Published on February 20, 2008
English Poetry during World War I: English Poetry during World War I What do you think the response to war was in England, as much in other European countries? It was enthusiastic because a lot of volunteers enrolled in the armed forces. Some driven by a wish for glory and adventure, but most by genuine patriotism. World War One Movies But after a few months the original enthusiasm disappeared and was replaced by discomfort and disillusionment. English Poetry during World War I: English Poetry during World War I The heavy number of casualties made conscription necessary. World War I also brought to an end the illusion that problems could be solved peacefully. No war before or since then has had such a shattering impact on the British population. The War Poets: The War Poets In England it was first of all the voice of the young poets, called War Poets, that first denounced what trench life or death by gas were like. What was the early response to the war? It was a sort of deep romantic sense of patriotic duty, as the war went on the attitude changed and the poets turned to a more realistic sort of poetry, inspired by personal experiences of small and great tragedies of thousands of unknown people. The War Poets: The War Poets How to translate experience of war into poetry? Obviously, since the experience of war was so tragic and devastating, war poets had to find a way to translate into poetry what they had experienced, or in some case were experiencing. The War Poets: The War Poets As they realized what the war was really about, poets abandoned the romantic vocabulary they had previously used and felt the need for new means of expression new rhythms and new styles that could better mirror the harsh reality of war. They couldn’t have possibly relied on Georgian poetry, which was written in smooth rhythms and favoured English subjects, idealized rural England and avoided contemporary subjects. The War Poets: The War Poets The War Poets (Rupert Brooke, Owen Seaman, Sigfrid Sasson, Wilfred Owen) shared the same experiences. but focused on different aspects of the war and used different means of expression. The War Poets – Rupert Brooke: The War Poets – Rupert Brooke His war sonnets were written in the first flush of patriotism and enthusiasm as a generation unused to war rushed to defend king and country. If I should die, think only this of me: That there's some corner of a foreign field That is for ever England. There shall be In that rich earth a richer dust concealed; A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware…. (from war sonnets- sonnet V. the soldier) The War Poets – Owen Seaman: The War Poets – Owen Seaman Another example of patriotism is shown by the following lines written by O. Seaman England, in this great fight to which you go Because, where Honour calls you, go you must, Be glad, whatever comes, at least to know You have your quarrel just. The War Poets - Sigfrid Sasson : The War Poets - Sigfrid Sasson Sassoon’s poems are a combination of pity and irony Look at his poem – Base Details IF I were fierce, and bald, and short of breath, I’d live with scarlet Majors at the Base, And speed glum heroes up the line to death. You’d see me with my puffy petulant face, Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel, Reading the Roll of Honour. ‘Poor young chap,’ I’d say—‘I used to know his father well; Yes, we’ve lost heavily in this last scrap.’ And when the war is done and youth stone dead, I’d toddle safely home and die in bed. The War Poets - Sigfrid Sasson: The War Poets - Sigfrid Sasson The irony here is in the comfortable life of the commanders – the Majors – who monitor the war from the luxury of hotel rooms, reading with indifference the list of dead soldiers who have died in the battlefield. They will not die in the battlefields of Flanders, but securely in their beds, long after the war has ended. The War Poets – Wilfred Owen: The War Poets – Wilfred Owen Owen portrayed the idea of war as a cause of physical and spiritual mutilation and used understatements to bring a certain deal of harshness into his poetry. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori By W. Owen 'My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity. Yet these elegies are to this generation in no sense consolatory. They may be to the next. All a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true Poets must be truthful.' Biography Biography: Biography Wilfred Edward Salter Owen was born 18 March 1893 in Oswestry, Shropshire. After his school days he took a four-year course as a pupil-teacher. Then in 1913, he spent two years in France, as a language tutor. War was declared in August 1914 and in 1915 Wilfred wrote to his mother, 'I don't want to wear khaki ... But I now do most intensely want to fight.' In October he volunteered and was sworn into the Artists' Rifles. Eight months later he was commissioned as second lieutenant in the Manchester Regiment, and in December 1916 he left for the Western Front. After a last luxurious night in a Folkestone hotel, Owen was quickly plunged into the realities of active service, and suffered the horrors described - only three weeks later - in a vivid letter to his mother. In May 1917, Owen was diagnosed with shell-shock, and he was sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital, near Edinburgh, in June. Here he met Siegfried Sassoon. On 22 September of that year Owen sent a final version of his poem 'The Sentry' - as heard here in audio extracts - to Sassoon, who made sure that it was eventually published. Wilfred Owen was awarded the Military Cross following his actions on 1-2 October 1918 at Joncourt on the Beaurevoir-Fonsomme Line. Confirmation of the award