In the year 1914, a global military conflict broke out, mostly taking place in Europe. The Great War left millions of soldiers, from both sides of the opposition, dead, or severely wounded. Moreover, it drastically re-shaped the modern world as a result of innovative ideas and developments. There are numerous views of war; the majority greatly vary from each other. Such contrasts, as it were, can be seen in the form of poems written at the time. Hence, from analysing the work of poets, it could be considered that the attitudes of war are presented in ways which differ, or perhaps, several of the poems may have established similar interpretations.
Furthermore, most of the poets aimed to illustrate the ideas of their poem through the use of poetic techniques, allowing the reader to comprehend the various aspects of the poem with greater ease. Three poems of World War One highlight several of the different factors of war, each exploring the topic in their own way. ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ is about the horrific reality and atmosphere of war; it describes the trauma of experiencing a gas attack. ‘Fall In’ is a recruitment poem, which attempts to convince men to enlist war as a means of conveying elements of shame and guilt. ‘The Soldier’ is a poem laced with sentimentality and nationalism; a far cry from the themes of other works during the time.
In the poem ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est,’ the poet, Wilfred Owen, evidently portrays a negative general attitude to war, which can be detected even from the moment the poem commences. This can be seen when he expresses that the soldiers were: ‘Deaf even to the hoots of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.’ Five Nines were 5.9″ artillery shells used to fire gas; this particular line is one of two versions, and is in fact, the original. Owen made the decision to write an alternative line in which more people would be familiar with, as he desired to broaden his audience. Anyhow, the line advocates that the men are somewhat oblivious to the war that is continuing around them.
It highlights the point that they have been forced to withstand war for such a long period of time that they have become ‘deaf’ as a consequence. In addition, it could suggest that the soldiers are so exasperated with war that it has had a subconscious effect on them. The poetic technique of personification is used to describe the shells as ‘tired,’ which gives the impression that the author thinks that the war is pointless and has been occurring for so long that even the shells have become wary of this futile catastrophe.
From this, it is possible to realise the overall attitudes that Owen feels, regarding war. Comparatively, Harold Begbie takes on the view that war is necessary in ‘Fall In,’ thus promoting war as a positive event: ‘What will you lack, sonny, what will you lack,’ Therefore, the opening line of the poem illustrates the pressure placed on men throughout war, for the repetition along the line causes the reader to feel as if they have no choice. The words are posed as a rhetorical question, yet may make the reader have the desire to answer, as the question displayed is intimidating and forceful, in a seemingly positive manner.
From this perspective, ‘no’ appears to be an exceptionally unlikely reply, as the phrase instantly provokes various reasons in the reader’s mind as to why war is the only path to take. As well as that, there is also the use of colloquial language, which adds to the effect. Words such as ‘sonny’ are rather informal, and would have been used by local people. This is a fine technique, as it makes it appear as Begbie is talking directly to the reader; it is language that the reader would use themselves, and would therefore be familiar with.
Hence, the line is an example of the fact that the poem is intent only on persuading men to enlist, and scarcely considers the fact that one may not return from war. It attempts to maintain a positive view all throughout, which is a great comparison to ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est.’ However, ‘The Soldier’ introduces another attitude to war, stating the probable death of a soldier, in spite of the fact that the poem has little to do with dying. The poet, Rupert Brooke, reflects idealism and optimism in the face of war, and the voice in ‘The Soldier’ talks about his untimely death in a fiercely patriotic manner, undaunted by his likely demise.
When referring to the foreign field in which he will be buried, he claims that: ‘There’s some corner of a foreign filed that is for ever England.’ In other words, the figurative language in “The Soldier” defines the poem and displays the message, but also supports the fact that Brooke’s poem approaches the horrors of war in an indirect and romantic manner. In this line, the poet is using the field as a metaphor for the simple graveyards soldiers were buried in; he is addressing war in a lighter tone. Moreover, patriotism shines through this line, as the author emphasizes the fact that even if the soldier should die fighting, he shall be satisfied, as he recognizes that there will always be a little piece of England. Thus, even if he dies in battle, it does not matter where; a slice of his country will die with him, almost conquering a fraction of the other country. According to the words of this line, England will last forever, whatever the outcome of war.
