In the poem, “Break of Day in the Trenches”, the author, Isaac Rosenberg shows the theme that endless conflict leads emotionally numb soldiers to snap, through the literary devices, tone and personification. Tone is used by Rosenberg to furthermore reveal the theme in this poem. The two that he uses are musing and contemplative tones. The author uses the air of musing in this poem throughout the beginning few lines of the poem. When a soldier is immersed into war they are exposed to the death of their friends and peers, they are taken from their family, and they are forced to repel any emotions.
The soldier who is telling his story is sitting in the war trench at sunrise or in his words, the “druid Time”. The Druids are an ancient civilization who at sunrise made sacrifices to their gods. This leads readers to believe that the soldier is sitting among what could be interpreted the human “sacrifices” that war had taken. Around him there are soldiers lying dead for seemingly no good reason. To be talking in the tone of curiosity rather than pain and horror in that situation, it shows that he has numbed himself to the feelings that would naturally come to him because he is so used to seeing the display of death.
The other tone that is used by the author is a tone of contemplation. Rosenberg shifts from talking to himself, to directly addressing the rat, asking questions and drawing his own conclusions. The soldier gets more and more demanding of the rat as the poem goes on, eventually asking it, what do the eyes of mankind say. The soldier uses the rat to ask all of these questions because he knows he shouldn’t be thinking emotionally. He can’t control himself and he has to let off steam by talking to a rat, which can’t respond or judge him.
He then has a final break in his mind, using the death of a poppy to symbolize death of soldiers. He says, “Poppies whose roots are in man’s veins/ Drop and are ever dropping;/ But mine in my ear is safe-/ Just a little while white with the dust. ” He had just picked the poppy from the parapet, taking it from its nutrients causing it to stop growing. This is ironic because the flower, though safe from being trampled, is already a dying cause, just like him. He gives up and lets know, even while knowing he is going to die, he chooses to numb his emotions again, and move on till his day comes.
The shift from controlled and nonchalant to inquisition and back to control shows the struggle that soldiers had to face and the fact that the idea of emotional numbness is flawed. Personification is rarely used in this poem, but when it is used it has powerful meaning behind it. The two areas personification is used is when he talks about the sleeping green and the queer, sardonic, and droll rat. The green grass is given the personification of sleeping to reflect the death of the soldiers who lay on it.
As a whole, the soldier is referring to No Man’s Land. The second personification is used on the rat. The rat is given the human qualities of being sarcastic, odd, and amusing. The idea of personification is to give a feeling to something incapable of human-like qualities. Feeling shouldn’t be a part of a soldier’s thoughts. This goes to show that the use of personification is a way for the soldier to reflect his feelings on something else. War is too emotionally scarring for you to not have an emotional reaction to it.
In essence, the poem, “Break of Day in the Trenches”, Isaac Rosenberg uses tone and personification to show the theme that endless conflict makes it impossible for soldiers to completely suppress their emotions. The shifts in tone that the author wrote showed the struggle from controlled to a mix of emotions, then back to control and acceptance. The personification shows that the soldier needed something to project his feelings onto because he couldn’t handle not being allowed to talk about them, causing him to talk to a rat for consolation.
Courtney from Study Moose
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