came after his death. Background: Background Since ancient times it has been considered heroic to die in war. Homer’s epic poem The Illiad celebrates, among other things, the nobility of dying on the battlefield. This view continued well into the 19th Century (and even the 20th Century), and Tennyson’s popular poem ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ gives us an idea of how poets and people in general thought about the “valour” of fighting and dying for one’s country: Background: Background Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon behind them Volley’d and thunder’d; When can their glory fade? O the wild charge they made! All the world wonder’d. Honour the charge they made! Honour the Light Brigade, Noble six hundred Background: Background These lines by Tennyson may be well written and rousing, but they are not very realistic. The poets of the First World War changed all that with their efforts to give us an accurate representation of trench warfare. Dulce Et Decorum Est: Dulce Et Decorum Est Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs And towards our distant rest began to trudge. Slide18: Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots Of tired, outstripped Five_Nines that dropped behind. Slide19: GAS! Gas! Quick, boys! An ecstasy of fumbling, Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time; But someone still was yelling out and stumbling And floundering like a man in fire or lime. Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. Slide20: In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. Slide21: If in some smothering dreams you too could pace Behind the wagon that we flung him in, And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin; Slide22: If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, Slide23: My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori. Theme: Theme The theme of ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ is that there is neither nobility in war, nor honour in fighting for your country. Instead there is tragedy, futility and waste of human life. Theme: Theme Wilfred Owen fought in some of the major battles of World War I and the reality and horror of war shocked him. In the face of the desperate suffering he saw around him, it was no longer possible to pretend warfare was adventurous and heroic. Theme: Theme Instead Owen recorded in his poetry how shocking modern warfare was and he sought to describe accurately what the conditions were like for soldiers at the Front: Listen Bent-double, like old beggers under sacks, Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, Theme: Theme Owen wanted people who were not in the trenches – the people at home in England – to see the reality and misery of war. He also wanted them to stop telling future generations the “old lie” Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori (“It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”). It is worth noting that these lines were written by the poet Horace, two thousand years earlier. Imagery: Imagery ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ is built around three powerful and disturbing images. Imagery: Imagery The first in the opening stanza: a group of soldiers moves through no-man’s land in an attempt to get back to the relative safety of the trenches. Why do you think he does so? Imagery: Imagery Owen wants us to imagine what it was like in these trenches; to see the detail (“many had lost their boots”) and reality of dying in such a place. Q. What words does Owen use to describe the conditions of the men? Imagery: Imagery Look carefully at the words Owen uses to describe the condition of the men: “asleep”, “lost”, “limped”, “blood-shod”, “lame”, “blind”. Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; Imagery: Imagery The second image (found in the second stanza) is more dramatic. Notice how the first words of the stanza change the pace of the poem, making it more urgent as the soldiers come under attack and try to put on their gas masks before they choke: Imagery: Imagery Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling, Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time; The poet manages to get his mask on. After the sudden activity of the men. the last two lines of this stanza change pace again Imagery: Imagery They have an almost dreamlike quality as the poet watches from behind his gas mask. As the thick green smoke washes over the men, the poet uses a striking simile of the sea to describe the gas. But one man fumbles with his mask and is overcome by the fumes and “drowns” in the sea of thick smoke: Graphic imagery: Graphic imagery The troops were torn out of their nightmarish walk and surrounded by gas bombs. How everyone, in "an ecstasy of fumbling" was forced to run out into the mist, unaware of their fate. The graphic images displayed here are profoundly affecting and can never be forgotten. Imagery: Imagery Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. Imagery: Imagery The dream quality of this stanza gives way, in the third and final image A picture of the dead man as his body is put on a wagon filled with the bodies of other dead soldiers: Imagery: Imagery His hanging face like a devil’s sick of sin; …Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues. Imagery: Imagery Although young men went to war with the promise of glory and comradeship, in these lines the poet presents us with the awful truth about war and conflict: Q. What is the truth? Slide40: that it is a brutal waste of life that causes unspeakable human misery and corruption. ASPECTS OF LANGUAGE: ASPECTS OF LANGUAGE ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ is a poem filled with powerful and harsh music. In the