Before World War 1, most was poetry tended to be unrealistic and used as propaganda. In many of the poems death was portrayed as being heroic and they gave the impression that it was painless. For example in the poem ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ when a soldier dies it is described using the word ‘fell’ which makes death sound as if it was just a little accident, not an awful loss of life. Also the word ‘fell’ indicates that you can just get back up again but the men obviously couldn’t.
I think this is because before World War 1, there was censorship and nobody other than the soldiers really knew what war was like. When the soldiers went home, many of them didn’t talk about their experiences mostly because they wanted to forget about it or not worry their loved ones. Lots of the poems were used as propaganda, so the poets had to make war sound glorious and honourable. If people knew about what it was really like, no one would enlist. In ‘Vitai Lampada’ Henry Newbolt makes war seem like fun by comparing it to a game: “Play up! Play up!
And play the game! ” In this poem death is played down metaphorically: “falling… the river of death has brimmed his banks. ” This plays down pain and the horrors and finality of death. By the word ‘falling’ being used, shows that death did not seem so bad, just a little accident. Poetry during World War 1 all changed because soldier’s letters were censored, poetry was one of the only ways they could describe what war was really like. Similarly to before World War 1, soldiers often did not want to discuss what the war was really like with their families.
Pre- world war one poems were written by professional poets but poems written during the war were written by soldiers who had had more experience. I think that is why those poems are more gory and realistic because they have the feelings of someone who really knows what war is like in them. I have studied four poets: Rudyard Kipling, Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg and Siegfried Sassoon, Kipling did not fight in the war, he was too old but he was very well known. The structures of his poems are very traditional and he is very negative towards politicians and statesmen.
Sassoon fought in the war and survived. He wanted to let everybody know the truth about what war really is like. Many of his poems are epigrams in which he criticises generals and senior officers as incompetent and uncaring. Sassoon writes about individual soldiers and gives them names and direct speech. Rosenberg starts with everyday things and shows how significant they are in war, for example larks singing. His structure is often more modern and his poems always return to death. Owens’ poems are the most graphic and shocking.
He feels compassion for his men and describes individual experiences. Owen doesn’t blame anyone for the war (apart from maybe the weather) and he feels that the British and German soldiers are not enemies. He has a very clever style, his structure and technique varies. The two poems I have chosen to compare are ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ and ‘Exposure’ both written by Wilfred Owen. ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ is about the death of a man in a gas attack and Owen uses this to disprove the phrase: “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” and portrays war as anything but sweet.
‘Exposure’ is about how it is not only the war that’s killing the soldiers but the weather. It shows that when they’re not on the front line fighting they are still suffering. ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ starts by describing how the soldiers retreat from the frontline after fighting. They are compared to “old beggars”. This reduces the soldiers to people who have nothing from being strong and brave men. The men have even lost their shoes: “Many had lost their boots”. This shows how war takes everything you have away from you. On the next line they are then described as “hags”.
Hags are usually women, which suggest that war has emasculated the soldiers. The reader learns that war made the men’s health very bad: “knock-kneed” this is usually the way someone walks when they are malnourished. Owen uses alliteration to emphasise his message: “coughing… cursing” by using a forceful letter he emphasises how awful those times were for the men and what they went through. There is quite a lot of shocking imagery: “limped on, blood -shod. ” This creates a horrible picture in the readers mind and it’s hard to imagine what it really must have been like.