War Poem Comparison Essay

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Gavin Ross

Pre-Entry Access Class – English Module

Tutors – Aimee McNair and Kevin Wilson

Q. In an essay of not more than 1,500 words compare and contrast ONE PAIR of the two pairs of poems printed below. Your answer should exhibiy a clear understanding of each poem’s meaning and tone, and you should consider the effect and importance of formal features, such as rhyme scheme, sound patterning, word choice, figurative language and punctuation.

Date handed in : 31st January 2011

This essay will compare the poems “On Passing the New Menin Gate” by Siegfried Sassoon (1927) and “Anthem For Doomed Youth” by Wilfred Owen (1917) and decipher whether there are any contrasts of worthwhile note. It will explore the meanings of both poems and consider the importance and effect of formal features that Sassoon and Owen use to convey their ideas. One immediate comparison that can be made about these two poems is that they are both anti-war poems. Sassoon and Owen became friends while fighting in World War 1 (Internet 1), which is the subject of both poems. Having both experienced the war first-hand, Sassoon and Owen talk about its harsh reality and the devastating consequences for both soldiers and their families alike. Their close friendship is undoubtedly a major factor in the two poems being very similar in the way they are written, especially considering Sassoon helped co-write “Anthem For Doomed Youth” with Owen (Internet 2). They are both keen to dispell the popular myth that it was a “Great War” and use various techniques to convey the main themes of anger, resentment, betrayal and biterness to emphasise the destructive and devastating nature of war throughout their poems, which I will now go on to talk about in greater depth. The seminal technique Sassoon and Owen use in their poems in order to achieve this emphasisation is their ironic use of the traditional sonnet form. In “On Passing the New Menin Gate” Sassoon deliberately decides to use the Shakespearian sonnet form, more conventionally used to communicate feelings of love or romance, in an ironic way (Internet 3) , as he tries to convey his bitter passion and contempt for not only the war but the memorial, Menin Gate, itself. This ironic use of the sonnet form serves to highlight the romantic lie that it is great and honourable to die for your country (Internet 4). Owen also uses a variety of the Petrarchan sonnet structure to introduce irony, similarly to emphasise his own anger at the futility of war (Internet 5). The ironic use of the sonnet form by both poets help transmit their feelings of disgust and resentment about the war to the reader. Sassoon and Owen both convey similar themes in their poems. The obvious theme of anger aside, the underlying theme of betrayal is vivid throughout both pieces of work. Both poets achieve this sense of betrayal through selective word choice. In “On Passing the New Menin Gate” Sassoon uses the word “conscripted” (line 4) to suggest the soldiers were forced or tricked into joining the army and ultimately ther death (Internet 6). The theme of betrayal is carried on by Sassoon later in the poem when he angrily claims, “Was ever an immolation so belied, As these intolerably nameless names?” (lines 11-12). This underscores Sassoon’s feelings of unjust and the theme of betrayal as it implies the memorial Menin Gate is not a proportionate reward for the soldiers sacrificing their lives (Internet 7). He feels it betrays their honour as the 54,889 inscribed names on the monument is a very impersonal way of celebrating or mourning the lost lives of the dead soldiers (Internet 8). Owen, however, conveys the theme of betrayal more subtly, in the title of his poem, “Anthem For Doomed Youth”. The oxymoron “Doomed Youth” emphasises the naivety of the soldiers as it is an unusual phrase not normally associated with each other. “Doomed” gives the connotations of a terrible fate that is sure to end in tragedy, whereas...
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