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Say how far you agree with the views that Drummer Hodge is presented in a romantic, idealised way, and that Graves’ German soldier is presented with stark realism. Opinions expressed through poetry differ hugely and have always done so throughout history. The opinions and experiences of the writers are the main factors, which affect the content and messages that the poems portray. War poetry such as that of Thomas Hardy and Robert Graves hold opinions, which coincide with their own feelings and emotions on the subject of War.
In ‘Drummer Hodge’ Hardy shows the tragedy and waste of war but no direct criticism is implied. Indeed, ‘Drummer Hodge’ is presented in a holy, romantic way that is arguably presenting War as a glorious and romantic affair engaged in to protect us from evil. ‘A Dead Boche’ is far more realistic and Graves seems to use his poem to show how war can be so dehumanising that the dead soldiers can be viewed as symbols rather than people.
Both poems describe the death of a soldier in different scenarios and the ways in which they do so differ hugely. The reasons as to why they differ so greatly are down, as mentioned, to the writer’s own experiences and opinions whilst also being largely affected by the audience they are aimed towards.
‘A Dead Boche’ is a poem that truly represents the extent to which War can dehumanise people, even to the extent where the body of a fallen soldier is described in such horrific detail that the soldier almost ceases to appear as a human being.
The language used in ‘A Dead Boche’ is harsh and horrific and the language used to describe the dead soldier is particularly unpleasant and fully intended to shock the reader: ‘Sat a dead Boche; he scowled and stunk With clothes and face a sodden green Big-bellied, spectacled, crop-haired.’
The first two lines of this soldier’s description contain language not commonly used to describe a fallen soldier, even an enemy one, whilst the last line seems to be placed to remind the reader that this dead ‘thing’ is a human being. Graves does this by adding more human description; ‘Big-bellied, spectacled, crop-haired.’ This language is neutral but used to simply show how the soldier, though branded an enemy, was a man just like any other. Reminding the reader/audience of this fact forces them to recognise the human qualities of this dead German and not just believe the old motto ‘The only good Germans were dead Germans.’
The heavyset sibilance of ‘scowled and stunk’ combined with the ‘face a sodden green’ is a form of synesthesia, a forced visualization and sensory perception of a mutilated, diseased corpse shocks the reader, deliberately. Graves understood that the people back home, indirectly involved in the War, saw little of the true horrors and perceived the War to be glamorous and heroic. He creates this poem, with it’s sickly language and synesthesia, in an attempt to shock people into reconsidering their opinions on the war as a whole. ‘Drummer Hodge’ is a completely different poem, from a completely different perspective.
Hardy did not directly experience War, unlike Graves, and only wrote the poem ‘Drummer Hodge’ having read about the young boy’s death in a newspaper and therefore because of this, the language in ‘A Dead Boche’ contrasts hugely with the soft, romantic and natural language in ‘Drummer Hodge.’ Furthermore this is partly because Graves aims to shock and disgust the reader whilst Hardy aims to glorify and commend in order to increase a feeling of national pride.
‘His homely Northern breast and brain Grow to some southern tree, And strange-eyed constellations reign His stars eternally.’ The place in which this drummer boy is buried is peaceful and beautiful and in a sense this poem seeks to comfort the British public with the fact that although many will die abroad defending the Empire, they die in a beautiful place where they will be at one with the Earth and watched over by the Heavens. The language is very natural with several references to nature, showing the connections between the spirit and the earth. The poem also mentions the boy’s heritage on several occasions to show that no matter where on Earth a person dies, their home is still a part of them spiritually.
There is a great underlying message of religion in Hardy’s poem of which there is none in Grave’s because Graves can see none of God’s work in the terrible scenario of Mametz Wood – the scene of major bloodshed of the Battle of the Somme – and so could not include any sense of it in his poem. ‘Drummer Hodge’ is essentially an existentialist paradox as Hodge was an unimportant figure in a major war, but becomes a vital part of something that will last far longer than any human conflict. The opening lines concentrate on the waste of Hodge’s death, the lack of mourning contrasting with the traditional glorification of the war dead. Hodge will never be a hero among men, but he is elevated to a divine level through the Southern landscape that harbours him as something precious. This is wholly different to the dead German soldier who is juxtaposed against his landscape, suggesting he does not belong there in death.
The rhythm of both poems is a series of regular 8 beat patterns. The poems both use rhyme with every other line rhyming. The way in which the poems rhythm is set out has deeper meanings, as does the way the rhyme is used. For example the beat of ‘Drummer Hodge’ is similar to the beat of a marching drum, such as the one Hodge would have been using. This deliberate use of rhythm is also seen in ‘A Dead Boche’ as the rhythm is regular and constant but this seems to end on the last two lines, stopped dead, just as the German soldier was. Also Graves deliberately rhymes certain woods for increased effect. ‘Wood/Blood’ – Used, as the wood itself would be covered with blood from the battle. ‘Green/Unclean – The colour green is the colour of infection, bile and other disgusting things and so their rhyme is perfect especially when placed in context with a dead, decomposing body.
Both poems hold their separate views and opinions, Graves anger and despair at the War is openly apparent in ‘A Dead Boche’ and there is a sense of despair in ‘Drummer Hodge’ too, as the boy is buried in a foreign land, far from his place of birth, seemingly left; uncared for by his countrymen without even a gravestone to mark his grave. At the same time Hardy seems to celebrate this as being naturalistic and spiritual. There is nothing soft in ‘A Dead Boche’ and this is intended, at least Hodge was buried underground and laid ‘to rest’ whilst the German soldier is simply propped against a shattered tree trunk.
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