last week on the way to the line”, shows that the boys who were making their way to fight the enemy only passed the General in an area which was deemed as a safe zone. As this war was certainly the first of its kind no experience was actually held by any of the leaders, previous warfare consisted of fewer men performing different strategic manoeuvres. The fact that in the poem the troops continued and “the soldiers he smiled at are most of ‘em dead” shows that he witnessed troops being sent to a danger zone and was so convinced that his ideas were the best possible actions he allowed them to continue. Though at no point were there thoughts that it may be a danger for them, he had assessed the mortality rate which is why he remained far away from the action. The hierarchical control of the soldiers was almost farcical to Sassoon, though many other poets of this period were also angry at those who made the decisions just as in The Last Laugh Owen informs us of three ordinary deaths of the time, though we are left with the impression that there are an immense number of deaths not mentioned. Within the second stanza he uses the term “Another sighed” informing us that there were others and there always would be others with no imminent end in sight. The three deaths are typical deaths too, which would have been the three major reasons for the deaths of thousands in the field. The attempts at gaining ground in “No Man’s Land” were pitiful and all attempts were futile.
Despite these tremendous losses the leaders of the minion soldiers believed their course of action was the correct thing to do. Though as supplies of men depleted, the governments of both sides needed to recruit more people. As Sassoon understands in Suicide In The Trenches he informs the reader that those at home “Sneak home and pray” that they will “never know” what the war is actually like and what actually goes on. A Latin poet, Horace, initially created the statement Dulce Et Decorum Est, which means ‘it is sweet and fitting to die for your country’. Owen’s poem Dulce Et Decorum Est was named using the old words of Latin because he believed that these were old ideas. Once you may have had pride in dying for your country though that was when Latin was a widely spoken language. Now as the old ideals have faded away he is almost patronising the old text, saying that this was what was, though now it is not so. Unlike Rupert Brooke neither Owen nor Sassoon believe that it is honourable to die for one's country, not with the new style of fighting. Gas is the new death. There exists no more chivalry as in Glory of Women Sassoon says “you believe That chivalry redeems the wars disgrace” though he, and the other soldiers participating in the war, know that chivalry has passed. No longer can one have an honourable death as in Suicide In The Trenches and Dulce Et Decorum Est both of the deaths are far from full of honour. There is a tired, lonely soldier boy who, facing the terrifying experience of the war alone took an almost cowardly way out, by taking his own life. Though when this is compared with the devastating gas attack in Owen’s poem “But someone still was yelling out and stumbling” we see that the choices for death in this gruesome war do not even offer an opportunity to die with honour. An excellent poem that sums up the fact that all honour has gone from fighting is Hardy’s Then and Now. Two stanzas are spent informing us of the proper way to die. How men face each other and by following the honoured rules they would fight. The last stanza is obviously almost a cynical view on life and war now. “Sly slaughter Rules now! …… Stab first!” This exert from the poem explains the loss of the innocence and honour from war. No longer is it wonderful for one to die for one’s country as Sassoon and Owen both show. It is more important to stay alive and save yourself “before my helpless sight”. When we experience what Owen and Sassoon wish us to see we soon believe other people’s disillusioned state, such as Rupert Brooke where he firmly believed personal sacrifice for one’s country is the greatest gift a man can give “But, dying, has made us rarer gifts than gold”.
Overall Owen and Sassoon present to us many ideas in which they believe. The main themes they cover are not only included within nearly all of their poetry but also within the works of many other poets and writers. These were that the home experiences during the war were drastically different to those experienced on the front lines in France as “You make us shells” is more of an innocent and easier lifestyle than what the soldiers experience as the women are described to be watching the war whereas in Sassoon’s They we see evidence that the men were heavily participating in the war “Poor Jim’s shot through the lungs” and it was the men who suffered the consequences. This in turn intensified the ill feelings Sassoon held towards the population of people who were not called up for duty. They refused to recognise that there was an amazing and bloody war taking place “You crown our distant ardours”. The poor demeaning environment the troops had to confront was startling. As from Regeneration, soldiers had to stand in a dug-out which “was flooded” so they had to “stand the whole time” for 48-hours. Through the poetry of Sassoon and Owen we can also see the problems of communication between the high ranking inexperienced generals and the low ranking foot soldiers who fought the war. Both poets cover the typical problems encountered in “The War To End All Wars”. It is thanks to their creative genius that we are able to have such a detailed understanding of what the Great War was actually like. Through Owen and Sassoon’s’ poetry we are able both to identify and fully understand the main concerns that both Officers and soldiers had whilst fighting in the First World War. These two great poets keep the horrific experiences of the First World War real as a dedication to those who died, and also as a warning to the future leaders that war itself has no reason to be fought by the common soldier.
Essay about War Poets: Brooke, Sassoon, and Rosenberg
1722 Words7 Pages
War Poets: Brooke, Sassoon, and Rosenberg
War has the unique ability to bring many disparaging types of poets into the forefront. World War I, called the Great War at the time, was an unimaginably brutal war, and poets emerged from the shadows to share their views on war. Rupert Brooke was Britain’s first war poet, a patriotic favorite of the nation. His poetry set the precedent for those who came after him. Siegfried Sassoon, Brooke’s radical opposite, offered a brutally realistic portrayal of war, and influenced future war writers such as Wilfred Owen to write raw verse. Isaac Rosenberg was a poet before the war, but World War I fueled him to speak on more powerful themes. This distinction sets him apart from past writers. Despite…show more content…
Another important things to note is that Brooke never actually experienced combat, the main distinction between him and other war poets. Because of this, his views are static and unaffected by the actual horrors of war. This is why his belief in God is so strong: he is still naïve and his mind is still unaffected by reality. Had he lived to participate in battle, his views may have been changed and his poetry could have been very different for the rest of his life. Another specific allusion to God is where Brooke states “And think, this heart, all evil shed away/ A pulse in the Eternal mind, no less/ Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given” (Brooke, 2186). He is speaking of a resurrection of sorts, the idea that he could die for his country and be saved in the beyond because of his sacrifice. This alludes to Christ’s war against the heathens, when Jesus was forced to sacrifice his body for faith, just as English soldiers did in World War I for Britain. Brooke clearly believes in God, but does not separate his love for England from his ideas about the afterlife.
Largely regarded as Brooke’s polar opposite, Siegfried Sassoon rejected the idea of blind patriotism and focused on portraying the war in real, modern terms. After serving and being wounded, he refused to return to the war and instead wrote an open letter protesting the length of the war. When he did return to the front lines, he was wounded once again. This