Different attitudes to war
Different attitudes to war
Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen are poets who fought for England in the First World War. Both poets depict the same topic of war, but through different views and opinions. Despite them pertaining to the similarly themed subject, their language and tone invoke contrasting feelings in readers and affects their impression of war in opposite ways. Examples of these differences can be seen in the two poems by Rupert Brook ‘The Dead (iii) and ‘The Soldier’ and two by Wilfred Owen ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ and ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’.
Rupert Brooke writes ‘The Dead (iii)’ in an extremely relaxed and romantic mood. Brooke had not experienced war, so with this in mind the poem seems very clear and concise. Brooke aims to show us the glory that is brought about by dying for your country. He thinks that war is a simple and dignified cause. He aims to make us more patriotic and convince us to die for our country in war.
The first line is very energetic and joyous for a horrendous subject such as war. This may mean that Brooke tries to symbolise enthusiasm and glory. Since bugles are used at a grand occasion, but also militarily charges and retreats he may be trying to indicate that dying for your country is a glorious way to end your life.
“Blow out, you bugles, over the rich Dead!”
As he says, it has made them ‘rich’. This probably means that they are wealthy with glory, praise and admiration. He makes no mention of the pain and suffering in war. The third line explains that dying has again made them important.
But, dying has made us rarer gifts than gold.
Gold is very rare, so by dying they have been them valuable and unique. Brooke is trying to signify that not many people sacrifice their lives this way. This in Brooke’s belief is a very honourable and glorious practice. The sestet explains to us how the soldiers dying bring England a lot of honour and credibility.
Honour has come back, as a king, to earth,
And paid his subjects with a royal wage;
The peace that has been present for so long has made her weak.
‘Heritage’ is use to clearly link with the overall theme of ‘payment and reward’. It implies ‘that which is rightfully theirs’, has been successfully implemented.
And we have come into our heritage.
In ‘The Soldier’, Brooke feels content to die for his motherland to protect the people left behind. The title conveys a sense of pride and loyalty to the reader. Although fully aware of the possibility of death, indicated by the line
‘If I should die’, think only this of me:’
Even if his ashes, his ‘richer earth’, were to lie in a land distant from England, his love would still be ‘forever’. This is further stressed when his relationship is compared to the bond between mother and child.
‘A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,’
His purpose of fighting for his country is to protect England, indicated by the words,
‘Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,’
His sense of pride and honour is so strong that he does not dwell on the gloom and misery that is associated with war, instead views it as if through rose-tinted glasses. Even if his contributions were minute, shown by the comparison of,
‘A pulse in the eternal mind’
‘Give somewhere back the thoughts England given’,
He is happy to repay England and wishes to preserve her ‘laughter’ and ‘gentleness’ for the future. This contentment and happiness is clearly shown by the words ‘peace’ and ‘heaven’, even if he is dead, he can rest in peace as he has loyally served his country. This patriotism is frequently brought to attention with the repeated use of the word ‘England’ and ‘English’ throughout the poem.
The Soldier gives out an optimistic tone, making war out to be a peaceful and heroic act. It is written in the form of a Petrarchan sonnet, which is traditionally used to express personal thoughts and feelings. This could have been the reason why Rupert Brooke chose to write in this form. It is also an autobiographical poem in which the author expresses a personal viewpoint on war and his love for his country. Rupert Brooke also makes use of iambic pentameters, which is a line containing five stresses. It gives his written words authority by using this classical verse. It also provides a rhythm, which reminds the reader of a heartbeat or a ‘pulse’.
This helps in making his argument more convincing. The stanzas are separated into two. The octave talks about the possibility of death while the sestet talks about death itself and what his sacrifice will mean for England. It gives the traditional, naive and biased view of war. It also gives a pastoral description yet a biased view of England as he blatantly ignores the negative side of England only mentioning its best side. He uses a religious diction, for example the last line reads,
‘In hearts at peace, under an English heaven’. ‘
This reveals Brooke’s belief in God and Heaven. This is what makes the poem sound somewhat like a sermon. Rupert Brooke expresses patriotism and his conviction that England is worth fighting for as he also claims that God is on England’s side by saying ‘blest by the suns of home’. By believing in this, Rupert Brooke makes himself believe that he should sacrifice his own life for England and by doing so he would be returning the favour of being born British and so believes it is an honour to go to war, and an even greater honour to die in battle for one’s country and in return, portrays in his poem an image of one dying a painless death.
