A bit o’ Birdsong!

So we’ve been here on WordPress for a whole year and now we’re starting looking at ‘Birdsong’ by Sebastian Faulks!

The opening passage of ‘Birdsong’ describes the open passages of the canals of the river Somme as well as the Boulevard Du Cange in Amiens. The paragraph is really a display of what life was like before the war, a rich and idyllic description of nature “On the damp side were chestnut trees, lilac and willows, cultivated to give shade and quietness to their owners.” The description gives the idea of the Garden of Eden, which suggests that the fall of man must be close, and sure enough WW1 is around the corner. The idea of “small canals” with “water gardens” gives the first images of passages and tunnels, and thus the first idea of trenches and the tunnels below No-Man’s Land.

We are then treated to a description to the “Azaires’ house” which has a “strong formal front” behind “iron railings” . This represents the family itself, which is formal and separated from the workers. Azaire himself is a capitalist and doesn’t respect his workers. We could also look at the house in terms of its facade, the term facade could easily be applied to countries in Europe at that time, where tensions were running high due to the breaking down of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the subsequent power vacuum. However the idea of a front could simply be a term referring to the front line, where the most fighting occured.

The description of the inside of the house also concerns itself with the idea of mystery and passages, “it had unexpected spaces and corridors that disclosed new corners.” This is the second image of passageways, linking to the trenches and underground tunnels. The quotation “the house was always a place of unseen footsteps” gives the house a sense of intrigue. However it also highlights a major issue later on, in the tunnels Jack Firebrace and his men have to stop and listen for noises several times when digging to ensure the enemy isn’t close. These “unseen footsteps” are exactly what the soldiers in the tunnels needed to listen out for.

Later on in the book Azaire discusses his workers with Meyraux, a socialist. Parallel to this section of the book is the rise of socialism, unions and socialist governments, we hear of riots and Isabelle goes to feed the starving children. Meyraux says that industry needs “a less mean and timid attitude on the part of the owners.” Faulks uses the language of war in Azaires speech and Stephen’s thoughts to foreshadow the future and also show how he uses his men as pawns to get his own way, just like soldiers, “we can therefore only retrench”, “Stephen was surprised by the simplicity of Azaire’s asault”.

We can see the wealth and success of Azaire in his family, his children are “plump”, an outward display off his extravagance and his wife is beautiful, a typical trophy wife. All the descriptions of Isabelle make her seem attractive, formal and fragile, “Her clothes were more fashionable than those of other women in the town yet revealed less.” The idea of her being like a porcelain doll is reinforced by the description of “polished china” in the room.

Thanks for reading – be sure to comment your own ideas below!

Jack

WW1 Poetry as a Genre?

Sorry for the lack of posts over the last week! I have been writing blogs however my internet connection on holiday down south wasn’t letting me upload things *shakes fist* – so unfortunately you’ll probably now get quite a few blogs over this weekend!! Lets begin with discussing whether WW1 poetry is it’s own genre!

To discuss whether WW1 poetry is a genre in itself is very difficult, and would mean that we’d have to compare the techniques with all genres to check that it doesn’t fit in any other genre. Now I don’t have time to do such a thing amongst reading books for next year and such, and thus the easiest way to determine the likelihood of WW1 poetry being a genre is to compare it with other war poetry. A poetic genre is a category of poems that share stylistic devices and techniques! To save the trouble of you guys reading large blocks of text (and to make this more imaginative and exciting!) I’ve compiled a list below of the themes, attitudes and techniques of WW1 poetry compared to war poetry before WW1. I’ve chosen not to compare WW1 poetry with poems from after WW1 for two reasons:

1) The change in attitudes to war (i.e. soldiers are heroes and war is something to be ashamed of) pretty much stay the same!

2) The range of poetry is so diverse it was hard to find a good example to represent them all!

I’ve chosen to compare Wilfred Owen’s WW1 poetry to Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Barrack-Room Ballads’ from the late 1800s.

 Genre

As we can see the techniques and attitudes are very different from before and after WW1, however most war poetry after WW1 has the same attitude and similar techniques to the poetry from WW1 (despite changes over the years due to styles of writing changing!) – so I would say that WW1 poetry is a transitional genre of war poetry that has educated and inspired future war poets on what war is like.

Thanks for reading!

 Jack!

 

“Over the Top”

Twisted smoke from enemy lines fights through the sky like wire,

Unlike the wisps of smoke from chimneys in our pleasant land.

Knee deep in the mud of the trenches we prepare to fight and fire.

At home we plough and reap and the harvest fills our hands.

At home and here our flesh is soiled with the earth’s wet mud,

Yet here our hands and flesh are also caked in blood.

 

Men keep watch of No-Man’s Land, over the broken earth,

The land almost looking like the ploughed soil of the farm.

However here they scour and aim for movement of such worth

To waste a single bullet and hope out of it comes harm.

“Over the top”, that fateful command that the general cries,

And out of the trenches come the Tommies, the infantry arise.

 

The guns fire and blaze and bullets condemn another soul

The shells send soil flying and flailing limbs fall flat.

Bodies entwine together, thrown into roughly dug holes

And in the trenches blood pumps round bodies entering combat.

Is this what life has come to, the rapid progression of man?

These piles of men are sacrifices for several feet of land.

 

One of our tasks in English over the summer was to write a war poem and this is the result!

Thanks for reading and feedback is appreciated!

Jack

Wilfred Owen and ‘Private Peaceful’

The similar themes and devices of Michael Morpurgo (in the film adaptation of ‘Private Peaceful’) & Wilfred Owen’s poetry.

