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Three World War One Poems
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Sassoon and Owen where treated at the same mental hospital during world war one. Do their poems appear to be the work of madmen?
Rupert Brooke’s poem ‘The Soldier’ was written at the start of World War One, this was before the horror of the trenches was known. The poem is a traditional sonnet in which Brooke expresses his love for England and how he believes it is right to fight and die for his country. However Brooke never discovered what war was like in reality as he died in 1915, before he actually got to fight in the war. Therefore his poem is very idealistic and has a very traditional viewpoint.
Brooke’s poem is written in iambic pentameter and has alternate line rhyme he also uses metaphors and euphemism. Brooke’s poem would inspire young men to enlist and would bring comfort to the families of the victims of war. In his poem Brooke uses repetition of the word England in a very patriotic style. He also uses personification to describe England as if it were a person, for example, ‘her sights and sounds, dreams happy as her day’. Sassoon’s poem ‘The General’ and Owen’s poem ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est.’ could be considered as deliberate responses to Brooke’s ‘The Soldier.’
‘The General’ points out the contrast between the soldiers who die and the Generals who send them to their deaths. He says in his last line ‘ But he did for them both by his plan of attack’ which shows how the Generals killed their soldiers by sending them of to their deaths. This is a good end for the poem as it leaves the reader thinking about the incompetence of the general. In this poem Sassoon uses irony to criticise the folly of war. Sassoon’s poem is written in iambic hexameter and has alternate line rhyme except for the last three lines, which are rhyming triplets. Sassoon’s poem shows that he is an intelligent man and knew how to use his wit. Sassoon’s poem ‘The General’ is a very effective poem even though it is only short and has no graphic description. It also gets its message across to the reader strongly.
Wilfred Owen’s poem ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ could also be considered as a response to Rupert Brooke’s ‘The Soldier.’ The readers of Owen’s poem, looking at the title would expect to read something similar to Brooke’s poem, something that would bring them comfort and pride. The traditional image of soldiers engendered in such songs as ‘The British Grenadier’ was of heroic patriots, Wilfred Owen destroys this traditional image, right from the start of his poem and the reader discovers what war was like in reality.
The poem begins by describing the soldiers but instead as describing them as tall noble and handsome, he describes them as ‘like old beggars under sacks’ and ‘Knock-kneed, coughing like hags’. Owen included this description because it gives the reader an idea of how they were living in reality, as their accommodation was in dugouts, which were holes made in the sides of the trenches and covered in tarpaulin sheets. These poor living conditions gave rise to health problems apart from wounds caused by gunfire and gas. Owen describes the soldiers in a way that helps the reader visualise the appalling living conditions. The very first line of the poem would shock readers who had no idea of what war was like for the soldiers in the trenches. Owens poem is very realistic and is not idealistic, like Rupert Brook’s poem ‘The Soldier’. In his poem Owen is trying to convey to people who have no idea of what life in the trenches is really like, the hellishness of the conditions there.
Owen uses repetition to emphasise certain words, for example he repeats he repeats the word ‘drowning’ because he wants the reader to really think about what he is saying, and by leaving the word drowning at the end of the line it makes it more dramatic. Owen uses lots of simile’s and metaphors throughout the poem and he also uses the conditional tense. An example of this is when he says ‘ If in some smothering dream, you too could pace behind the wagon we flung him in,’ Owen has written this because during the war, the wagon which they would have put the body in, would have been pulled through the 700 km long, muddy trenches, which would not have been a smooth journey. The poem then goes on to give a grotesque image ‘of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues’.
Dialogue is used to bring a feeling of panic. This is used in the first line of the second stanza and exclamation marks are also used to show the tone of the voice. This poem is visually descriptive, although it does convey impressions through other senses too. It includes words, which describe sounds such as ‘gargling’ and ‘guttering’. It has words that describe taste, like ‘bitter as cud’ and words, which describe smell, such as ‘gas’ and ‘smoke’. These descriptive words are very effective and help the reader to visualise what the poem is describing.
The first stanza of the poem is written in the past tense, and becomes very dynamic in the second, when the gas attack begins. In the poem Owen uses lots of poetical devices such as simile’s, metaphors, alliteration and assonance to convey his loathing of war. Like Brooke, Owen has a tight metrical pattern and rhyme in his poem, but it is such a shocking piece that these features only become apparent when the poem is analysed after the first reading.
Many of the lines in the second stanza end with present participles such as ‘stumbling’ fumbling,’ ‘drowning,’ ‘chocking,’ ‘guttering’ and ‘floundering’. These help the reader to visualise the horrors of what is happening.
Of the three poems I looked at, Wilfred Owen’s ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ was the poem, which I preferred because I feel that it was the most descriptive and it also contained the most emotive language. The poems written by Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon could not possibly be the work of madmen as someone who had a mental illness could not possibly have written such great poems, with good use of poetical devices. The quality of these two poems shows that Sassoon and Owen were not madmen and were generally telling the truth of what happened during World War One.
This takes me back to my school days, I studied English Literature and got one of my best grades, in terms of your review unless you have the actual poems to look at the essay does not mean much – it would be good if they were included as part of the review. Jane x
mmpr 31.12.2004 20:12
Some interesting ideas here. Have you read "Base Details" by Sassoon (as short as "The General") or any other Owen? ("The Sentry" is an interesting one to read with "Dulce..." in mind. ~ Mark