The medium of poetry has existed since man could write. It was a way in which stories were told and the rhythm used, made the poem more enjoyable and easier to understand. War Poetry has existed for as long as any other form of poetry It was used to describe the conquests of the tribe chiefs or hero’s. In these early epic poems, the view was that soldiers were courageous and war was a great adventure and to die in battle, facing the enemy ‘foes’ was the greatest honour that could be bestowed on a young man.
Even now in the Twenty-First Century people still die for the ‘glorious cause’ and this sacrifice is still represented in poetry or in written or spoken verse. Also there are poems which view war as filthy disgusting wastes of human life, this attitude is taken after the men who see the chilling wars and recount their experiences in verse or written word. For my coursework I intend to discuss the medium of war poetry from both perspectives, both anti and pro war.
I shall also do one pre 1900 poem and two post 1900 poems. For my pre 1900 poem I plan to do ‘The Drum’, by John Scott and my post 1900 poems will be ‘For The Fallen’, by Laurence Binyon and ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, by Wilfred Owen. ‘The Drum’, was written by John Scott; the poem was written in 1798, a time when many people were beginning to question the need for war. Also Scott was a Quaker, one of the first groups to express themselves as being opposed to all forms of war.
Scott wrote ‘The Drum’, because he was so angered about the effects of the ‘Drums Discordant Sound’, on the young men of the day. How on hearing the ‘Discordant Sound’, its ‘pleasure yields’ the men to surrender their lives and freedom, ‘liberty’ for the ‘charms’ of the enchanting weapons and showy uniforms, ‘of tawdry lace, and glittering arms,’ of the officers. He also speaks of how their, ‘ambition’ takes over their minds and its ‘voice commands’ the young men, the ‘thoughtless youth’ to be slain, ‘to march and fight and fall in foreign lands’.
In the second stanza Scott repeats the first two lines of the first stanza to emphasize how much he does despise the ‘Drum’ and he also repeats ‘parading round, and round, and round’, as if to say the ‘discordant sound’ is driving him to insanity. He begins with what the ‘Drum’ tells him ‘of ravaged plains’, here he expresses that it talks to him of the spoilt battlefields and the killing fields of war.
He also tells us that the ‘sound’ tells him of the ‘burning towns, and ruined young swains’, here he puts forward the destruction that war casts all over the land and of the ruined young men, who joined for ‘charms’ but are now nothing but decrepit bodies scarred physically and mentally, ‘the mangled limbs and dying groans’. Scott also tells us of the pain felt away from the battlefields, of the widows and the orphans.
To finish Scott tells us that the ‘Drum’ talks to him of all that ‘Misery’s hand bestows’; this means when the ‘Drum’ sounds he hears all of the sadness and suffering of War, and this is what drives him to insanity. Scott means for the poem to be said slowly and sadly to express the reality of war. He makes it sound like the young men’s monotonous march to death. He uses alliteration in the poem, in the second line he repeats the word ’round’ thrice to express the death march, and in the last line of the stanza he says ‘fight’, ‘fall’ and ‘foreign’ in one line to show the repetition and monotony of the ‘Drum’ and its march.
The first stanza concentrates on the ‘Ambition’ of the young men and the pleasures of the life in the army, but the second stanza conflicts with this; it talks of the Miseries of the war and the woes of the young men. For my second study I will discuss ‘For The Fallen’ by Laurence Binyon, which is a post 1900 poem that is pro war. The poem starts by thanking the dead soldiers who were described as being ‘flesh of her flesh’, ‘spirit of her spirit’. Here they are being described as the sons of England, ‘mother for her children’.
Binyon personifies England to be like a ‘mother’ who ‘mourns for her dead across the sea’. Binyon describes the ‘mother’ ‘thanksgiving’, ‘for her dead across the sea’ who had ‘fallen in the cause of the free’. In the second stanza Binyon describes the sound of the drums as a ‘thrill’, which contrasts with Scott’s opinion of it being a ‘discordant sound’. Binyon also describes the death of a soldier as a grand ceremonial occasion, ‘death august and royal’. He also suggests that the death is a ‘glory’ and that at the death our eyes are filled with tears.
In the third stanza Binyon describes how the young men courageously went into battle, so happy, as they ‘sang’! He also tells how fit and prepared and quick-witted the men that marched on view were. He also tells us ‘they were staunch to the end against odds uncounted’; this means that the young men fought loyally and unwaveringly against an army so great in size it could not be counted by meagre man. In the last line he tells us that even as they died they stood their ground, ‘with their faces to the foe’.
