The Changing Role of Poetry in the First World War

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The Changing Role of Poetry in the First World War

In this essay I will discuss the changing attitudes of poets during

the First World War. I will select a range of poems that will cover

the early days through to the end of the war and explain how the texts

were used for different purposes. I will also show how the language of

the poetry went through gradual changes.

Poetry written in 1914-1918 about the war had four basic phases:

expectation, experience, protest and finally reflection. I will cover

all four in this essay.

Britain's entry to the war was forced upon us. The army was sent into

action after Germany threatened Belgium, a country we had promised to

be allies with, Britain seemed to dive into an unplanned and very

vulnerable situation.

The people seemed to have no idea of what was about to happen. The

attitude across the country seemed to be one of all the young men

going off to fight the enemy, and all of them coming home heroes.

There was an attitude that war was a patriotic sacrifice and almost a

passage that young men should go through, to come out as civilised,

and experienced, human beings. The poets writing at the time, such as

Julian Grenfell wrote of the warmth of comradeship and left alone the

possibility of actually dying over there. The poems are so airy and

warm, speaking of the spring and new beginnings, and even of death

being an ultimate honour.

In "Into Battle" Grenfell uses romantic language, opening the first

stanza with: "The naked earth is warm with spring," is hardly the way

to describe a war. This was at the beginning of the war and the

attitude was very patriotic and an enthusias...

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suffered by many in the trenches. Sassoon is worried that the memory

of this might be lost to future generations:

'But the past is just the same--and War's a bloody game...

Have you forgotten yet?

Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you'll never


The First World War did bring about many changes- socially,

politically and technologically. As well as this, 1914-1918 saw a

complete change in the style and structure of poetry. The strictness

of rhythm and rhyme were cast aside in favour of more accessible and

straightforward forms as the war progressed. The language became more

colloquial. These ideas and many oh coupled with the free verse style

of Rosenberg finally freed the poet from the earlier restraints and

allowed them to more easily express their feelings and to the public.

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