Pre- war poetry used language and structure that was very pastoral. These poems portrayed the beauty and perfection of nature, and how it was the ideal. At the outbreak of war, the poetry conveyed a very patriotic feeling and the pride that soldiers had to be fighting for their country. Towards the end of the war, the feeling had changed dramatically; the soldiers were disillusioned and resigned to their fate, which they believed was death. Imagery in poems is very important, the use of verbal pictures not only describe what the poet sees, but also to express complex emotions and thoughts.Order now
One of the Poets who wrote a pastoral and patriotic poem near the beginning of the war was Julian Grenfell, the poem is “Into Battle”, which was written before the fighting and shows a naÃ¯ve idealism of the war. The rhythm and structure here is very hymnal and portrays a joyful patriotism in spring. The description of spring is very pastoral, with nature personified throughout
“Day shall clasp him with strong hands”
This shows a feeling of strength and protection, from nature and life in general. Inspiration to the soldiers comes in this poem with the repetition of the word “sing”, this usually suggests joy and spirit, which is the opposite of the usual feeling of war. This contrast can be seen in the poem “All the Hills and Vales Along” by Charles Sorley. This poem uses pastoral language but the structure is very different, and it shows an ironic side to the writing. Initially the poem sounds very positive, with a strong hymnal feel, and rhyming couplets which make it seem frivolous, like “Into Battle” the first stanza depicts war in a positive way.
The euphemism used to finish the first stanza tries to cover over the impending death with a gentler, less worrying idea of death. Many poets of this time used this method in order to “protect” the soldiers from their possible doom, and tried to make it seem noble and patriotic to die for their country. However Sorley uses this median to show the way that poets did use it to protect soldiers, and he uses it here in an ironic sense to show the harsh reality of death. This only becomes clear, however, in the third stanza where the final couplet is very harsh which greatly contrasts the rhythm and structure of the previous stanzas. The rhythm becomes more stumbling, which opposes the general hymnal feel; this could be thought to show the weakening soldiers as they near their death. The short impersonal line;
“So be merry, so be dead”
Contrasts to the euphemistic lines of the first stanza as it portrays death in a brutal fashion, not beautiful or lovely as previously imagined. This poem also contrasts to “Into Battle” with its use of imagery, where as pastoral poetry usually describes how nature is on man’s side, this shows that nature is indifferent to your death. It also contains references to the earth carrying poison for men, with the example given of “Hemlock for Socrates”, who drank poison before he was executed. In “Into Battle”, nature rejoices and welcomes your death.
“Hold him in their high comradeship”
The poem “Exposure” By Wilfred Owen was written about Owen’s experience in the front lines in Somme during the bitter winter of 1916 to 1917. The title “Exposure” comes from the medical condition of the same name that is caused by the cold. Owen takes the pastoral images and destroys them in this poem and he wanted to show the bleak and bitter conditions he experienced. He uses pastoral images then juxtaposes them with an oxymoron, a clear example of this is
“Misery of dawn”
Dawn is usually associated with bright colours and new life but here it seems dull and miserable and almost an enemy. Throughout this poem there is the reoccurring idea that nature does not care whether you live or die, which is the same as “All the Hills and Vales along”, where nature is indifferent. The imagery conveys the fear of winter and the worry that they may not survive to see the joys of spring;
“Spring our love is made afraid”
This contrasts to the feeling of the joyful and inspiring spring in which the soldiers have a strong feeling of patriotism, as shown in “Into Battle”. There is no mention of the bleak winter in “Into Battle”, as it shows the war in a positive light so uses images to inspire, rather then depress.
The form of this poem is interesting as it uses half rhymes, for example “Silent” and “Salient”. These are disturbing to the audience as we are accustomed to a perfect rhyme structure, as seen in “Into Battle, where there are alternative rhyming lines. A similar disconcerting effect is achieved by the irregular variations in the wording of the last line in each stanza. Like the soldiers in the poem, the audience is made alert waiting for something different, in this case a rhyme or an exact repetition. There seems to be too many words in the last line of each stanza and they are not proper sentences, this gives the image of someone drifting away and not being able to concentrate, much as what would happen to someone who did have exposure.
In many of the poems, there is the mention of mud and the earth. In exposure, Owen describes the soldiers as being lower then the mud, he shows this by saying;
“Will fasten on the mud and us”
By putting the mud before the “us” it gives the impression that mud is better and deserves the first mention. This image suggests that Owen believed that by fighting in the war, the men are automatically made the lowest beings. The pastoral image in “Into Battle” of
“The Naked earth is warm with spring”
Gives a warm and comforting feel, with hope and the possibly chance of new life coming in the spring.
These poems show that there are strong differing views on the war, they seem to be split between trying to motivate the soldiers, providing a positive side to the fighting, and the harsh and perhaps more truthful picture of the war. The imagery shows a clear portrayal of the poets views and beliefs, and the structure also conveys this. Pastoral imagery is used by the poets trying to motivate the soldiers, or by the poets such as Owen who took this imagery and destroyed it.