‘Futility’

In ‘Private Peaceful’ we can see the main characters experience a loss of faith, Tommo near the beginning when in the prison cell says “Why does this war happen”, he also feels bitter because his father died and he feels that if God was just he wouldn’t have allowed that to happen. Wilfred Owen in his poem ‘Futility’ demonstrates the loss of faith that the soldiers experienced by mixing the vocabulary of religion and evolution, “was it for this the clay grew tall”. We can also see in ‘Private Peaceful the futility of war by the spoken line “All that fighting, no gain on either side”, showing how lots of death resulted in no progress. In the poem we can see that the soldiers are mainly farmers, “whispering of fields unsown”, which makes the fact that nature is fighting back even more poignant, showing how far these people have gone. In the film we can see that the brothers are farmers, and how when they go to war they still talk about their farming (for example when at the French pub).

Dulce Et Decorum Est

In ‘Private Peaceful’ Morpurgo uses the character of the Colonel to show patriotism and jingoism, he believes that the soldiers are doing their duty to their country and God. In ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ Wilfred Owen mocks people (like the Colonel) who believe the “old lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori” because he can see that dying for your country isn’t the best way to die. In the poem Owen talks about a gas attack : 

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In the film we get visual context in terms of the struggle for gas masks and how people reacted to the gas. In one scene the soldiers were warned of a gas attack and we could see how they fumbled to put their gas masks on and how some choked and struggled to breathe while putting them on.

 

Disabled

In ‘Private Peaceful’ the young men are persuaded to go to war by a sergeant or officer who says “Girls love a soldier”; we can see that they are tempting the men into the army by telling them that they’ll be more attractive when returning from war. However we can see Molly disapproves of Charlie going to war, showing how women didn’t want their husbands to leave them and their children. Wilfred Owen in his poem ‘Disabled’ also contains a character who believes that going to war will make him more attractive, “and maybe too, to please his Meg.” Owen expands on this by later talking about how the only women this young boy will ever encounter now are nurses who won’t glance twice at him “Tonight he noticed how the women’s eyes Passed from him to the strong men that were whole”. We can visualise such events in the poems by looking at scenes in the film, especially those in medical tents, with nurses tending patients. Another theme in the film is that of young boys lying about their age to get into the army (and thus achieve such success with women). We can see this in the character Tommo who lies about his age to apply for the army, mainly because Charlie has gone off with Molly. In ‘Disabled’ we see this when the young boy tells the army that he is 19 “Smiling they wrote his lie: aged nineteen years.” By showing this we can see how desperate the army were for volunteers.

Thanks for reading,

Jack

 

 

 

Anthem for Doomed Youth: an Analysis of sorts

‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ is a poem by Wilfred Owen written as an elegiac lament for the young soldiers who were slaughtered in battles that he too fought in. He delivers this message by shocking the reader in a variety of ways. The poem is almost written in sonnet form; Owen liked to misuse the sonnet form to show that he was anti-establishment and angry. Owen mixes the rhyme scheme of the Petrarchen and the Elizabethan sonnet by using “ababcdcd effegg” and uses a mix of half rhyme (“guns” & “orisons”) and full rhyme (“bells” “shells”). This misuse of the sonnet is a strong statement that would have shocked society, the sonnet was literally a poetic “anthem” (an anthem being a song to represent a nation) which the British society loved, by misusing it Owen expresses his raw emotion and hurt at the loss of life and the complacency of the public on the matter.

Owen asks why there are no funerals in Britain for the dead soldiers, why there are no “mockeries” or “passing-bells”. The passing bell was a bell that rung when someone died, and Owen uses this image to represent how nobody marked the deaths of some of these soldiers. The bell also provides us with a connotation with noise, especially with the idea of noise ringing in our ears, similar to the noise in the trenches. He also talks of how these “doomed youth” had no future; in the phrase “die as cattle” Owen uses connotations with the death of cattle and slaughter to evoke emotion in the reader. When the reader reads the word “cattle” immediately there are connotations with the slaughter of defenceless animals, thus Owen is suggesting that the soldiers going over the top of the trench may as well be “cattle” being slaughtered.

Owen uses onomatopoeic alliteration to create the noise of shells and bullets, especially in the line “the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle”. The next line is cleverly constructed, “Can patter out their hasty orisons”. When put in the whole sentence it simply states that the bullets cause the deaths of the praying soldiers however the word “patter” is the interesting word in this sentence. The word originates from ‘Paternoster’ (meaning ‘Our Father’, the most prominent Christian prayer) and came to mean repetitive noise, like how prayers are repeated in churches. Not only is this onomatopoeic and creates the idea of the repetitive sound of the shells but the idea of prayer continues as this “patter” of gunfire stops their own “hasty orisons”, literally translating as the repetitive prayer-like noise is cutting their hasty prayers short; thus linking religion and warfare, something that would have made Christians in society uncomfortable.

The poem contrasts the civilian life with the lives of the soldiers: for example he contrasts the “choirs” in funerals with the “demented choirs of wailing shells”. This personifies the shells and contrasts religious groups with the weapons that killed thousands of soldiers, once again upsetting society and defying the norm. Owen suggests that there is no “mourning” for the soldiers except for the “shrill” noise of the shells that reminded him of crazed choirs. He extends this idea by suggesting that the “candles” are no longer held in the “hands of boys” but in “their eyes”; they are no longer choirboys but soldiers fighting, and the candlelight is going out, “shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes”. Owen uses the burning light of the candles as a metaphor for their lives, however he also uses the last line “And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds” to represent the deaths of the soldiers. Some could argue that this last line links to the people back home, the “pallor of girls brows” is the only thing back home that shows the mass killing, there are no funerals, and it is these families who will remember their sons and husbands every “dusk”.

Thanks for reading,

Jack