In the first stanza of ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est,’ the pace is very slow and a painstaking rhythm is established through Owen’s use of heavy, long words. This illustrates how painstaking and slow the war was, and, additionally, portrays the aspects related to day-to-day life in the trenches: ‘Bent double, like old beggars under sacks.’ The first clause ‘Bent double,’ is a hyperbole which creates the impression of extreme exhaustion, and the image that is conveyed is that the soldiers have no energy left and are constantly in excruciating agony. Additionally it suggests that the men are struggling with the extreme weight of their bags; it highlights the point that they are very hunched over as they are so physically fatigued. ‘Like beggars under sacks’ is a simile that illustrates that the men have no dignity left. It conjures the image of very dirty, disgustingly vile tramps, who have a nauseating stench.
The way that Owen captures the appearance of the soldiers as cripples makes them seem distant to us, and the disjointed, monotonous way they are seen echoes this group of men, their disorderly fashion and their dull, repetitive journey. As a result, Owen clearly establishes the tone and atmosphere of trench life, and explains the hardships the soldiers were set to endure each day. On the contrary, ‘Fall In’ not once mentions life in the trenches, and never reveals any of the horrors which wrapped around them. In fact, Begbie makes war appear somewhat relaxed, and an event which is not long, stressful and filled with terror, as accentuated in ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’: ‘From the foe they rushed to beat?’ Therefore, the poet makes war seem like a contest, or competition, rather than a brutal, extreme battle.
The line gives an impression that war is almost a race, which everyone would desire to compete in, as if there is nothing to lose, yet so much to gain for taking part. The word ‘rushed’ indicates that war will be quick and rather simple, and it will be a mobile war, which is the opposite of what it turned out to be in reality. As opposed to the words which Owen stated in his poem, Begbie seems to erase any feature of trench life, which causes war to sound more appealing. After all, the poem is an example of propaganda, as it is a recruitment poem. It would by no means desire to offer men the opportunity to have the slightest notion that that their time as a solider will limp along, under the insanitary and vile conditions of the trenches.
Likewise, ‘The Solider’ contains no mention of trench life in reality, yet the purpose being is not to coax men to enlist; rather, to highlight the positive aspects of war. Instead, Brooke seems to recognize the existence of the trenches, yet unpicks any negative aspects of war. This is apparent when the poet states that: ‘There shall be in that rich earth a richer dust concealed’ Hence, Brook refers to ‘dust’ as a body in the line; it is a metaphor for a dead soldier in the trenches. In this line Brooke is saying that the earth, in which he is buried in, will be richer because an English soldier lies in it; because a piece of England lies beneath the earth.
Through this statement, Brooke is associating the soldier in the poem with England, making him not just English, but England. In addition, this implies that for each day in the trenches, for each English soldier that dies, the country of England will be re-established. Therefore, the sense of patriotism, yet again, outlines these words in the line, and they almost illuminate any sense of hope in the trenches by replacing any negative thoughts with positive ones. As a result, with all this in mind, it is possible to see how three poems can express such varying views of day-to-day life in the trenches, or if the trenches are referred to at all.
The poem ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ aims to depict the reality of war, and presents it as an appalling and incompetent thing. One way of doing so is by expressing the repercussions of the gas attack in the poem, as a means of using figurative language and imagery to express the seemingly impending injuries which are caused by the attack: ‘His face hanging like a devil’s sick of sin’ Thus, the writer describes in graphic detail how the physical look of the soldier had changed, obviously attempting to shock the reader and get through to them how war is such a devastating business. The image that is portrayed is that the soldier’s face had dropped and was now exceedingly unsightly.
