The Attitudes to the First World War in Poetry

The Attitudes to the First World War in Poetry

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The Attitudes to the First World War in Poetry

Compare and contrast the attitudes to the First World War in the
poetry you have read. Focus in detail on four poems, two of which
should be by the same author.

When the war started the general feeling of the English was that the
war was great and would be over before Christmas. This is evident in
much of the early war poetry. As the war progressed, however, people
began to feel disillusioned and eventually had an overwhelming feeling
of futility in that so many lives were wasted for such little gain.
The people back home were left feeling bitter as they gained knowledge
about the suffering these young men had endured. The poetry I am going
to analyse ‘The Soldier’ by Rupert Brooke, ‘Cricket’ by Jessie Pope,
‘Dulce et Decorum est’ and ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ by Wilfred Owen
reflects these changing views.

Rupert Brooke was born in 1887. He joined the Navy at the start of the
war, but died in 1915 whilst going to take part in the Dardenelles
campaign. In 1914, Brooke composed his poem ‘The Soldier’ which is the
fifth poem in a collection of five which displays the glory of war.

As he saw little action in the Great War, Rupert Brooke was unaware of
the terrible conditions in the trenches. This was because he never
fought on the battlefields and due to this Brooke holds a much more
glorified view of war. Brooke describes his death in ‘The Soldier’. He
talks about how he is not scared of dying; describing the way in which
he will rest in peace “under an English heaven.” Rupert Brooke sees
England as idyllic and tranquil and talks about his love for his
motherland. Brooke feels by fighting for England he is giving
something back.

Brooke uses many language techniques to portray his feelings. He uses
repetition of the word “England” to show his patriotism. He refers to
the English country as a female; “Gave once, her flowers to love, her
ways to roam” This makes highly effective use of personification. It
shows Brooke's romantic view towards his country, making the reader
feel proud for his country as well. Religious overtones such as “evil
shed away”, “eternal mind”, “blessed” and “English heaven” are used
throughout ‘The Soldier’ to show purity and to portray the typical
views of a Christian country.

To make the poem calm and poetic, Brooke uses natural imagery such as
“air”, “river” and “flowers”. The effects of these words make the
reader feel happy and calm. Sibilance is used with; “Sights and
sound”. This soft sounding alliteration slows the pace which makes the

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line flow; “Her sights and sounds; and dreams happy as her day.”

In ‘The Soldier’ Rupert Brooke believes that no matter where he dies,
he will still be representing his country. He believes that if he died
on foreign grounds, his body would enrich the place where he is buried
because he is English; “In that rich earth a richer dust concealed.”

In this poem Brooke feels content to die for his motherland to protect
the people left behind, hoping that his efforts will protect them from
the enemy. Even if his contributions were extremely small, shown by
the comparison of just a single 'pulse' to an 'eternal mind', he is
happy to 'give somewhere back the thoughts England given', meaning to
repay his beloved England by protecting her for all that she has
provided him with. He values England and wishes to preserve her
'laughter', 'friends' and 'gentleness' for the future. This
contentment and happiness is clearly shown by the words 'peace' and
'heaven', and even if he is dead, he can still rest in peace as he has
loyally served his country.

Although Brooke glorifies his own death in the poem, it was also used
as propaganda to try to recruit new soldiers.

‘Cricket’ was written by Jessie Pope who was one of the few female war
poets. She was born in Leicester in 1868 and educated at Craven
House, Leicester and North London Collegiate School. Pope was a
popular journalist and regularly contributed to Punch, The Daily Mail,
and The Daily Express.

This poem was written at the start of the war, and was first published
in May 1915. Jessie Pope did not fight in the war, and this is seen
throughout all of her poems as she did not realise the horrors of the
war, as she was never in the trenches. Jessie Pope’s poetry represents
a patriotism that is rarely expressed to such an extreme in other
female writing of the war. Her poetry does not express a uniform
feeling about the war, although the strength of it meant that she was
an extremely unpopular poet during the war.

