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The Emotions Of The First World War English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 5019 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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World War I was the first global conflict which affected the lives of everyone around the world from 1914 to 1918. Over 10 million soldiers and civilians died and countless others were physically injured or mentally scarred by the horrors of trench warfare. From the beginning to the end of World War 1, the ideas and emotions changed dramatically and there is perhaps no better evidence than in the poetry that was written by the soldiers who fought in it.

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From the start Britain was part of it. Men were quick to fight in World War One because it bought the thrill of adventure to their lives which was socially and economically very attractive unlike their former lives which were simple and dull. An appealing factor was that entertainment, food and drink were all provided for the soldiers. Men fought for freedom and honour. They were very patriotic and would die for their country. Glory was one of the many things they fought for. However some men were emotionally blackmailed, through posters and propaganda, into joining the army. The soldiers were considered socially and politically superior because they would fight for their country. In the beginning of World War One, Britain had not enforced conscription unlike most other European countries until 1916. During the first two years of the war, Britain used propaganda to emotionally blackmail the whole countries population. The government did this through various methods; an example is a poster in which they used words like “You” which is a second person pronoun, this made the reader feel as if it was personally to him. The government used some posters to make the men feel guilty and shameful and others to make them feel anger which made them want vengeance and pride. Furthermore, propaganda was expressed through recruiting poems a famous poem written by Harold Begbie in 1914 called “Fall-In” became so famous that it was turned into a song. The poem was sung in working men’s clubs and even in churches. The poem was also in the newspapers lots of times due to the government making them put it there since the whole poem was propaganda.

Perhaps one of the most famous recruitment posters of World War 1 was Savile Lumley’s 1915 poster “Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?” This poster focuses on emotion and direct questioning. Admissions to the army dropped dramatically after the initial surge, due to bad stories and deaths. It is trying to make the reader feel guilty and show him how he will feel when his kids in the future ask “Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?” and he will have nothing to say because he didn’t fight for their country. He is staring right at you with a cold look in his eyes, which engages the audience immediately. It creates worries for people who have not yet enrolled in the army as to whether they will still be a man if they do not take part. There is symbolism of patriotism, the boy is playing with toy soldiers, and these soldiers are glamorised. Soldiers who are fighting in the war will not wear these red, typically English suits. This is a typical outfit for soldiers who are protecting the Queen. This gives the impression that if your fight in the war you are fighting for the Queen and for your country, England. The boy shows that he idolises the soldiers, showing that they are a great image and he wants to play with them because they are something to look up to. Girl is looking at a history book, reading about the war. The war has gone down history and her father is not part of it. The poster describes the war as ‘Great’ assuming that we are victorious. It is also written with capitalisation showing it is an actual name now. Lumley’s poster is advertised to sell a feeling of emotional guilt to encourage recruitment. This poem symbolises the typical ideas and emotions held by most of the British men and women at the start of the war which was that going to fight in the War was the right thing to do, morally, and if you didn’t then you would be called a coward for the rest of your life. Yet these ideas were held due to propaganda from the Government such as this poster.

Harold Begbie’s ‘Fall in’ poem first was released in the ‘Daily Chronical’ on the 31st August 1914. The poem is an instance of jingoistic poetry from the beginning of the First World War; this was before the horror of the trenches was known. It was written as a propaganda poem to recruit men into the Army.

One way this poem persuades men to join the Army is through emotional and psychological blackmail:

“But where will you look when they give the glance that tells you they know you funked?”

Jingoistic poetry would have aimed to almost scare men to enlist by threatening them with cowardice. This quotation explains to the reader, who has not yet joined the Army, that in the future when he has children; they will know that he “funked” and so they will not respect him. This shows the reader that even the next generation will know that he didn’t join the Army and go to fight. The quotation evokes strong emotions on the reader and makes him feel worthless and challenges his masculinity. Also the word “glance” symbolises to the reader that when his children realise their father didn’t serve his country in The Great War, they will resent him so much that they will only give him a “glance”, not even a look. Begbie’s “Fall in” depicts the extreme stress that was placed on men, as British society saw joining the Army and going to war as a regulation, and Begbie aims his poem at the individualists and suggests through the entire poem that they will be cast off, shamed and jeered throughout their lives. Begbie uses a chain of questions, such as “But where will you look” to make the readers at the time interrogate themselves, and oblige themselves to explain and justify why they don’t want to go to war because they will be shamed for the whole of their lives and will lose their friends, family, masculinity and as an added blow God will detest you. This shows the type of propaganda released at the beginning of the War and these ideas were held by the British public through most of the first half of the War.

