War poetry is written for a variety of reasons. They may be written from the poet’s personal experience or from second-hand knowledge; often an important factor affecting the poem’s significance and viewpoint of war. A war poem may be written to console the bereaved: to reassure them that a soldier’s death is a noble and heroic sacrifice. Glorifying war in poetry has also been used as government propaganda to keep public morale high and to encourage patriotism during a war. A poet who has served in a war may wish to express their personal reaction to the battle scene, they may write of the grief, terror and bitterness of war.
A war poem could be written to depict the reality of warfare, a true image that aims to dispel the mythical vision of war seen by the public. “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred Tennyson is a narrative poem based on Russel’s account in the Times of the Charge, which took place during the Crimean War. The poem describes the Light Brigade’s hopeless charge towards the enemy’s main artillery position. Their commander had mistaken his orders, and instead of sending the cavalry to retrieve some captured British guns, he sent them into a valley where the Russians were waiting with their firearms.
The 600 men armed only with sabres could not match the Russian guns and cannons and few survived the short battle. “The Charge of the Light Brigade” is a poem celebrating the glory of a death battling for one’s country. Tennyson commands his readers to honour and admire the soldiers of the Light Brigade for nobly carrying out their orders despite realising the hopelessness of their mission, “When can their glory fade? … Honour the charge they made! ” The soldiers’ deaths are described in epic but impersonal terms, emphasising their fearless heroism.
Tennyson uses images of death and hell to depict the terror of the battle scene, Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of Hell” The personification of death and hell implies that death is waiting to consume the soldiers and that the scene ahead is so horrifying for the soldiers it resembles hell. The “valley of Death” is also referred to, a Biblical reference, which ominously suggests that the soldiers are facing certain death. Repetition is a technique often used in “The Charge of the Light Brigade. ” It is used to emphasise different points of the poem. The first two lines of the poem establish the strong rhythm of the poem and emphasise it using repetition, “Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,” The poem has a rhythm of a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables which recreates for the reader a sense of the excited, galloping motion of the cavalry riding into battle. The unfaltering obedience of the soldiers is also emphasised using repetition and rhyme, “Theirs’ not to make reply, Theirs’ not to reason why, Theirs’ but to do and die. ” These lines convey to the reader the soldiers’ sense of loyalty and duty, which overcomes fear of death. Tennyson’s Victorian audience would have appreciated this attitude.
“Cannon to the right of them, Cannon to the left of them, Cannon in front of them. The repetition in these lines is used to make the readers see the battle scene from the viewpoint of the approaching cavalry. They convey the sense of being surrounded by the deadly cannons. The lines are paralleled in the fifth stanza, when the remaining soldiers are retreating with the “cannon behind them. ” Tennyson recreates the sights, sounds and actions of the battle using onomatopoeia, alliteration and a dramatic use of dynamic verbs. “Stormed at with shot and shell,” is an example of alliteration, used to portray the constant barrage of firearms and weapons; yet the brigade “boldly” ride into this “storm.
The bright weapons of the Light Brigade are a contrast to the “gunners” and “battery smoke” of the enemy. The sabres of the British cavalry “Flashed as they turned in air” a phrase which echoes Russel’s report of the Charge in Times in which he describes the soldiers’ “flashing sabres. ” Onomatopoeia is used to convey the strength, explosive sound and speed of the cannons in the line “Volleyed and thundered. ” The comparison of the weapons creates an image of the clean, shining weapons cavalry nobly fighting against the overwhelming power of the enemy’s terrible artillery.
Tennyson reduces the indignity of defeat considerably in his poem by drawing attention to the bravery of the soldiers for sacrificing their lives for their country. He also exaggerates their nobility by generalising their gallantry in rhetorical questions such as “Was there a man dismayed? ” and magnifies the cavalry’s minor victories into major triumphs. This is accomplished using strong verbs such as “reeled” at the beginning of a line to stress the impact of the sabres on the enemies, and “shattered and sundered,” which onomatopoeically suggests that the enemy is being crushed.
The poem also generates pity for the soldiers and creates pathos for the tragic loss of life. Tennyson highlights the fact that 600 men rode into the battle in each stanza before the fifth stanza when the “horse and hero” fall and the heavy death toll is revealed because only what was “left of six hundred” return. In the final stanza Tennyson immortalises the soldiers for their nobility and commands the reader to honour them for their brave charge. Their glory is established with the rhetorical question “When can their glory fade? “Dulce Et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen is also a war poem but it is written not to glorify war, but to reveal the true nature of war from his own experience during the First World War. He is addressing the propagandists of the time such as Jessie Pope, who gave a false image of war to nai?? ve young men and encouraged them to fight without warning them of the horror of the battlefield. Wilfred Owen begins his poem by describing in the first stanza the overwhelming exhaustion of the marching soldiers.