Such a view is in the Victorian tradition of war which viewed it as a glorious and noble enterprise, with such poems as Tennyson’s ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’. This patriotic fever was simply carried on by Brooke who still saw warfare in terms of duels and honour. By looking at these sonnets, we can come to the obvious conclusion that Brooke was very idealistic about war and had no idea of the horror and suffering involved.
However Wilfred Owen’s ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ achieves a totally different effect on the reader, as it is completely devoid of any obvious sense of national pride, and instead questions the very purpose of war. His use of ironies throughout produces a mocking tone, which serves to emphasize his view of the uselessness of war. This is revealed in the title, where the effect of the word ‘Doomed’ suggests that the soldiers are destined to die and are without any hope. However, it is ironic that it is used with the word ‘Anthem’, a word reserved for praise.
‘What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? ‘
The soldiers are compared to ‘cattle’ that are slaughtered, indicating that they have no other purpose than to die. The comparison also suggests that the soldiers were killed numerously, mercilessly and systematically. He uses crude words to convey the complete absence of love or honour on the battlefield and numerous contradictions to invoke the feelings of pity in the reader; instead of ‘passing-bells’ there are only ‘guns’ and ‘stuttering rifles’. The words ‘monstrous anger’ refers to the fierceness and violence of war.
‘Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle’
The word ‘monstrous’ also suggests that the soldier’s task is immense, almost impossible to do, which emphasizes the feeling of hopelessness of war. This is again highlighted when the poet refers to the gunshots as ‘stuttering’. This means that there are bullets whizzing everywhere, and chances are most of the men would have been hit. The alliteration of the ‘R’s in rifles rapid rattle indicate the sounds of gunshots; again appealing to the reader’s senses to highlight the bleak conditions in the battlefield which are terrible and ugly.
Owen is obsessed with the cruelty, indignity and senseless wasting of their lives. The use of the word ‘patter’ refers to the bullets hitting a soldier’s body. It gives the effect of raindrops hitting a window, which when used to describe how a body is inflicted with bullets paints a very cruel and inhumane picture. When he writes,
‘No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells’
He says that the dead are forgotten; they are neither mourned nor prayed for. This is because the dead are so many that it would take too much effort to bother to tend to them. The only things to mark their deaths are the ‘choirs’, yet there are not ordinary choirs but,
‘The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells’.
It is as if death has become the norm for them; it does not receive much attention or sympathy. The words ‘shrill and wailing’ seem to suggest that even in their deathbeds, there is no peace. The ‘bugles calling for them from sad shires’ seem to be calling in vain, because the soldiers are all dead. If anything, the soldier’s deaths are undignified and not the least bit honourable. There is no hero worship and the dead are ignored. There is no pride, no honour and still the war continues. Owen writes about the effects of so many casualties of war and how it ironically destroys the homes the soldiers died to protect. The numerous deaths caused by war ravages even the younger generations left behind, shown by the ‘candles’,
‘What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes. ‘
This refers to their tears and the ‘pallor of girl’s brows’ which is the paleness of the girls. It is all they have to mourn the dead soldiers, and they are plagued with sadness at the death of a loved-one. The line,
‘And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds’ shows that they are slowly losing hope against the darkness, which signifies their sorrow and misery. He says that the youth are supposed to be the hope for the future but are doomed because of the past, which is ironic because so many soldiers wasted their lives hoping to protect these children. The calmness achieved by the consistency only serves to suggest the mood is heartless, without emotion, cold, cruel, and that like of a machine. In ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’, the rhythm is broken and unsteady; it serves to create an impression on the reader of how grave and miserable war is.
In ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, the tone is more sombre and angry; making out the same war is grim and insufferable. The Latin words used in the title of the poem Dulce et Decorum Est mean, ‘it is a sweet and fitting thing to die for ones country’. This is ironic as throughout the poem, Wilfred Owen gives the reader a negative picture of war and towards the end of the poem, calls his title ‘the old lie’. This is because at the start of the war the Latin phrase had become a motto which was used in supporting patriotic statements about war and to encourage other young men to become soldiers. But Owen himself had been at the front lines for three years and so by now knew what war really meant and so he uses his poetry as a means to express the views of soldiers to people who had no experience of it; namely the public.
