Poetry is a form of art where one’s imagination or experiences are expressed through words, sound or rhythmic language choices to evoke an emotional response from their readers. Poetry was extremely popular during wartimes as people got to express how they felt about war through words. ‘The soldier’ by Rupert Brooke and ‘Beach Burial’ by Kenneth Slessor are both poem written during wartime and both contain contrasting ideas about war. These two poems are particularly useful to study as they show us how the attitude towards war has changes for individuals through a wide range of vivid poetry techniques.
The Soldier” by Brooke is written in 1914, before he actually participated in war, where he presents war as an event of potential glory. Brooke’s limited war experiences allowed him to compose an image of what he imagines war to be like. As he did not know about the horrors of war, his view of war is innocent and naïve. He believes that the death of a soldier – if it happens – will be a sweet and honourable death, one to be admired and hoped for. This view is demonstrated vividly throughout the poem in several ways.
One of the ways Brooke shows the idea that war is glorious is through his strong sense of patriotism. He constantly uses words such as “England” and “English” which suggests that he respected his mother country dearly. Through the use of repetition, the repeated soft sound of ‘f’ – from words such as ‘foreign’, ‘field’ and ‘forever’, helps to create a gentle and soft tone. This tone helps the soldier to reassure his loved ones that participating in the war is a duty he must take, and that they should not worry too much about him. In that rich earth a richer dust concealed. ” This metaphor indicates that if the soldier is to die on a land other than England, then the ground that he dies on would be made better and there is now a piece of England in it. The repetition of the word ‘rich’ supports this concept as the soldier is constantly thinking of England as a land of prosperity and happiness. From this, readers are able to acknowledge the fact the soldier is extremely proud to be an English man and sees war as a privilege to repay his mother country.
Brooke’s patriotism is unfolded vividly which therefore suggests the idea that war is glorious. Brooke also expressed his idea of war being glorious through the way he describes his potential death. As an English man, he believes that if he is to die in war, his death will lead him to an “English heaven” Because he fought for England, he will be forever in peace at heaven. By using positive connotations such as “friends”, “laughter”, “sun” and “flowers”, he makes us believe that England is a place to defend and die for.
Brooke vividly focuses on the image of death being peaceful and sweet, not cruel or sad. Brooke’s attitude to war remains positive which suggest the idea of war being glorious. In contrast, “Beach Burial” by Slessor is an anti-war poem which displays the idea that war is terrible and a waste of innocent lives. Unlike Brooke, Slessor was not part of the soldier recruit, but he was appointed as an official war correspondent in 1939 where he has experienced first-hand information about the aftermath of war.
His view of war is an experienced and realistic one and it is vivid how the attitude towards war has changed after one has learnt about the horrific horrors of war. “Beach Burial” does not show any patriotic devotion, it’s not the celebration of the return of heroes either; instead it focuses on the cruel and pitiful burial of the dead soldiers. Slessor includes in stanza 1 – the description of ‘soft and humbly’ and ‘the convoys of dead sailors come’. The readers were lured into a sense of calm with the subdued tone of ‘soft’ and ‘humbly’ where they then realize that the persona is talking about a group of dead soldiers.
Slessor also used rhyme to create an intense and emotional response. The rhyming scheme of ABCB can be depicted as the ocean waves continuously washing up dead bodies onto the shore. Through the use of descriptive language and simile, such as “as blue as dead men’s lips”, “bewildered pity” and “the sob of the gunfire”, Slessor was able to convey his experiences through imaginative word dictations to create an emotional response from the readers. These ideas vividly suggest that war is negative.
Slessor has also written about how the soldiers lost their identity in war, and the impossibility of giving them an honourable and decent burial. The persona watched as the dead soldiers gets pulled out of the water and buried in burrows by the ocean. “Unknown seaman” written on each cross with “perplexity”, the soldier’s patriotism was punished by a pitiful death. In Brooke’s poem, patriotism is rewarded by an “English heaven” where they will be forever in peace. However through Slessor’s poem, Brooke’s view of death is seen as misleading and inaccurate.
Personification conveyed in stanza 3, “words choke… the ghostly pencil” indicates that it was difficult to write the name of the dead soldiers and hence the words are “choking” as so many innocents have lost their life being unidentified. “Ghostly pencil” portrays the idea that the pencil is like a ghost haunting those who made the decision to participate in war. Again, these ideas vividly suggest that was is negative. Within both of the poems, there is much discussion on the changes in attitude towards war.
Through a comparison of the two poems, readers are manipulated to see the changes in different individual’s attitude to war as an inexperienced and a realistic view of war is shown. The figurative language used in “The Soldier” presents Brooke’s inexperienced view of war in a romantic manner whereas in “Beach Burial”, Slessor’s use of emotive language has presented war in a sorrowful and depressing manner. From these two poems, we now have a better understanding of how poetry can portray ideas or concepts through the use of vivid and imaginative poetry techniques.