Analysis of Conflict in a Selection of War Poetry

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English Literature-Poetry and Drama
Look at the way conflict is presented in the section of verse you have studied

The poem by Wilfred Owen “Dulce et Decorum Est” was written by the poet after his first hand experience of the trenches during WWI, and gives us a small insight to what life in the trenches, during war, was actually like. It gives us a very negative horrific view of war, and is definitely a very anti-war poem. The poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred Lord Tennyson however, is very pro-war with far more focus being put on the heroism and bravery of the men at war, rather than the death and horror of war, and as a result, gives us an almost romantic view of war. “The soldier” by Rupert Brooke also gives us a similar take on war, but focuses more on the patriotism of the men at war, and even of those at home. In this essay I am going to look at how the three poets present the theme of conflict in their poems.

The poem by Owen can rather easily be divided into three sections: a description of soldiers leaving the battlefield, a mustard gas attack and a challenge thrown out to those who glorify war. It opens however, with a description of trench life and the conditions faced by the soldiers. The opening stanza is characterised by language about 'fatigue': the soldiers 'marched asleep', they 'trudge', and 'limped on'. They are 'deaf', 'lame' and 'blind'; all of which is rather sorry language intended to reveal the reality of war and its effects, and already from the opening stanza we can see Owen's cynicism with war, giving us the anti-war view of what war does to soldiers.

The opening of the poem also suggests Owen pities the state to which these men have fallen. Instead of youthful, strong fighters they are 'Bent double', 'Knock-kneed, coughing like hags'. Owen's imagery presents the men as prematurely old and weakened, war has changed these men, and they are described in the most unglamorous, disgraceful manner. Owen's bitterness with this transformation is clearly obvious from the language he uses.

However, in Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade, the poem focuses on more of the heroism and bravery of the soldiers, and presents the soldiers not as individuals, but as a group, reinforcing the view of how honourable it is to be a part of an army with a common purpose “Honour the Light Brigade, Noble Six Hundred!”, but also taking away some of the intimacy of individualising the soldiers, so driving the focus away from he death and failure of the charge, which is what the poem is mainly about.

In Brooke’s poem, he too he too diverts the attention away from the seriousness of the possible deaths at war, and focuses more on the good points, in the mind of the narrator, of life back home, rather than the deaths and horror at war. The lines “dreams happy as her day” and “under an English heaven” are the best examples of positive imagery in the poem, making the poem more positive on the whole, rather than negative like Owens poem.

In stanza two of Owen’s poem, comes the gas attack, and offers us a rather graphic description of the effects of such an attack. The language used in stanza two and three, depicting the gas attack is strong, representing both the anguish of the victims of the gas attack as well as the effect on those haunted by what they have seen: 'watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face'. The repetition of the word 'face' makes it clear which element disturbs the speaker most: the transformation in the face of the victim.

Also the speaker then describes a vision in a dream of the gas victim, how he dies 'guttering, choking, drowning', all still being very negative and vivid, and how the image of that person dying will stay with him and scar him for the rest of his life, even after the war has ended. The verbs used when describing the dying man, are all associated with a lack of air and a slow, painful death, with much use of similes and metaphors to...
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