However in 1915, the morale of the English was not as high as that at
the start of the war. Disillusionment had begun to creep in as the war
had not been won before Christmas. The poem starts with a view of the
cricket pitch, but of a cricket pitch without men playing on it. Pope
describes weeds and flowers starting to “annex the place reserved for
stumps.” Jessie Pope uses several uncertain images such as “stripped”
and “bare.” These two words are very negative and show the reader the
feeling of emptiness on this barren cricket pitch.

We find out in the third stanza that the men that did play cricket
have gone off to war to play “a new and deadly game/ where thunder
bursts in crash and flame.” This shows us that she knows how dangerous
the war is but she still refers to the war as a game. This allegory
shows us that she is pro-war, but she refers to war as deadly. In the
last stanza the poem returns to pro-war feeling. Pope refers to
winning the war as taking “the Kaiser’s middle wicket.”

This poem shows that disillusionment had just started to creep in and
the general feeling of the people back home had started to
deteriorate. As war progressed the feeling of patriotism demised and
this happened as the death toll was rising. People came out of this
disillusionment that war is all things great and glorious and began to
take in the realities of war. This meant that it was harder to
comprehend the ideals of patriotism and duty. This poem is similar to
‘The Soldier’ as it is pro-war, but it shows that disillusionment had
started to creep in and this is not evident in Brooke’s poem.

When soldiers returned they spoke from experience and therefore the
reality of war and poetry was written to explain war and how it is.
One of the soldiers who became a poet was Wilfred Owen.

“Dulce et Decorum est” is a poem about soldiers in the front line and
their experiences in the war. Wilfred Owen wrote this poem for the
people back home, who thought that the soldiers were heroic and were
glad to fight and die for King and Country. Originally, Wilfred Owen
had dedicated this poem to Jessie Pope as she was very pro-war, but
Siegfried Sassoon urged him not to. This, however, was not the case
for many of the soldiers who signed up as they believed they were
doing ‘their bit’ for their country and were swept up in the
propaganda. This poem could have been written about many battles, but
is more probably about 1916, when gas attacks were first tried and
tested against the English. I think this poem is about the Battle of

In the first section of the poem, Wilfred Owen describes the soldiers
at the front line as “Old beggars”. He is telling us that these men
are so tired that they do not know what they are doing. They march on,
because they are told to. Wilfred Owen describes these men as “Drunk
with Fatigue”. The first and second stanzas are relatively long, and
then there is a short, sharp dramatic sentence, followed by another
long paragraph.

The short paragraph in the middle really stands out to the reader:

“In all my dreams before my helpless sight, He plunges at me,
guttering, choking, drowning.”

Because of the powerful, emotive language used, and the fact that it
is isolated from the rest of the poem, this sentence grabs the
attention of the reader. I think the layout of “Dulce et Decorum est”
is purposefully set out as it represents the struggle that the soldier
has to face. The first two paragraphs are of similar length, and
represent the organised troops going off to war. The short stanza in
the middle represents the fact that something can go wrong so
suddenly, but they have to keep going no matter what, which is shown
by the final paragraph, which is long and flowing.

Also, the 'b' and 'd' sounds are soft and could be showing the slow
panting of the soldiers as they trudged through the thick mud. There
are also strong lines used in the rest of the poem.

“And watch the eyes writhing in his face,

His face hanging, like a devil's sick of sin”

Owen uses extremely strong and slightly hyperbolical imagery to show
how pitiful the war actually was. The 'w' sounds in the first line of
this quotation are quite similar to the screaming sounds that the
dying soldier might be producing as the gas eats away at his body,
whilst the onomatopoeic 's' sounds in the second line of this extract
could be referring to the hissing of the gas shells. Another effect of
these particular consonants is to show the bitterness that Owen feels
because of the shame of the War and how completely pointless it is.

Much of Owen's work was not published until after the war, and indeed
his death, so the only rewards Owen could possibly gain were to
satisfy his own need to clear his mind of the horrors he had witnessed
on the battlefield. Although in my opinion 'Dulce et Decorum Est' is
possibly the finest piece of war poetry ever written, it is only a
detailed account of war life, not forcing the reader into believing
his view of the war. It merely offers the reader the chance in his
final stanza, to have a long hard think about how they would feel if
placed in the same situation as Owen found himself.

