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.
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.
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Posted in Coursework - War
- Tagged A Level, Barrack-Room Ballads, centenary, Charge of the Light Brigade, Coursework, English, English Literature, Genre, Jack Percey, Poetry, remembrance, Rudyard Kipling, War, War poetry, Wilfred Owen, World War 1
The similar themes and devices of Michael Morpurgo (in the film adaptation of ‘Private Peaceful’) & Wilfred Owen’s poetry.
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.
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.
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‘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”.
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This reading especially really helped me with the rhythm of this poem. When reading it in class I couldn’t seem to find the rhythm in my head and when trying to read it. There’s strong consonance in this poem which is really heard in this actor’s voice, as well as the onomatopoeia.
You can hear the alliteration so very well in this reading of ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’, especially the onomatopoeic ‘rifle’s rapid rattle’.
I really like this recital of ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ because it isn’t read by some Oxford scholar but an actor whose voice really expresses the sorrow of the poem; his voice also strikes a chord with me because his northern accent would be the accent of many of the men who died.
Wilfred Owen was a WW1 poet who wrote poems to show those back in England what trench warfare was really like. He wrote his poems to give the soldiers a voice and used a variety of techniques that make his poems widely recognisable.
Owen’s early poems have strong full rhyme whereas later on he develops into using half para-rhymes. In addition to this he uses consonance, for example in ‘The Last Laugh’ he uses “Dad” & “Dead” and “grinned” & “groaned”. This links the two lines but without the regularity of a full rhyme. Owen’s poetry is sometimes written in a form close to a sonnet, the Elizabethan sonnet rhyme scheme is ‘ababcdcdefefgg’ whereas in ‘How to Die’ Owen writes with this rhyme scheme: ‘ababcdcdefefghgh’. As sonnets are poems to argue then the reason for Owen’s poetry could be seen in a number of ways. It could be argued that because of Owen’s sonnet-like poems he could be arguing on behalf of the voiceless soldiers. However it could also be said that because his poetry isn’t in the form of a perfect sonnet that he is against arguing and conflict and thus against war, a major theme in his works.
Owen also uses onomatopoeic alliteration to create noise, in ‘Arms and the Boy’ the sound of bullets is created in the phrase “blind, blunt bullet-leads” and the sound of rifles being shot is represented by the “rifles’ rapid rattle” in ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’. The noise reflects the sheer noise of constant shelling and gunshot, one of the primary reasons for shellshock. The punctuation is used to create pauses in his poetry. Owen famously said that the poetry is in the pity and that the pity is in the punctuation; he pities the subjects of his poetry, feeling sorrow, sympathy, compassion and a strong desire to help and alleviate the suffering that the soldiers have to endure.
Thanks for reading,