The 20th century was a time of great conflict and turmoil, with many wars breaking out between the countries of the world. Many different attitudes towards to the wars were seen during the century, in the form of poems from various poets involved in war. From the quiet heroic patriotism seen in Rupert Brooke’s the Soldier, the tragedy and horror seen in Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est, to Siegfried Sassoon’s Suicide in the Trenches, war poetry captures a vast array of different subjects regarding war. Through these poets’ subject matter and tone, diction, structure and their poem’s titles, all three poets are able to articulate their personal views on war to the reader.
Although the poems are all written regarding the First World War, they illustrate different tones in their writing, but all concern the subject matter of death. Brooke’s poem the Soldier has a gentle and patriotic tone, with a mood of solace in the death of the soldier. This can be seen in the first stanza of the poem, Brooke tenderly depicting his forecasted death in the foreign soil, which will, in turn, eternally become a part of England. In the second stanza, the tone changes to one of peace and serenity, through the use of phrases such as “dreams happy as her day,” “laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,” and “In hearts at peace.”
These words all have positive connotations, erasing the initial inference of death in the first stanza. Brooke seamlessly insinuates the glory and patriotism in dying for England, his country of birth. A contrast can be seen in Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est, which was written several years after the publication of the Soldier. Dulce et Decorum Est depicts the gruesome death of a friend and fellow comrade during a gas attack. It has a sad and morose quality to the words with irony in the last stanza, and brings attention to the horrible reality of war through the unheroic death of a friend – blatantly contrasting the death in Brooke’s poem. Sassoon’s Suicide in the Trenches is different in both the tone and death of a soldier.
Sassoon describes the inglorious suicide of a “simple soldier boy,” with pity and bitterness, which is prevalent in the last stanza, describing the cheering crowds back home as “smug-faced,” as they erroneously think of soldiers a brave and heroic. Sassoon uses a soft tone to desire pity from the reader, whereas Owen has a distinctly harsh tone. Both these poems strongly contrast Brooke’s serene tone of patriotism. Whilst Brooke’s, Owen’s and Sassoon’s poems describe the death of war soldiers, they vary in tone and mood.
The divergent use of diction in the three poems reinforces the poet’s varying opinions on war and conflict. Brooke’s choice of words are tranquil, content and peaceful – words that are not often seen in poetry regarding tragedy. Brooke speaks of the soil in which the soldier – perhaps himself- would be placed in upon his death, describing it as a concealed “rich dust” of which “England bore, shaped, made aware,” which quietly and proudly insinuates the glory of death in war, subconsciously urging the reader to feel a sense of patriotism.
However, Owen refers to the soldier’s death in a horrifying manner, with powerful diction such as “guttering, choking, drowning,” and strong graphic similes such as “like a devil’s sick of sin,” to convey his views on the true atrociousness of war. Sassoon uses diction such as “cowed and glum” and “lonesome dark,” and the direct statement “He put a bullet through his brain,” to represent the pity and morose quality of the soldiers death, contrasting to both Owen’s graphical horror and Brooke’s calm serenity. The diction used in all three poems reflects the views and attitudes of the poets, reinforcing their beliefs to the reader, and in some cases changing their opinion on war.
The structures of Brooke’s, Owen’s and Sassoon’s poems vary, with each uniquely structuring their ideas to reinforce different points throughout their poems. Brooke elucidates his message by choosing an unusual structure, a fourteen-line iambic pentameter sonnet. It is unusual because there are no obvious couplets, but it includes an octet and a sestet. The difference between them is that in the first stanza, the soldier describes his last will on his way to the war. The second stanza takes place in the future when he is dead and he describes what presumably will happen after he is deceased. Splitting the two into different sections reinforces the second stanza – the proud manner of the soldier’s death.
The structure of Dulce et Decorum Est is based on two sonnets. The first with a stanza of eight lines and one of six lines follows the conventional stanza form, also known as the Petrarchian sonnet. The second sonnet is a modified form of the Shakespearian sonnet, with the modifications clarifying Owen’s message. The two-line couplet describing the horrific manner of death is a good example of this. The couplet is isolated to further reiterate the nature and calamity in the death of the soldier, representing one of millions. Owen also uses an iambic pentameter in his poem, however it uses full rhymes throughout the poem – “sacks…backs,” “sludge…trudge” and “boots…hoots,” to name a few.
However, it is broken in the lines that describe the gas attack on the soldiers. The technique of breaking up the iambic pentameter in the two lines is effective in conveying the sense of panic and helplessness under the attack. Contrasting both Owen’s and Brooke’s structures, Sassoon’s poem has three stanzas in a regular AA/BB rhyming scheme, and like Brooke’s and Owen’s poems, Sassoon’s too has an iambic pentameter. The stanzas are split accordingly with different happenings – the first one describing a young boy who, “grinned at life,” the second stanza describes his death, and the last stanzas rebukes the “crowds” back home. In splitting the stanzas up into these three different sections and having a regular rhythm, Sassoon is able to walk the reader through the reality of war in just a few lines. All three poets use their structure as a technique to reinforce their different points, and to enunciate specific occurrences in the poem.
All three poets use intrigue in their titles to entice the reader to the poem. Brooke uses a simple straight-to-the-point title for his poem the Soldier, which creates a myriad of conflicting images for the reader – from a heroic soldier in battle to the grave of the same man, it allures the reader to ascertain what kind of solider Brooke is describing. It differs to the title of Owen’s poem Dulce et Decorum est in that it is a complete different language. Those who are familiar with Latin will understand the irony in the title as they read the poem, because it means “It’s a sweet and seemly thing to die for your country.” Those who are not familiar with Latin would still be intrigued however; the first line is enough to immediately catch anyone’s attention.
In sharp contrast to both of these, Sassoon’s choice of title for Suicide in the Trenches is descriptive and immediately sets the scene for the poem, reeling the reader in. The title is stated as a matter-of-fact, almost like it is not a major concern, effectively gaining the attention of the reader. Through the titles of Brooke’s, Owen’s and Sassoon’s poems, the reader is intrigued and is inquisitive about the story behind the poem, successfully catching the interest of the reader.
Brooke, Owen and Sassoon use poetic techniques such as subject matter and tone, diction and structure to effectively connect with the reader on an emotional level, and also to express their own respective views on war. In comparing and reading through these poems, I have been able to clearly see the different perspectives and opinions on war. War is one of the most incredibly vain and violent things that can happen to a nation and to an individual, regardless of patriotism.
I did not agree with the devotion the soldier in Brooke’s poem had to England and although the idea of his death was beautifully portrayed, the reality would have been the polar opposite. I found that I strongly agreed with Owen and Sassoon’s poems, because were much closer to the truth, and really dispelled any misconception one might have on the veracity of war. These poems have further reinforced my initial standing on war – that it is futile and antiquated, and always will result in destruction, devastation, catastrophe and loss, with absolutely no positive gain.