He uses vivid similes to depict the inhumane, feeble state of the soldiers; they are like “old beggars,” and “hags,”- unusual descriptions for young soldiers. The stereotypical image of soldiers is of upright, smartly dressed men, not “bent double” and “under sacks. ” Owen creates a slow pace in the first stanza with lines running onto another and words such as “trudge” and “limped” suggesting the slow movement and weariness of the soldiers. The fatigue of the men is established through the portrayal of the soldiers’ oblivion to their surroundings, they are “deaf to the hoots of gas shells.
The mechanical action of the soldiers is exaggerated for emphasis; the men did not literally march asleep but were so exhausted it was a similar thing. The soldiers’ fatigue affects all their senses as alcohol does and the are described as “drunk with fatigue. ” The next stanza is in sharp contrast to the fatigue of the first stanza. It begins with an exclamation “Gas! GAS! ” which shocks the reader as it would have shocked the soldiers to hear it. The pace is faster and there is a panicked race for time as the soldiers put on their gas masks.
The men are clumsy with fatigue yet there fear of the deadly gas puts them in “an ecstasy of fumbling” to fasten on the helmets. The reader is relieved to find the fit them “just in time” but it is soon apparent that a man is not wearing a mask. The man’s desperate plea for help is vividly depicted by Owen from his own point of view through his mask. It is described using present participles, “yelling out and stumbling” to give the reader a sense of immediacy, and the lines are run onto each other using ‘and’ to give the impression of continuous motion, “and stumbling/ And floundering. ”
The painful corrosion of the dying man’s lungs by the gas is described using the emotive simile “like a man in fire or lime. ” Owen sees him “through the misty panes” of his mask the “thick green light” of the poisonous gas in the air. The gas would have caused the man’s lungs to fill with liquid and the man’s death is described as “drowning” and he flounders as if trying to draw breath. The poem then returns to the present tense and Owen writes that he is still haunted in his dreams by the vision of the man’s death and his own helplessness as he watched him “guttering, choking, drowning” before him.
The verbs chosen here, “guttering, choking” are onomatopoeic; their sounds are harsh and suggest the actions they denote. The last stanza of the poem directly addresses the propagandists inviting them to watch the dying man in the waggon. Owen says that people like Jessie Pope would not glorify war to impressionable youth if they had themselves experienced war. Owen uses grotesque images and similes to convey the wretchedness and horror of seeing this man die, eg. , he describes his face as “a devil’s sick of sin” and his eyes writhe in agony. The war is compared to the most terrible things imaginable: “obscene as cancer… ile incurable sores on innocent tongues. ”
Owen ends by telling those whom he ironically calls “friend” that they would not tell the “lie” that it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country. Wilfred Owen was not a pacifist but he wrote bitterly to the propagandists because he had seen the young boys who eagerly joined the army after hearing such poetry and thought it despicable practice to mislead them with promise of glory when in reality there is no glory in war. “The Charge of the Light Brigade” and “Dulce Et Decorum Est” are both war poems, however the images of war that they project are very different.
The Charge of the Light Brigade” glorifies war and portrays soldiers in battle as valiant, noble and heroic men who would die willingly for their country. The poem aims to make the reader admire the brigade as well as pity them. The image of war in “Dulce Et Decorum Est” is, in contrast, grotesque and terrifying. It directly opposes the glorifying of war and presents an image of weary, dispirited and feeble men who died in appalling conditions, and in such vast numbers that the dying could not be attended to and have their pain eased- they were simply “flung” in waggons.
Death in “Dulce Et Decorum Est” is represented by one individual whose suffering represents that of the many others who died in war. His agony is focussed on and described in graphic detail from the writer’s personal viewpoint for a high emotional impact on the reader. The deaths in “The Charge of the Light Brigade” are not described in any detail. They are heroic and epic but impersonal and generalised. The two poems are both written in stanzas and use rhyme but the regularity and import of this differs.
The Charge of the Light Brigade” has a strong emphasis on rhyme, and the stanzas follow chronologically and are of similar length and style. The stanzas of “Dulce Et Decorum Est” also follow chronologically as they tell the story of one man’s death but they are of irregular length. The rhyming scheme of the poem is of alternating lines rhyming, however, little emphasis is put on the rhyme and the lines of the poem often run onto the next one. The construction of the poem is not as neat and ordered as the that of “The Charge of the Light Brigade” and similarly its view of war is not as clean and ordered as in Tennyson’s poem.
Tennyson was not present at the Charge of the Light Brigade; he received his information from Russel’s article and wrote his poem specifically about the Charge. His view of war was therefore that of the general public and he had not experienced it so he was not able to judge the glory of war for himself. Wilfred Owen, however, fought in the First World War, one of the most terrible wars ever fought and had seen the dreadful waste of life that took place as millions of men died pointlessly.
His experience made him bitter and his poetry is written from his own knowledge and judgement. “Dulce Et Decorum Est” is a war poem that can be applied to any war of any era for any side; it has a universal significance. Of the two poems I personally prefer “Dulce Et Decorum Est” as I consider Owen’s honest portrayal of war a valuable insight which should be remembered and help people to understand the suffering of soldiers serving in war as this is too often forgotten.