‘Like a devil’s sick of sin’ is a simile that highlights this point. This comparison implies that his face was corrupted and baneful. The image created in the reader’s mind is that the face has suddenly been transformed from a young, youthful face to a very old and aged face. Now the face is hideously ugly and revolting; it is feasible to imagine the face appearing twisted and stretched, covered in gruesome boils and markings. The simile therefore implants a clear picture in the reader’s mind, by providing them with something familiar which they are able to relate to. Conversely, ‘Fall In’ portrays any corollaries of war in a manner which links to recruitment- causing one to laden with guilt if they do not enlist: ‘Is it naught to you if your country fall and Right is smashed by Wrong?’
Although the idea opposes that of Owen’s, Begbie is using a similar technique to put forth his views, which is through imagery. Begbie is painting a picture, in the heads’ of those reading his poem, of two ‘sides.’ The ‘sides’ of ‘Right and Wrong’ are metaphors that represent the sides of the conflict in reality. In this case, it is clear that ‘Right’ is the side of the reader; it is the side everyone would want to be on. The capital letters of the two ‘sides’ draw the reader’s eyes directly to the words, thus emphasizing the main idea. The poet is saying that if the reader does not enlist, they will witness their country, or side, fall. This is a powerful image, and an effective one; it is simple and conveys a simple, clear message. Furthermore, expressed as a question, the line is challenging and almost dares the reader to disagree.
It explains that by not enlisting, one will have contributed nothing to help their country overcome the opposition, subsequently feeling the utmost shame. ‘The Soldier’ continues to establish its positive approach throughout the poem, and describes the consequences of war as virtuous, which glorifies war: ‘And think, this heart, all evil shed away.’ This line is an example of the second most prominent theme employed by Brooke, which is the notion of transformation, distinguished clearly throughout ‘The Soldier.’ The line implies a transformation from a soldier, ordinary and human, to a cleansed soul who will live forever through England.
The second stanza is saying that with death for one’s country comes great honour and transformation into a pure soul, forever remembered for fighting to the end, for their country. By making himself a martyr, the soldier in the poem has ‘cleansed his soul’; this is a great transformation. This idea is what inspired soldiers to be willing to die for their country, and to want to fight for England. Brooke is saying that there is a larger purpose that can be achieved through death, which is another example of Brooke romanticizing the war and death. To soldiers, the thought of being transformed into a great soul, forever linked to your nation because of your connection with England, is consistent throughout, which is the reason transformation is a prominent theme of the poem.
In continuation, all three poems portray the attitudes of those of the ‘Home Front,’ in different styles. The purpose of ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ was in fact, to make those not fighting in the war to have a greater awareness of the horrors of war. In the final few lines of the poem, this impression seems exceptionally clear. The writer implies that if the reader had experienced this disgustingly frightful situation themselves, then they wouldn’t tell with such ‘high zest to children ardent for some glory, The old Lie: Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori.’ The Latin words told by the Roman poet Horace, enhance the focal points of the poem, which is effective as the events in the poem quite clearly contradict the saying.
There is some irony in this concluding stanza, yet Owen is also very serious. He uses the saying as a warning and a final attempt to persuade the reader that war is grotesque. He describes the saying as ‘The old Lie,’ implying that it is a trick. Owen calls this a lie by using good diction, vivid comparisons and graphic images to have the reader feel disgusted at what war is capable of. This poem is extremely effective as an anti-war poem, making war seem absolutely despicable and revolting, just as the author desired it to be. The aim of this poem was to shock the reader-to let them feel the sense of disgust and frustration felt by all the soldiers as they witness the soldier’s struggle to breathe.
Reasons such as these suggest that Owen considered those at home to be rather ignorant and naï¿½ve, for he thought it necessary to reveal to them the reality of war. However, ‘Fall In’ makes it appear as if the people at home were completely aware of war, and their attitudes were positive and supportive, as long as one had taken part in war: ‘When your children yet to be, Clamour to learn of the part you took In the War that kept men free’ Hence, Begbie stresses that people back in England would be excited and interested in war, suggesting that they considered it to be a noble and courageous thing to do.