opening lines the poet uses alliteration (words starting with the same consonant sound) What do you think is the effect of such a device? to emphasize the tiredness of the soldiers as they walk through the sludge. (thick soft mud) ASPECTS OF LANGUAGE: ASPECTS OF LANGUAGE Listen carefully to the lines to see how the alliteration gives the poem a slow and heavy rhythm: Bent double, like old beggers under sacks, Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge Rhyme: Rhyme In the second stanza the soldiers are attacked and the pace of the poem speeds up as the soldiers try to put on their gas masks: Rhyme: Rhyme Gas! GAS! Quick boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling, Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time; But someone still was yelling out and stumbling, And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . Rhyme: Rhyme What kind of rhymes does the poet use? internal rhyme (fumbling / clumsy; stumbling / flound’ring) end rhyme (time, lime) Why do you think he does so? Rhyme: Rhyme This use of rhyme gives the poem a change of tempo; it also conveys the confusion and panic of the soldiers as they scramble to put on their masks. Look for other examples in the poem where the poet uses rhyme, half rhyme and alliteration. See how these devices are used to change the pace and rhythm of the poem. Tone: Tone What is the tone of the poem? ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ is a very dramatic poem. It shows us, like no poem before it, the terrible waste of life during World War I. The tone of the poem is desperate, shocked and angry. Metaphors and similes: Metaphors and similes people use metaphors because they say "...what we want to say more vividly and forcefully..." Owen capitalizes greatly on this by using strong metaphors and similes . Metaphors and similes: Metaphors and similes Right off in the first line, he describes the troops as being "like old beggars under sacks." This not only says that they are tired, but that they are so tired they have been brought down to the level of beggars who have not slept in a bed for weeks on end. Metaphors and similes: Metaphors and similes Owen also compares the victim's face to the devil, seeming corrupted and baneful. His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin. A metaphor even more effective is one that compares "...vile, incurable sores..." with the memories of the troops. Metaphors and similes: Metaphors and similes It not only tells the reader how the troops will never forget the experience, but also how they are frightening tales. The troops will never be able to tell without remembering the extremely painful experience. Glossary: Glossary knock-kneed having knees that point inwards slightly sludge -soft thick mud Hag: an ugly or unpleasant old woman - like a witch Curse: to say or think bad things about someone or something because they have made you angry Haunting flares: “segnale luminoso” Trudge:to walk with slow, heavy steps, especially because you are tired blood-shod: “calzando sangue” – wearing shoes of blood Lame:unable to walk normally because of an enjury or tiredness Glossary: Glossary Hoots: sounds e.g. made by the dropping bombs – Fumbling: to hold or try and move something with your hands carelessly. Clumsy:a clumsy object is not easy to use and is often large and heavy Stumbling:to walk unsteadily and often almost fall. Floundering: unable to decide what to say or do so that you find it difficult to continue Lime: “calce” Dim: fairly dark or not giving much light Plunge: to move, fall forwards or backwards Guttering: “breath struggendosi” Choking: beaing unable to Flung: (v.fling) to trow something violently or angrily Glossary: Glossary Writhing: moving continually because of great pain like a devil's sick of sin: “come un diavolo stanco del peccato” Jolt: a sudden or violent movement gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs: “Che sale gorgogliando dai polmoni distrutti” bitter as the cud of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues: “amaro come fiele di disgustose, incurabili piaghe su lingue innocenti” Zest:enthusiasm Cud = bolo alimentare dei ruminanti Italian Translation: Italian Translation Piegati in due, come vecchi mendicanti sotto i sacchi, Ginocchia piegate all’interno, tossendo come streghe, bestemmiavamo nel fango, Finchè vedemmò il segnale luminoso e cominciammo a ritornare, Incominciavamo a trascinarci verso il nostro distante riparo. Uomini camminavano addormentati. Molti avevano perso le loro scarpe Ma zoppicavano, vestiti di solo sangue. Tutti erano zoppi; tutti ciechi; Ubriachi di fatica; spesso troppo sordi per sentire il rumore Delle bombe a gas che cadevano sofficemente dietro di noi. Gas! Gas! Veloci, ragazzi! - Un’estasi di gesticolio, Mettendosi i buffi elmetti appena in tempo; Ma qualcuno stava ancora gridando e inciampando, E lottando come uomini nel fuoco o nella calce... Senza chiarezza, attraverso i vetri appannati e le fitte luci verdi, Come sotto un mare verde, lo vidi annegare. In tutti i miei sogni, oltre la mia impotente vista, Si buttava verso di me, struggendosi, soffocando, affogando. Se in qualche soffocante sogno anche tu potessi camminare Dietro il carro su cui lo gettammo, E guardassi i bianchi occhi roteanti sulla sua faccia, La sua cascante faccia, come un diavolo stanco dal peccato; Se tu potessi ascoltare, ad ogni scossone, il sangue Che sale gorgogliando dai polmoni distrutti dalla schiuma, Osceno come il cancro, più amaro del fiele Di disgustose, incurabili piaghe di lingue innocenti,- Mio amico, non diresti con un così grande entusiasmo Ai ragazzi desiderosi di una qualche gloria, La vecchia bugia: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.