Another way Begbie’s poem compels men to enlist in the Army is through the theme of patriotism:

“Is it naught to you if your country fall,

And Right is smashed by Wrong?”

During 1914 the British public hugely believed that going to war was the right thing to do, and there was huge enthusiasm and hype created towards it. The lines above tell the reader that if he doesn’t enlist, his country will be taken over. It’s saying that if you really care about your country and fellow countrymen, then you should enlist because if you don’t then it means that you are a traitor. Also in the quotation, “Is it naught to you”, it focuses on emotion and direct questioning. It is trying to make the reader feel guilty by using patriotism. Also the word “fall” is a metaphor for soldiers falling to their knees on the battlefield when being gunned down by machine guns. Furthermore the use of imagery in the quotation, “And Right is smashed by Wrong?” paints a very gruesome picture in the reader’s mind of two armies smashing into each other, this is emphasized further by the capitalization. Obviously the “Right” is England and if you don’t fight for the “Right”, then you are “Wrong”. The poem promotes a patriotic ideology which was viewed by many at the beginning of the War proposing that soldiers should lend their country a hand, making it seem as if fighting for England is a man’s moral duty.

‘The Soldier’ was written by Rupert Brooke at the beginning of World War One, this was also before the horror of the trenches was known. Whereas Harold Begbie used the power of poetry propaganda to persuade men to enlist and help in the war campaign, Brooke composes a conventional sonnet in which he shows his affection for England and how he considers that it is a man’s job to fight and die for his motherland in War. However Brooke never discovered what war was like in reality as he died in 1915, before he actually got to fight in the war. Therefore his poem is very positive and has a very traditional perspective. Brooke’s poem would motivate young men to enlist and would bring consolation to the families of the wounded or dead of war.

One way Brooke conveys his message to the reader is through the meaning:

“If I should die, think only this of me:

That there’s some corner of a foreign field

That is forever England.”

Brooke uses a lot of sentimentality and national patriotism in “The Soldier”. The voice in this poem describes the untimely death of a soldier in a fiercely patriotic way, unconcerned by his death but knowingly acknowledges the national hero status which will be awarded to him for playing a part in fighting in the War. This is how Brooke describes his burial site: “there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever England. There shall be in that rich earth a richer dust concealed”. Here Brooke explains that the ground in which he is buried in will be better off because a noble and heroic English soldier lies in it and in that English soldier is a small fragment of England so a piece of England lies beneath the Earth. Through the lines mentioned above Brooke makes the soldier in the poem not just English, but England. Brooke uses patriotism again in these lines: “A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware, Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam, A body of England’s, breathing English air”. “A body of England’s” supports my earlier point of Brooke’s personification of soldiers as not only English, but England. It is these instances of Brooke’s extreme patriotism mirrored in his poetry that created the disapproval for its over-sentimental nature. Brooke expresses heroic optimism and states that war is glorious and honourable; this reflects the ideas and emotions at the beginning of the War. Begbie’s poem is very similar to Brooke’s in that it also is urging men to help in the war effort but Brooke’s poem is far more subtle and emotional compared to Brooke’s which is harsh in showing the reality of not enlisting.

Another way Brooke’s poem persuades men to join the Army is through imagery:

“And think, this heart, all evil shed away,”

In “The Soldier”, the next most major theme used by Brooke is the concept of change, which is clearly presented all the way through “The Soldier” by his use of imagery. The second stanza is a key instance of the transformation presented in the poem. This line in that stanza, “And think, this heart, all evil shed away” shows a change from a soldier, regular and a human being, to a purified spirit who will reside eternally through England. By dying for your country you will achieve enlightenment and you will be remembered forever as a hero to England. Also by dying for your country your soul will be cleansed of sins. This ideology encouraged men to become soldiers and lay down their lives for their country willingly. In this poem Brooke explains to the reader that the there is a much greater reason which can be accomplished through death. This is another instance where Brooke romanticizes the Great War and dying for your country, England. To men fighting in war, the notion of being purified into a great soul forever and being in the hearts of the people of your nation, England, is always there in this poem, which is why transformation is a important subject of this poem and symbolises the typical ideas and emotions held by most of the British public at the start of the war which was that going to fight in the War transformed you into a man, a soldier, a hero for the country you love, England.

