During world war one, many poems were written to describe their optimistic or pessimistic views of the war. They were mainly soldiers who have suffered or felt patriotic. ‘Attack’ was written by Siegfried Sassoon, who served valiantly as a soldier, but later believed that the war was needless. ‘Attack’ describes the early morning before dawn as being horrific, portraying a very pessimistic view. However, ‘Argonne forest at midnight’ portrays a sapper thinking of his distant homeland wanting to be victorious against the ‘Frenchies.’ The poem was written by an unknown German soldier but was later translated by Jeff Curtis giving a strong optimistic view of the war.
The language used creates effective images in the poems. The opening lines of ‘attack describe the new day emerging as shown by the line: ‘at dawn the ridge emerges massed and dun.’ The ridge, however, is personified as having a living presence and no specific shape, with the use of words ’emerges’ and ‘massed.’ The heavy syllable-‘dun’ also adds an ominous tone. The sun is then described as being almost inactive and personification is used again, as the word ‘glowering’ suggests a feeling of menace. The word ‘smouldering’ portrays a vivid image of the sun being covered by the infected smoke, almost giving a literal meaning as to ‘look at what human action has done to nature.’ The word ‘smouldering’ also shows that the use of present continuous as the word ‘shroud’ obviously is symbolic of death.
Sassoon uses more personification when describing the slope-‘scarred’ evokes a physical visualisation and the sense of human danger. The verb ‘creep’ is interesting, a personification that captures the tentativeness slowness of the ‘tanks’ moving towards the wire which slows down the tone and builds up the tension considering the verb ‘creep.’ Sassoon used another verb: ‘roars’ which is in obvious contrast to ‘creep’ conveying intense violence.
Siegfried Sassoon’s use of alliteration in line seven-‘and’ emphasises the weight of the men’s kit. The weight is also symbolic of the soldiers oppressive fear, and in the next line (line eight), in this landscape only now the men are mentioned, as though they are in an alien territory. As the men climb out to face the ‘bristling fire’, it gives an impression of threat, sounding mean spiteful.
The soldiers fear are depicted by the two adjectives ‘grey, muttering’ which capture the psychological effects on the men. Also, the men are only known as units like machines in this poem ‘attack’. As anything human, like awareness of time has been neutralised in this cauldron of fear with the use of word ‘blank’.
‘And hope with furtive eyes and grappling fists.’
Hope is the first abstract noun, a human idea that seems out of place here but is personified in the soldier’s vain efforts, which also highlights their desperation. ‘Flounders’ is an important verb that conveys the futility of hope along with describing the fate of men. It’s a very pessimistic word, it captures them thrashing around in death.
Finally, Sassoon ends the poem ‘attack’ by giving out a personal cry-‘O Jesus make it stop.’ This changes the entire depersonalised perspective of the poem. The terrible impression that we are left with is that it won’t stop and faith, hope and all other signs of humanity are useless in this environment of mechanised disruption.
On the other hand the language used in ‘Argonne forest at midnight’ creates a very optimistic view of the war. ‘A sapper stands on guard.’ The word ‘guard’ gives the impression that he is alert and prepared for danger which builds up tension. The adjective ‘shines’ gives a bright and positive psychological effect on the ‘sapper’ and surroundings. The words ‘greetings’ and ‘distant’ convey the sense of excitement because the sapper seems to be eager to help or fight valiantly for his family, wanting to return as a hero.
Although has become fierce as the sapper ‘waits’ leaving a pause in between and ‘thinks with longing on his love.’ The word ‘longing’ shows a deep passionate desire, as the word ‘wondering’ also shows the sapper’s deathly thought of dieing.
This simile ‘the artillery roars like thunder’ is particularly effective because it compares the almighty power of nature (‘thunder’) to the weak man-made artillery. This changes the tone of the poem, becoming, bitter and quicker. Curtis’ translation then changes as he now begins to explain the chaotic situation as groups of soldiers like ‘attack’ with the use of word ‘we.’ As the violence grows, we get an impression of the poet being angry but brave with the use of word ‘crashing’ and the phrase: ‘the Frenchie want to take our position.’
This is evident that the sapper is prepared to take out the ‘Frenchies’ and cover his country. This threat does not distract the German sapper from being determined to fight and be victorious. ‘We Germans fear him no more’ shows an optimistic view of a patriotic sapper, who thinks of the French as horrific. Unfortunately, the ‘Frenchies’ are described as a person who is small with the use of word ‘him’ sounding extremely optimistic about himself.
The metaphor ‘the storm breaks’ indicates how a gun-fire is mentioned as the storm, which conveys the impression that a gun-fire can be as powerful as a natural destruction which shows that the war can be extremely harmful as the sapper wishes it to be, to obtain his victory.
However, as the action begins and the ‘sapper begins his advance then bravely pulling on the pin grenade’- creates an aggressive mood and tone of hatred in the atmosphere. As ‘attack’ portrays an imagery of action…
‘And with a shout, break into their position.’
The verbs ‘shout, break’ suggests an ecstasy of fumbling, no time to waste to charge over to the enemy. This has a touch of pessimism, although it’s optimistic as the sapper is eager to serve valiantly in the war.
Jeff Curtis’ translation ends with a cyclical repetition of ‘Argonne forest’ giving an impression that it’s an important place were important soldiers have died of bravery. The tone is suddenly different, as though to show respect, from violent to calm. The word ‘cool’ represents a peaceful and pleasant image of the soldiers, as we also get s strong sense of pride with the phrase ‘much gallant soldiers blood’ giving an optimistic view of the war, as the word ‘gallant’ portrays an image of courageous soldiers who have fought for their country.
In conclusion, ‘attack’ has described the war as being futile and horrendous sending out a deep meaning, ‘that those who’ve suffered will never forget it and the soldiers were forced into a disastrous part of the world.’ On the other hand ‘Argonne forest at midnight’ described the war in a very optimistic way, so families will look up to them if the men fought for their country. I felt that it also had a deep allegory- ‘if you die with bravery then you shall never be forgotten but if you die as nothing then you shall be known as nothing.’
However, these two poems do have a few similarities. The two poems have described their view of the war and emotions but either good or bad. They were both written by soldiers and have also had past experience in the war but because they are from two different countries, it is easier to see why the German poem was optimistic about the war and Sassoon’s poem from Britain was futile. The reason for this was because the majority of the Germans hated the French and British as they were being defeated during the war.