War Poems: Compare and contrast Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 22 June 2016

War Poems: Compare and contrast

The first poem is a pre-1900 poem written by Walt Whitman. It is called “Come Up From The Fields Father”. This poem tells the story of how a family hear the news that their son has been wounded in battle. Firstly it describes his sister receiving the letter and calling for her father and mother. The poet then goes on to describe the settings of the farm and the background to it.

“Where apples ripe in the orchards hang and grapes on the trellis’d vines.”

“The sky so calm……below too, all calm, all vital and beautiful.”

He sets the scene of a peaceful beautiful place. I think he does this for a number of reasons. Firstly, I think he does it just to set the background to show the reader where the boy lived and what his family were like. Another reason could be that he is showing to the reader that these are just ordinary people who really have no interest in fighting. However, I think the message that Walt Whitman is really trying to portray, is the fact that everything is serene and going brilliantly until this letter arrives. He is trying to get across the idea that this war destroys normal families and stops them being happy. It creates a sad and empty atmosphere for them. The mother senses that something is wrong. She is shaking and is hurrying to see what is in the letter. We see this as Whitman uses short, stopped sentences, spoken quickly.

“Fast as she hurries, something ominous, her steps trembling.”

As the mother gets the letter and realises that it is not her son’s handwriting, but a strangers. This makes her panic and gives her a sickening feeling.

“O this is not our son’s writing, yet his name is signed.”

When she sees this, she fears it may be bad news about her son. It shows that the woman is sad, crying and panicking as she hurries to open the letter. She catches the main words of it only. Her son has been shot. She panics and is saddened.

“Gunshot wound in the breast, cavalry skirmish, at present low, will be better soon”

The barely grown up daughter tries to console her mother and tells her not to grieve as the other sisters huddle around. She tells her mother that the letter says Pete will be better soon, but as Walt Whitman shows, the ironic truth is that as they are standing there, their son is already dead. He had died in the few days the letter took to reach them. They are all distressed, but don’t know he’s dead yet.

“While they stand at home at the door he is already dead, their only son is dead.”

At the end of the poem, Walt Whitman shows that some time has passed between the two verses and shows that the mother has slipped into a state of depression. She is wasting away as she is not eating or sleeping and is always wearing black clothes. She wakes up during the night and in the last verse, the poet is suggesting that the woman would like to commit suicide, to be able to be with her son. She feels empty without him and would love to be with him.

“O that she might withdraw unnoticed, silent from life, escape and withdraw, to follow, to seek, to be with her dead son”

This poem plays on the emotions of the reader by showing how the mother reacts, and makes people feel sad and feel sorry for the mother, and it almost makes you imagine what it would be like if this terrible thing happened to you.

In “War Photographer” by Carol Ann Duffy tells the story of a war photographer who has just returned from battle an is developing his photos in his darkroom. She uses alliteration in this poem. She uses the term; “Spools Of Suffering” , to refer to the rolls of film with all the dead, injured and suffering people on them. Some other alliteration she uses is “Solutions slop”.

This could also be onomatopoeia as it captures the sound of the solution in the tray that is used to develop the photos. In the first verse of the poem, she uses a metaphor and compares the photographers dark room to a church because of the red light in the room, which is needed to develop the photos. The photographer developing the photos is also compared to a priest performing the ritual of mass. This, I think, is trying to show to the reader how seriously and is saddened by what he sees.

“As though this were a church, and he a priest, preparing to intone the mass”

Also, the term ” All flesh is grass”, means that no matter what kind of killing there is, he will always have a living. He makes his money from other peoples pain and suffering and although he is saddened and disheartened by all these pictures and pain, he must do it. In the second stanza, it says that his hands shake while developing, but not while taking them. He is a professional and needs a steady hand to make money, but it’s only when he’s developing them, that he realises the grim reality of what he is doing.

“He has a job to do”

His home is very different to where he works. When he is at home in his dark room, everything is calm and peaceful, unlike the war zones that he has to work in.

“To fields that don’t explode between your feet

In the third stanza of the poem, he watches the photograph as it is developing. He looks at the picture when it is half way developed and the image is called a “Half formed ghost”. This has a double meaning. The first, of course, is the photo developing and the picture forming. The second meaning is that the man in the picture is dead. Another victim of war and brutality. It says how he asked the man’s sad, estranged wife permission to take it. This, again, deals with the emotional impact of the war on the families of victims and leaves them sad and also angry that their loved one has been taken.

In the last verse, Carol Ann Duffy points out that the general public only care when they’re looking at the pictures and it doesn’t leave an emotional impact or an empty space in their lives, unlike the victims grieving families. They are able to get on with their normal lives right away.

“The reader’s eyeballs prick with tears between the bath and pre-lunch beers”

The photographer then goes back to doing his job and the general public forget about him until he comes back with the next set of photographs.

“He stares impassively at where he earns his living and they do not care.”

Both of these poems deal with the emotional impact of war on the families of its victims. Although these poems are over seventy years apart, there isn’t really any change in the way people react to loss. They are saddened, then cry, they are angry and like the mother, depressed. Both poems how hard it can be to get on with your life if someone close to you dies, but also, how easy it is if it doesn’t affect you, just like the newspaper readers.

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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 22 June 2016

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