A final method Brooke uses is to structure his poem effectively:

“A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware, Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam, A body of England’s, breathing English air, Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.”

Brooke uses the sonnet form (14 lines of iambic pentameter, divided into an octave and sestet) in “The Soldier”, however the octet is rhymed after the Shakespearean/Elizabethan (ababcdcd) rhyme scheme, while the sestet follows the Petrarchan/Italian (efgefg). Each line contains ten syllables in iambic pentameter, so the structure is: unstressed > stressed > unstressed > stressed: “If – I – should – die – think – on – ly – this – of – me”. By doing so, Rupert Brooke gives the reader a musical feeling and it gives a sense of quiet contemplation of what’s yet to come. Brooke has also diverted from the conventional thematic divisions linked with the octave and sestet: the first stanza is like a question and the second stanza is like a predicament. The octave and sestet are both used to make the reader think of the heavenly state of the dead soldier. Also in “The Soldier”, Rupert Brooke includes flowing and extended, yet well-connected sentences for his poem, therefore offering the reader a pleasant outcome, i.e. he merely uses three sentences in fourteen lines.

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Furthermore in his sonnet Brooke extensively uses repetition of the word “England” in nationalistic manner. He also personifies England as if it were a human being, “her sights and sounds, dreams happy as her day”. In “The Soldier” he strongly personifies England as a “Mother”, with the use of language like “England bore”, “her day” and “her sights and sounds”. The metaphors he utilised also entails some perplexing ideas such as “pulse in the eternal mind”, which is a metaphor for always being in the memory of his family, friends, history and England. Also “Washed by the rivers, blest by the suns of home”, is a spiritual metaphor and gives the idea of being cleansed, almost baptized and reborn by dying fighting for your country. This is extremely different to the more jingoistic poetry of Begbie which would have been targeted to definitely frighten men to join the Army by accusing them of being a coward. Also this poem would have been very patriotic to the British public and would have further aligned their viewpoint into thinking that if you truly love your country then enlist immediately.

The language utilised by Brooke and Wilfred Owen, for “The Soldier” &”Dulce Et Decorum Est” is greatly diverse from one another, although both poems are about the Great War. Brooke uses extensive vocabulary and language in “The Soldier”, to portray to the reader the notion that laying down your life in war for your country is highly admirable and celebrated, on the other hand Wilfred Owen’s use of language in “Dulce Et Decorum Est” gives the reader the feeling that war is terrible and laying down your life in war for your country isn’t as magnificent and respectable as it looks. The truth is that dying in war, no matter for what reason, can be agonizing and distressing for both the soldier and his family. Both Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen have completely contrasting opinions and ideas about war and this is shown by them using different vocabulary, figurative language, imagery, grammar, and attitudes to accomplish their intention.

In “Dulce et Decorum Est” Wilfred Owen’s main intention is to persuade the British public back at home that the men who are fighting in the trenches are living horrible lives and that war is definitely not glorious. Owen ends this poem by declaring that the phrase, it is sweet and right to die for your country, is a big lie and War is not as great as it may look. The death of the soldier by the gas assault in this poem is neither sweet nor attractive. The poem is very successful due to its outstanding management of the unconscious and poignant parts of poetry. Owen’s use of exact diction and vivid figurative language emphasizes his point, showing that war is dreadful and upsetting. Furthermore, the deployment of exceedingly vivid imagery adds an extra edge to his argument. Through the effective use of all three of these tools, this poem sends across a strong implication and credible argument to the British public convincing them of the true horrors of life in the trenches.

One way Owen conveys his message to the reader is through meaning:

“Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,”

“Dulce et Decorum Est” is an outstanding and dreadful account of a gas assault suffered by a band of soldiers in World War One. One member of this group is sadly not able to get his gas helmet on in time and dreadfully inhales the dangerous, poisonous gas. From beginning to end Owen uses shifting rhythms, dramatic description, and rich, raw images to convince the reader that the awfulness of war far overshadows the jingoistic clichés of those who glamorize war. In this poem Owen portrays to the reader how different the life of a soldier is from what is shown in the propaganda dished out by the Government. The title of the poem “Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori,” which is also the last line of the poem means “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country”, this choice of title is ironic and shows that there is nothing sweet in his depiction of war. The similes “Bent double, like beggars under sacks” and “coughing like hags” gives the notion that the soldiers are weak, dirty and poor. However, these “beggars” and “hags” are soldiers, men in their prime. If the conditions are such that strong, young men are no longer healthy or capable of standing tall, then the situation must be deplorable. By portraying the soldiers in this sordid light, Owen begins to negate the glory of war. He throws the reality of war in the face of the British public to illustrate how vile and inhumane it really was and what old lies the government was spreading at the beginning of the War. Although Rupert Brooke was not commissioned by the Government, he too provoked people to help the War Effort by using patriotic and emotional blackmail and this is the main difference between the early patriotic poetry of Brooke and the true latter poetry of Owen.