In the fourth stanza Binyon describes to us that the young men who have died have been fortunate because they have lived all their lives young while those that are left must grow old, or be damned with the boring lives that the soldiers shall never have to bear. He also tells that at every setting and rising of the sun we will remember those who died in the ’cause of the free’. In the fifth stanza we are told they ‘mingle not with their laughing comrades, sit no more at the familiar tables of home’; they are still with us in a mysterious, deep manner in the emotions of the country.
In the sixth stanza he goes on to emphasize this emotion by saying ‘to the innermost heart in their own land they are known, as the stars are known to the night’, this suggests that the soldiers are in a way still connected to the people in their hearts with an intimacy which is stressed by the metaphor that they are known ‘as the stars are known to the night’. In the seventh and final stanza Binyon stresses that the soldiers shall be there when all else dies like the ‘stars’, and that they ‘remain’ for all eternity.
He uses a metaphor to stress that the ‘soldiers are like the ‘stars’ and he also uses repetition to stress the fact that the soldiers remain in memory after all else has died. For my third study I will be doing ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ a post 1900 anti-war poem by Wilfred Owen. Owen as a soldier had seen some of the most terrible battles in the First World War during his time in the Somme Sector and the Hindenburg Line. It was from the experiences in these campaigns that he grew to despise war and all those that endorse it.
He uses the poems title ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ as a satirical, ironic play on words as the title actually means ‘It is sweet to die for ones country. Sweet and Decorous’. He uses the title to put forward that he does not think death for ones country is proper. In the first stanza Owen sets the scene . The battered and worn soldiers are limping, ‘Bent double like old beggars under sacks’, back from the front line, to the rest area. The men’s wretched condition is such that they are compared to ‘hags’, which makes us think of dirty toothless crones in rags, this is a far cry from the glittering uniforms of the once astute young recruits.
Knock kneed’, suggests that the men are tired from walking and they again are not the fit young men. The men ‘trudging’, also suggests tiredness. The men marching asleep implies that they have lost all care and are just continuing, senseless in the monotony of marching. The next lines emphasize the feeling of the men being asleep, inhuman, in the way they marched unaware of their surroundings just trying to overcome the wastefulness of it all. The second stanza tells us about Gas shells being dropped on the marchers.
The words ‘an ecstasy of fumbling’ suggests an excitement but it actually means a morbid state of nerves in which the mind is occupied solely with one idea. The men are in ‘an ecstasy of fumbling’ as they struggle to fit their masks against the choking gas. Owen goes on to describe the bad fortune of one of the soldiers who failed to fit his gasmask in time. Owen describes him as ‘yelling out and stumbling’; this suggests that the man has lost all control of himself due to the tremendous pain.
Floundering’ also suggests an inability to control ones movement and ‘fire or lime’, implies that the man’s pain is like being burnt alive. Owen describes how he sees the man as if through ‘misty panes’, to suggest that he himself was not aware of his surroundings; he was only through his sleep-deprived mind. The ‘misty panes’ also tell us of the sea likeness of the gas as he saw the man ‘drowning’. In the third stanza Owen goes from a new perspective, that of a recurring nightmare where he sees the man again ‘plunging’ in desperate pleas for help.
He again likens the gas to the sea, as he sees the man ‘drowning’, ‘guttering’ and ‘choking’ in his desperation. In the fourth and final stanza he is at a different perspective once again; he is out rightly attacking the people at home who uphold the wars continuance unaware of its true realities. He wishes theses people could see what he sees in his dream, the creature that is no longer human that writhes in desperate pain. Owen goes on to describe the suffering of the soldier; each description is supposed to shock the reader and make them fear war.
He then talks about the reason for the poem; he says that he wishes the propagandists, could see the creatures and they would not so readily tell to young men that death for ones country is glorious. Owen wrote this poem as a satirical and ironic reply to people such as Jessie Pope who so willingly tell the youth that death for ones country is sweet. Owen wishes to show that it is not. The differences and contrasts between the poems are very vivid; for example in the ‘Drum’, Scott refers to the drums sound as being ‘discordant’ while Binyon in ‘For the Fallen’ describes the drums sound as a ‘thrill’.
We also see the affinity between the ‘Drum’ and ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ as they are both anti-war. From these studies I have seen the effectiveness that poetry has of telling a story. The manner in which that poetry is written can totally convince you in the favour of the argument they are making. Although all were effectively convincing I personally found ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ most impressive because it contained more striking material; such as Owen’s dream.