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Poetry In History And Human Emotion English Language Essay

Popular Victorian poet Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote one of the most famous war poems in 1854 (http://www.sparknotes.com/poetry/tennyson/section9.rhtml) about Britain’s involvement in the Crimean War. In ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ Tennyson had the uncanny ability to express both protest to Britain’s involvement as well as patriotism to his country. Written in six stanzas, ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ uses a range of poetic devices in the narrative poem. Whilst there is no regular rhyme scheme in the poem rhyme is frequently throughout the poem. In fact rhyming couplets are used in the first two lines of every second stanza to draw the audience’s attention to the change in verse and often the change in the mood. Tennyson cleverly economises on words and the audience is made aware of the soldier’s grave situation in the first stanza in the last two lines, ‘Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.’ The idea of riding into death is repeated throughout the poem which helps the reader to understand from the beginning that the soldiers are taking part in what history has regraded as a suicidal mission. (http://www.nationalcenter.org/ChargeoftheLightBrigade.html )

Despite being written in third person the audience is still able to identify with the soldiers in the poem. Lorena Ramos commented, “In the third stanza Tennyson makes use of anaphora, in which the word ‘ cannon’ is repeated at the beginning of several consecutive verses ‘cannon to the right of them / cannon to left of them / cannon in front of them’ (lines 18-19-20) Here, Tennyson wants to emphasise the fact they were surrounded. This effect makes the reader to identify themselves with the soldiers.” (http://mural.uv.es/loraji/tennyson.html) Like other poets of his time, including Thomas Hood in the poem, ‘The Bridge of Sighs’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bridge_of_Sighs_(poem) ) Tennyson writes in poem in dimeter (Sparks notes) which helps the audience to identify with the soldiers as the rhythm is battle like.

Whilst Tennyson’s poem supports the belief that those who died for their country were brave, the message in Wilfred Owen’s poem, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ sixty-four years later is less patriotic. Owen, unlike Tennyson was a soldier in the British army during World War I. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilfred_Owen ) As a consequence his poems tell the horrific tales of war as Owen witnessed first hand. Whilst other poets of the same era glorified war, including Rupert Brooke in his fifth sonnet, ‘The Soldier’ Owen uses powerful imagery and similes to show that despite the title, ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ meaning ‘It is sweet and right’ there is no glory in dying for ones country an ironic manipulation of Horace’s original intended meaning.

Similar to his other poems, including his sonnet, ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth,’ Owen rhymes every alternate line and wrote the poem in iambic pentameter which creates regular rhythm. Similar to Tennyson’s use of language in ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ the poem uses dialogue and infrequent common speech to make a point to the audience. In the first line of the second verse, ‘Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,’ the use of common language is deliberate contrast to the alliteration of ‘heavy’ consonants in the first verse. This helps to retain the audience’s attention whilst quickly changing the poems setting and increasing the tempo as the soldiers become involved in conflict. In the second and third stanza the horrors of war are further reinforced through onomatopoeia, ‘guttering, choking, and drowning’ as well as compelling similes, ‘His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin.’ The most moving section of Owen’s poem is the quatrain in the final stanza which sums up his intended meaning. As the message is delivered to the audience, Owen addresses the title of his poem as a lie which shows the title of the poem is actually rather ironic. Similarly an ironic title is used in Siegfried Sassoon’s World War I poem, ‘The Hero.’ The same belief that, ‘Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori’ (That it is sweet and right to die for your country) is an ‘old lie’ is supported by many modern war poems. Other earlier poems including, ‘Hear Now the Tale of a Jetback Sunrise’ by American Walt Whitman also advocated that war was not heroic.

The lyrics of popular Australian band, Redgum’s song, ‘I was Only 19’ are an example of more recent works which do not glorify war like earlier poetry did. John Schuman wrote the song in 1982 based on the experiences of his brother-in-law during the Vietnam War. The poem uses common language and recalls the experiences of a veteran in first person. Unlike ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ and ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ which are both written in first person the audience cannot distance themselves from the soldiers in the poem as they are identified. ‘I was Only 19’ briefly touches on the issue of war neurosis in the line, ‘And can you tell me, doctor, why I still can’t get to sleep’ which is repeated throughout the text. Written after the Vietnam War, John Mole’s ‘Coming Home’ deals with the issue in more depth. (http://inthepoetry.com/john-mole/coming-home/) Schuman uses references to Australian pop culture as well as world events to give the readers some indication of the historical setting, ‘Frankie kicked a mine the day that mankind kicked the moon.’

The text doesn’t use frequent rhyme; rather rhyme is used to make a point throughout the song. The fourth verse, which is the only instance of direct conflict in the song, features an a/b/a/b rhyme scheme which heightens the audience’s awareness. In recent years rhyme has become less frequent in poetry. The poem ‘Here, Bullet’ by Brian Turner which is about his experiences in Iraq uses no rhyme, rather it relies on rhythm. ‘Here, Bullet’ does however personify the bullet (http://american-poetry.suite101.com/article.cfm/turners_here_bullet ) which helps to convey the emotions of the dying soldier. The line, ‘If a body is what you want,’ directly addresses the bullet which gives it somewhat human qualities. On the same hand the human qualities of the soldier in question are put into question as he dehumanizes his body throughout the poem. By the end of the poem, the author himself has become the weapon, ‘Cleverly, the speaker then transforms himself into a weapon; his own body becomes the place from where, “I moan / the barrel’s cold esophagus.” No longer an animal, no longer a chicken with a wishbone, he is now made of the same cold steel upon which the bullet relies for its very existence.”

The bullet’s powerful personification addresses human price of war and look at how active conflict turns humans into nothing but a weapon against the opposition. In many ways the dehumanization of the soldier makes the audience further question the role of humans in warfare. As the poem has no historical or geographical references like many of the other war poems Turner who served in Iraq, allows the audience to experience the poem without any preconceived notions about the war it is based on.

War poetry has over time served to both support and challenge the popular belief about society’s involvement in war whilst also protesting against the government and their ideologies. Whilst many ‘war poets’ have been involved in war themselves, including Wilfred Owen and Brian Turner others have merely commented from societies perspective. The popular genre of poetry has allowed readers to explore the human emotions involved in war and the writers to express sentiments which aren’t found in the newspaper or in recent times in our lounge rooms on the seven o’clock news. It is no surprise considering that these conflicts are regarded as a big issue in society that war poetry is a popular genre of verse. Through rhyme, personification, similes and repetition the audience is transported to what a world that seems so far away yet is in reality, a world that the readers live in.

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