Owen’s refusal continues as his utilisation of strong imagery allows the reader to not only visualise, but realize the poor environmental and physical conditions faced by soldiers in World War One:

“And towards our distant rest began to trudge. Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots”

The men depicted in these lines are not just exhausted but are losing their will to live and their mental strength. Their feet are encrusted with blood, yet they still make their way through the “sludge”. Their bodies are covered with mud which weighs down their dirty uniforms and tired limbs. Their uniforms have lost their freshness and are ripped in many places, which is why Owen describes them as “sacks”. This image is an extreme contrast to the romanticized marches depicted in propaganda posters. Owen’s choice of words in the line “But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;” show that these soldiers are no longer men but have become tainted animals and have lost all their integrity. The use of the word “shod” creates an image in the readers mind connecting the men to horses. By using this strong and startling imagery Owen gives the impression that war has destroyed these men physically and mentally. He is emphasising the ideas at the end of the war about how men were living obscene and horrifying lives in the trenches. He was trying to get the truth across to the public whose minds had been brainwashed by lies from propaganda, such as the poem “The Soldier” by Brooke.

A final way Owen symbolises the true experiences on the battlefield is through an inconsistent meter in the second stanza:

“Gas! Gas! Quick, boys — An ecstasy of fumbling,…

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.”

The poem has no clearly define structure, however Owen does use rhyme on alternate line endings. The opening stanza of the poem starts with in depth portrayal of life in the trenches for the soldiers. In the following stanza comes the gas assault and the poem gives a vivid portrayal of the consequences of a gas attack in the third and the fourth stanza. The tension builds up in the second stanza due to one soldier fumbling with his gas mask and failing to put in on in time. The opening line of the second stanza starts with dialogue, separated by hyphen. . “Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – an ecstasy of fumbling,” In this line the meter is not in agreement with the rest of the poem, bringing the reader’s attention to this important line in the poem. A lot of the second stanza is an extended metaphor based on the soldier who couldn’t don his gas mask on time. “As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.” This metaphor is effective as it allows the reader to comprehend how it would feel like to be trapped in poisonous gas. The man in the poem, literally, cannot breathe. Similarly, when submerged underwater, a person dies by taking water into the lungs. This man dies gruesomely after he inhales the gas. Owen reinforces his metaphor by rhyming “drowning” with itself, and illustrates the soldier’s powerlessness. Also the repetition of three, “guttering, choking, drowning,” in the present tense has a nightmarish quality and shows the desperation of the soldier. Furthermore it expresses how the soldier has a nightmare every night haunting him and bringing back the gruesome memory of his dead comrade. It shows that fighting in World War 1 corrupted the minds of the soldiers psychologically for the rest of their lives. This is a huge contrast to Brooke who had a very opposite and idealistic view of death, which was held by many people at the beginning of the War but poems such as this changed the views of many and brought out the reality of fighting in the trenches towards the end of the War.

Wilfred Owen wrote “Anthem for a Doomed Youth” in1917 while undergoing treatment at a war hospital. This poem is written in the form of a hybrid sonnet so it combines the structure of the Petrarchan sonnet with the rhyme scheme of a Shakespearean sonnet except for lines 11 and 12. (The rhyme scheme of Shakespeare’s sonnets is ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, GG; the rhyme scheme of Owen’s poem is ABAB, CDCD, EFFE, GG). Also all lines except 2 and 3 are in iambic pentameter. The poem is written to portray the perspective of a soldier on a battlefield. In the Octet, the soldier a question and answers it in the present tense, focussing only on the sounds and hasty pace of the war. Owen exemplifies this by using onomatopoeia in his description “stuttering rifles, rapid rattle, patter out, and wailing shells”, which emulate the noises heard on the battlefield. Then in the sestet the soldier again asks a question, however this time answers it in the future tense, focussing on the time of mourning and the sluggishness of its pace.