'Dulce et Decorum est' is written almost as a speech, it starts
strongly with imagery and similes. Owen uses repetition of the word
“gas” driving home the idea of panic, the “fumbling” before you could
be safe. The power of threes: "…guttering, choking, drowning."

He uses pauses in several places so that the reader will stop and his
message sinks in then continues. He also ends strongly which is very
important so the audience has something to immediately reflect on. Why
Owen wants ‘Dulce…’ to be like a speech is because, having experienced
war, he has a very strong deep down message to tell; the horror of war
is so much worse than people imagine. A speech has the power to
deliver this message in a way that other scripts cannot.

At the end of Dulce et Decorum est, Owen addresses the reader at a
personal level; “My friend.” From this, we can see that he is trying
to reach across to the reader, and portray his point of view. The
finale to Dulce Et Decorum Est reads: “Dulce Et Decorum Est pro patria
mori.” This means, to die for King and Country is to be proud.
Nevertheless, before Wilfred Owen says this, he describes that line as
“the old lie.” As a front-line soldier he was very aware of the
difference between conditions as they were and as they were portrayed
at home.

This poem is radically different from Jessie Pope’s ‘Cricket’ and her
portrayal of patriotism. In ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ Wilfred Owen is
very depressed and angry at the men who tell innocent children that it
is honourable to die for your country.

‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ was written while Wilfred Owen was
recovering in Craiglockhart Hospital. He collaborated on this poem
with Siegfried Sassoon, so in some ways, the poems are similar. The
attitude of this poem is clearly bitterness and resentment.

The poem 'Anthem for Doomed Youth' written by Wilfred Owen is a
sonnet. 'Doomed youth' means all those young men being sent to war and
on the front are destined to die. In the poem the poet expresses his
views on what should happen to these people when they die. They all
should be given a funeral and a proper send off, even those on the
battlefield. You can tell this because throughout the poem he mentions
funerals and church services.

The first stanza concentrates on the sounds heard in the trenches like
the “stuttering rifles rapid rattle”. This onomatopoeic effect makes
the words come alive for the reader. In the second stanza Wilfred Owen
goes into more detail about the expected, normal reactions to the
frequent deaths and focuses on people's reactions at home rather than
death in the trenches. There are many funeral related terms in this
stanza some of which are candles, flowers; both of which are present
at any organised funeral. Owen is comparing a peacetime funeral with
what the 'boys' receive at war.

“Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes” is particularly emotive
because it is saying that one only needs to look into their eyes to
see the horrors they have witnessed. The sentence “The pallor of
girls' brows shall be their pall;” means that the dead soldiers do not
have a cloth, or pall, over their coffin, except for the sad faces of
their loved ones. The next line says that the only flowers, (which
would come in abundance at a normal funeral), are the tender nature of
patient minds. That is, the people waiting at home for a telegram.

The final line, “And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds”
symbolises an image of respect. When people were killed at war, or
died for any other reason, the families of the dead would draw down
their blinds and shut their curtains as a mark of respect enabling
them to mourn in private and also let other people know that there had
been a death in the family. However, because death was so common
during WWI, blinds would be drawn every day.

However, it is important to remember that soldiers only spent 3-4 days
a month on average in the front lines and although massive casualties
ensued, some did return from the Front.

‘Anthem for Doomed Youth' asks a question at the beginning of each
stanza, which it then answers through the rest of that stanza. Owen
does this to approach a poem from a different prospective. By asking a
question, he gets the reader thinking before answering himself. It
causes tension and sadness because the answer to the questions we
probably could answer but do not because it is upsetting to remember
the dead - especially when the question implies why should it have
been them and not you?

These four poems show how attitudes to war radically changed as the
war progressed. In ‘The Soldier’, Brooke is very patriotic and
extremely pro-war. ‘Cricket’ shows us that in 1915 a feeling of
pro-war was still there but disillusionment had started to creep in.
The two poems by Wilfred Owen bring home the harsh realities of war
and ask the reader, safe at home, to feel pity for the soldiers on the
front line. They portray a bitter attitude and strong feelings of
anger and resentment.
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