Wilfred Owen begins his poem with the soldiers’ description,
‘Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags,’
This is strange coming from a soldier himself and directly opposes the stereotypical soldier. Throughout, his choice of words describing the soldiers, his experience and war itself, Wilfred Owen puts the reader into a state of shock and disillusion. He uses the analogy of war as being like a plague or a lethal disease that is highly contagious and can cause mass destruction, in order to emphasise the harsh reality. This is shown when he writes, ‘like a man in fire or lime’; as in the days of plague where lime was used as a substance to decompose dead bodies, and in saying this, he says that those who enter war, those who actually participate and experience war at its worst, for them there is no return to normality, or indeed humanity.
He writes about a soldier who had died of poisonous gas inhalation and describes it vividly, trying to make the reader imagine the scenes before him using the present progressive verb form ending with ‘-ing’. For example,
‘He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. ‘
This gives the sense of immediacy, that the reader is actually witnessing the soldier’s death. This soldier died by breathing in poisonous gas. Then Owen describes how the man’s dead body was treated,
‘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, ‘
This shows the pain he was in, as he was on the brink of death. This is to illustrate that as the devil is destined to commit evil until the end of time, it has come to the extent that even the devil is sick of the amount of evil and torture around it. The religious diction used here symbolizes the relationship between war and the devil and that they too, are playing on the same grounds as the devil. A direct address to the readers is also used, using a persuasive technique, especially in the last stanza, for example,
‘If you could hear…’ in line 21,
‘My friend, you would not tell…’ in line 25,
This is so that the reader would feel sympathetic towards him and the soldiers. It is almost as if Owen is begging the reader to understand. Through describing this man’s tragic death and his burial, Wilfred Owen tries to change the views of the public. The use of fricatives symbolizes the harsh reality of war as by using fricatives, for example a hard ‘c’ is used in words such as ‘corrupted’ and ‘cud’, it becomes as though the reader can actually hear the person dying as it sounds like choking and so writes in a very vivid form.
In the last few sentences he makes his final message clear,
‘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.’
Again he makes a personal plea to the reader telling them not to tell children that war is a patriotic act and the only answer to the world’s problems. It is in fact the worst possible answer, there can never be honour as a result of war and there are only dire consequences.
Brooke’s love for England is shown throughout his work. As in Dulce et Decorum Est repetition and alliteration used. The words England and English are repeated many times to show his love for his country and alliteration such as, ‘Her sights and sounds’ magnify the beauty of England. It is also used to mask the horrors of death on a battlefield as it states, ‘That there’s some corner of a foreign field’. He also believes that heaven will look similar to England by stating ‘under an English heaven’ and therefore also believes in the superiority of the English, ‘a richer dust concealed’. Owen, on the other hand, witnessed twentieth century war in all its cruel destructiveness and as a consequence brought war poetry into the modern era. Although both poets write about the same topic, which is war, they both have different views and attitudes towards it.
Perhaps this is because of their different experiences with war. Brooke is like a new soldier, naïve and yet to experience its horrors. Owen writes as if he has just witnessed the worst, as he was involved with the uglier and bloodier part of the war. He also reveals the effects both on and off the battlefield. Both authors have distinctly different impressions of war because of their different experiences, but ultimately, both describe the subject, although from totally opposite sides. The two poets really contrast and oppose each other greatly. Brooke writes about war idealistically and with passion, Whereas Owen does the complete opposite. Owens’s poem is however more reliable since he has experienced war.
‘The Dead’ was written before the war. The Soldier was written in 1914, a year before Brooke died, and Owen wrote Dulce et Decorum Est in 1917, three years after the First World War had started. In these dates we may find the reasons behind the conflicting ideology the two men gained. Brook wrote his poem at the beginning of the war, and so the ideas and perceptions of war and fighting for one’s country as being noble and heroic were still fresh in his mind and the public’s.
Owen, on the other hand, wrote his poem three years into the war and in that time was able to see and accept the realities of war, so his perception of war was changed to bitterness and this was reflected in his many poems such as Anthem for Doomed Youth in which he reveals the same feelings on war as he does in Dulce et Decorum Est. In one of his previous poems, The Ballad of Peace and War, he himself had supported the idea of,
‘How sweet it is to live in peace with others, but sweeter still far more meet to die in war with brothers. ‘
Therefore, it would be concluded that the only reason why the two poets have conflicting ideologies of war, is time. If Brooke had experienced more of the war he might have wrote later poems that portrayed the same bitterness as Owens.