Thus, Begbie targets his poem at the non-conformists, and, through the poem, proposes that they will be rejected, humiliated and mocked if they do not enlist. This is due to the attitudes of those at home, for these people are only concerned for men who have fought for their country; they will hold resentment to those who allowed others to fight for them. Therefore, the line suggests that if one does indeed enlist, they will have great stories to tell, and shall be profoundly respected, as a hero or winner. Additionally, the line is an example of the rhyming scheme, which adds a beat, or rhythm to the words. It rhymes every other line, and is constant, and causes to poem to be one of simplicity, which suggests that enlisting in the army is straightforward, as is being victorious in battle. The rhyming supports the reader’s interest, ensuring that they maintain their focus throughout.
In ‘The Soldier’ Brooke reflects the attitude of England, and those situated in England at the time, as a means of constantly referring back to the country, and its wonders: ‘And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness’ Therefore, Brooke heavily emphasizes the various glorious elements of England, and of the people of England, indicating that the views of the people on the ‘Home Front’ were optimistic and positive. In other words, this line is saying that the country of England become so great as a result of its citizens and inhabitants, and will continue to do so as long as they remain.
The line implies that each individual person makes up a fragment of England, and each person is significant. This could be because a country cannot laugh, or be gentle, yet people can. Yet, it might mean that the people have almost taught the land to express emotions, which really suggests that the attitudes of those on the ‘Home Front’ are supportive and kind. This is, in a way, similar to ‘Fall In.’ Moreover, the ‘friends’ could be a metaphor for those back at home in England, and it is evident that Brooke is remembering them with heartfelt joy, suggesting that they regard him likewise. The overall poem provides the reader with a small insight into the ideology of soldiers and the public, who were seeking a deeper meaning for the death and destruction occurring.
In conclusion, I consider that war can be presented in various ways, the majority of which vastly differ from each other, in the three poems. This could be due to the provenance of the poem. That is, ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ was presumably written from experience, and at the time it was published, people were already becoming aware that war was outrageous, horrific; the opposite of what it may have appeared to be initially. Whereas ‘Fall In’ would have the desire to stress war as an event in which all men would want to participate in; it is a propaganda poem, thus attempts to convince men to enlist.
Furthermore, the situation of war, during the time of such poems, would have been growing exceedingly worse, for great numbers of soldiers would have been slaughtered, or injured severely. This means that more soldiers would have to be coaxed into take part. On the contrary, Rupert Brooke had no military experience when he wrote ‘The Solider.’ He was never to realise exactly how horrific war was, for he met his death before having the opportunity to defend the country he so greatly adored. Hence, the poem is not an accurate source which clarifies what World War One was like, although it is a fine example of the fierce patriotism to one’s country. From all of this, it is possible to see the ways in which the poems differ when presenting the Great War.
However, I would say that the war is presented most genuinely in ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est.’ At no point in the poem does Wilfred Owen make use of euphemisms, and the author is very clear about the horror of war. Through the use of graphic imagery and vivid descriptions, Owen is able to give the reader the exact feeling that he yearned for. In addition, the tone of the poem is serious yet heartfelt, and this causes the words to be more credible. Precise diction emphasises his point, portraying that war is abysmal and devastating. Consequently, this poem conveys a strong meaning and persuasive argument, which I deem to be very effective. As for the other poems, I think that ‘Fall In’ is a poem which is written well, and devised in a clever way. However, it provides the reader with information which is inaccurate and false; the entire poem appears to be pretence, in my opinion.
‘The Soldier’ presents war in such a beautiful way, and it is a fiercely patriotic and light take on World War One. It would have strongly appealed to the public as they coped with loss during the commencement of war, yet I would say that its sentimentality romanticizes the war and masks the true horrors England was experiencing at the time. Thus, ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est,’ is, in my mind, the most effective of the three at showing what war was like. The language Owen uses makes us understand both the public’s blinded view of war, yet also opens up a window through which we can see reality.