Owen’s use of alliteration all through the poem is to endorse tempo and euphony, i.e. “rifles’ rapid rattle and glimmers of good-byes”. In the octet, two personifications require consideration to the frightening rage and madness of war: “monstrous anger of the guns” (evaluation of guns to annoyed humans) and “demented choirs of wailing shells” (evaluation of the shells to disturbed humans). In the sestet, three metaphors centre on the distressing agony of the mourners at home. One compares the “holy glimmers” in the views of boys to candles, and another compares the “pallor of the girls’ brows” to the pall that covers the casket. In the third, “the tenderness of patient minds” becomes the flowers that decorate the soldiers’ grave. The butchery of war disgusted Wilfred Owen. His comrades in arms represented the best optimism for a superior future, but all around him that expectation was disappearing in the fire and smoke of the battlefield. The war also shattered the loved ones at home, robbing them of sons, daughters, brothers, and fathers and leaving only barrenness behind. This poem symbolises that in war, young men with different personalities and exceptional talents become unknown pawns to do the order of the political decision-makers. When they go down on the battlefield, no one stops to weep for them or pay them service. The shells keep landing. The bullets from the guns keep coming. In spite of the dreadfulness and carnage, the First World War motivated influential and striking art and literature, especially poetry. More poetry was printed around this time than at any other time in the Twentieth Century. Men and women articulated their feelings on how much their lives had transformed, the loss of their family and friends and their views on war and peace.

The first two poems discussed in this essay were written before the true horrors of the trenches were known. “Fall-In” by Harold Begbie was written as a propaganda poem to recruit men into the Army. It exemplifies the strain that was positioned on men, as British society saw going to war as the normal thing to do, and Begbie targets his poem at the individualists and suggests through the poem that they will be abandoned, shamed and jeered at for the rest of their lives. This is in direct contrast to “The Soldier” by Rupert Brooke which expresses heroic optimism and states that war is glorious and honourable. It expresses a noble, self-sacrificial attitude to war in contrast to a more realistic poetry of poets such as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, which were written during the latter period of WW1 as the tragic realisation was made. Wilfred Owen used his poetry to help him manage the tragic actions he witnessed every day of the week. He was only 25 when he died, but his poetry lives on as a reminder to show that even those who hold extremely patriotic views realise that there is nothing “sweet and right” about dying in combat. Arguably his most famous poem, ‘Dulce est Decorum est’ is an example of a poem written through his own eyes, based on his own knowledge and analysis of the Great War. In this poem Owen talks about an occasion in which one of his men dies because of inhaling toxic gas. He uses vivid and graphic imagery to give the reader the exact feeling that he wanted. Exact diction further emphasises his point, showing that war is appalling and shattering. “Anthem for Doomed Youth” was also written by Wilfred Owen, before he died in the last week of the Great War. His poem clearly communicates the sorrow and horror he experienced during that war. In the poem, the noise of battle gives way to silent grief. Young men who should have lived died in the chaos of battle. Those who lost loved ones were not present at the deaths or burials of their young men. In place of the usual funeral rites, sounds of battle, distant grief and nature’s close of day were what they had to mark their deaths. Throughout the poem, Owen employed imagery to bring to life the sorrow and horror of war – by describing the sounds and sights, by comparing a fitting funeral to the reality of death in war and by questioning the sufficiency of religion to provide solace in the face of such brutality and Owen also emphasises that there truly is nothing patriotic about dying in War. Unlike the propaganda and lies released by the Government and by poets at the beginning of the War who had never fought in the War yet still comment on how patriotic it is.

I think that out of all the poems looked at, “Dulce Est Decorum Est” was the most powerful and impacting to me. This is because his poem describes how the British government and press comforted the British public with the information that all the young men laying down their lives in the war were dying dignified, valiant deaths. The reality was the opposite. They were dying obscene and terrible deaths. I like how Owen throws the reality of war in the face of the reader to illustrate how despicable and merciless it really was. He tried to free the people at home from the propaganda machine of the government and he explains in his poem that people will persuade you to fight for your country, but, in reality, fighting for your country is simply sentencing yourself to a pointless death. Also his use of powerful imagery and vast language is why I feel very strongly about the meanings his poem. War is not worth it, as Owen proves with the old lie perpetuated across the world: Sweet and fitting it is to die for one’s country.

Chaitya Desai 10AS


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