War Poetry Essay
A popular theme for poets in the last century was war. Many famous poems were written about the two world wars, as well as the Korean and Vietnam wars.
For my report I have chosen six poems, three by Wilfred Owen and three by Australian poets. Anthem for Doomed Youth, The Send Off and Insensibility (1) were written by Owen during the first world war to express his anti-war attitude. Beach Burial by Kenneth Slessor, Homecoming by Bruce Dawe and Letter XV by Bruce Beaver are famous Australian poems about war.
The poems have many similarities, especially in content, but also have their differences.
The subject matter of the poems is obviously generally the same. Most are about soldiers dying/dead because of a war. Beach Burial is specifically about the WW2 battle at El Alamein, and Homecoming is concerned with the effect of the Vietnam War, but the rest are about war in general. The purpose of the poems is to convey the poets own beliefs against war, for example Wilfred Owen was an avid anti-war activist, despite – or maybe because of – the fact that he fought in WW1.
The emotion portrayed is mostly depressive, somber and bitter. Anthem for Doomed Youth seems slightly accusatory; this is because the poet asks questions of the reader, almost daring the reader to disagree. Letter XV emits a confused mood, as if the poet doesnt understand why war exists.
All the poems could probably be described as elegies, considering they are all laments for the dead.
Anthem for Doomed Youth is almost a Shakespearean sonnet, but the rhyming is wrong, so technically it is a Petrarchan sonnet (divided into an octave and sestet).
The other poems are either separated into regular stanzas like Beach Burial- or have no real structure, such as Homecoming.
There is plenty of imagery in most of the poems. The Send Off used the oxymoron faces grimly gay to describe the men, indicating that they seem happy but they shouldnt, since they are going to war. The poet also describes the men as dead while they are alive, because he is so sure of their fate. Imagery is used in Homecoming to describe the different types of men -curly-heads, kinky-hairs, crew-cuts – and their homes – ridiculous curvatures of earth the knuckled hills – this paints a vivid picture in the readers mind. In ‘Beach Burial dead bodies are given attributes of live men, such as they sway and wander. As well as this, the phrase words choke is used to describe the lack of names for the dead soldiers. Personification is also used in Anthem for Doomed Youth, where guns are angry and the sound of shells is described as shrill, demented choirs.
Alleys cobbled with their brothers is used in Insensibility to describe a trench with dead bodies strewn around; this is an unpleasant image, used intentionally to disturb the reader.
These techniques are used to give life to the poems, to portray the thoughts of the poet and to make the poems interesting.
Sound and Rhythm are important in a poem to make it audibly aesthetic and to make it flow. Two of the poems have no rhyme (blank verse) Letter XV is staccato and abrupt but Homecoming uses repetition of bringing them home to help flow, and an amphora of theyre.
The Send Off has four stanzas of five lines each with a rhyming structure of a,b,a,a,b for each stanza. Anthem for Doomed Youth has the structure- a,b,a,b,c,d,c,d, e,f,f,e,g,g. This, as I mentioned, is almost a Shakespearean sonnet (a,b,a,b,c,d,c,d, e,f,e,f,g,g). These rhymes improve the sound and rhythm of the poem. Insensibility and Beach Burial each contain a slant rhyme. Insensibility uses consonance, with rhyming couplets i.e. Killed/cold, brothers/withers. The second and fourth lines of Beach Burial have a slant rhyme, i.e. come/foam, men/begin, while the third line has an internal rhyme, such as wander/ under in
At night they sway and wander in the waters far under
Although Insensibility and Beach Burial dont have true rhyme; the fake rhyme still creates rhythm.
The two main components of a poem are the content, meaning the subject and emotion, and the technique which is things like structure, rhythm and imagery.
The six war poems I chose have a very similar content because the topic is common to all of them. Large differences come in the technique, because this defines the way a poem is written, not what it is about.
Owen s poems, Anthem for Doomed Youth The Send Off and Insensibility (1) were all structured poems with at least partial rhyme, and had similarities because of the poets technique.
The three Australian poems, Beach Burial by Kenneth Slessor, Bruce Dawes Homecoming and Letter XV by Bruce Beaver differ greatly, from the regular rhyming Beach Burial to the staccato, unstructured Letter XV
The technique part of the poem, as it can be seen with these examples, is completely detached from the content, and varies between poets, rather than themes.
I prefer the rhythm and consistency of Owens poems and Beach Burial to the style of Homecoming or Letter XV. I like the rhymes, as they tend to bring the poem together, they unify it. Obviously I agree with the message in all these poems, or I wouldnt have chosen the theme of war / anti-war poetry. All of the poems depressed me (apart from Letter XV, which confused me) so the poets must have done a good job at portraying emotions.