From the perspective of soldiers we experience what men suffered during World War I. Through the vivid imagery and the dramatic language in the poems ‘Attack’ and ‘Exposure’, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen share their views on war. That all war is- is fear, misery and death.
Sasson descibes a battlefield where men are on the attack. They follow behind a tank, fighting their way up a “scarred slope”, clambering over barbed wire, right into the hands of death. The use of alliteration and rhythym (eg. “Smouldering through spouts of drifting smoke that shroud”) conveys the sense of urgency and excitement. Personification plays a major role in ‘Attack’, eg. “glow’ring” and “barrage roars” gives the poem a tone of anger/rage. The use of onomatapoiea helps the readers experience what the battlefield was like for the soldiers.
Lines such as “bristling fire”, makes the readers imagine the sound of machine guns firing and “Tanks creep and topple forward to the wire”, creates a powerful image of tanks slowly making their way upto the barbed wire. His climax is a perfect example of the kind of emotive sentences he uses, “O Jesus, make it stop!” fills the readers with the despair, anger, fear and helplessness that the soldiers feel. Yet, Sassoon also gives the poem an unemotional tone (eg. “They leave their trenches, going over top.”) to emphasize the fact that the fear, panic and death happened everyday.
But none of these things were what war was conveyed to the people not involved with the fighting as back then. Men who went off to war thought that it was a way to prove their masculinity and that to die for your country was a glorious thing. None of these men knew of the fear that would strike their hearts, or of the desperate, panicked need to return home- alive. None of these men knew that it was not just bullets and bombs that killed, that the horrible conditions were just as much their foe as the men who fired at them.
Owen describes a cold ‘uneventful’ night on the battlefield. The use of personification (eg. “Iced east winds that knive”) immediately conveys the sense of an icy wind that bites like a knife would nick the skin. He uses rhetorical questions well, lines such as “What are we doing here?” and “Is it that we’re dying?” pulls the readers into the tangled web of fear, regret and weariness that surrounds the mind of a soldier. Although onomatopoiea is not used much in ‘Exposure’, the sentences that do contain onomatapoiea words are very effective (eg. “whisper, curious, nervous”) gives the voices in the readers mind a whispery hush. The use of similes (eg. “Line twitching agones of men among its brambles”) and emotive words such as “cringe” and “poignant” helps the readers understand what the soldiers were experiencing. “But nothing happens.” was a very effective ironic sentence, because althought nothing ‘officially’ happened, men still died and had to be carried away to be buried. This sentence was repeated to emphasize this fact.
These poems along with many others that were written about World War I, helped the people who weren’t involved with the fighting understand what war was life for the soldiers and that all war caused was fear, misery and death.