World War One, also known as The Great War took place primarily in Europe from 1914 to 1918. It claimed the lives of millions and resulted in millions of casualties. It is all too often forgotten but when remembered, it is remembered with great sadness. It is hard to imagine that anything beautiful could materialize from this horrific conflict but something did. It inspired and produced some of the Worlds most famous poets who wrote powerful poems about the everyday reality of this epic event.
The three poems that I will analyse for this essay are ‘War Girls’ by Jesse Pope, ‘Breakfast’ by Wilfred Wilfred Gibson and ‘There will come soft rains… ‘ by Sara Teasdale. All three poems depict their inner feelings and own personal views of the war and their views are conveyed with the use of powerful imagery. As the title suggests in Pope’s ‘War Girls’ the poem is about the lives of woman during World War One. The characters are addressed as girls ‘the motor girl’, ‘the butcher girl’, giving an image of these woman being very young but very mature.
An upbeat tempo has been used and with the description of the jobs that woman did, ‘drives the heavy van’, ‘does a milk round in the rain’ it conveys a sense of action. The lines, ‘beneath each uniform, beats a heart that’s soft and warm’, is an example of how Pope has slowed the tempo down. In doing so, it conveys to the reader that despite the difficult lives of these woman, who essentially carried out the jobs of men, still retained their femininity and gentleness. The effective use of verbs throughout ‘clips’, ‘speeds’,’marching’, creates a feeling of immense energy .
This is helped with the style of punctuation; commas have been used rather than full stops to give the poem fluidity. It is a sensory poem portraying its characters as strong confident woman, ‘strong sensible and fit’, ‘out to show their grit’. It is also extremely auditory and the use of sound is evident throughout, the reader can hear the girl who, ‘calls for orders at your door’ and ‘who cries ‘all fares, please’. These woman gained empowerment and liberty, hence the line, ‘no longer caged and penned up’.
‘Breakfast’ by Gibson is a very powerful poem about the lives of soldiers in the trenches. The title is simple and instantly brings to mind a picture of an ordinary breakfast scene which one would expect involved appetizing smells of hot food and drink.. The poem itself has quite a disturbing contracts though, as breakfast time for these young men was far from ordinary, hence the first opening lines, ‘we ate our breakfast lying on our backs’, because the shells were screeching overhead’. The tempo is steady and slow, which gives the poem an air of melancholy.
These men shared strong camaraderie, the lines, ‘I bet a rasher to a loaf of bread that Hull United would beat Halifax’, describe how these men tried to bring a sense of normality into their dreadful and most often, short lived lives. This banter amongst the men conjures up an image of home in the North of England and men playing football, something that would have once been a part of these men’s life’s. One character has been given a nickname, ‘Ginger raised his head’, which immediately personalises the character giving the reader an image of him.
Sound is conveyed through the use of onomatopoeia in the line, ‘shells screeching overhead’ we can hear the danger these men faced day in and day out. This danger is evident in the lines, ‘and took the bet; and dropt back dead. ‘ The last three words ‘dropt back dead’, have been given such impact and the use of alliteration emphasises the harshness. This is a tragic ending but an everyday occurrence for these men in the trenches who lived day in and day out amongst rats that fed on the flesh of the dead.
The dawn of a new day did not bring them any respite or relief from the horror, instead, every new dawn brought them a new promise of death. The repetition of the two opening lines at the end of the poem conveys to the reader that for these young soldiers, no matter what, they carried on regardless. ‘There will come soft rains…. ‘ by Teasedale addresses nature reclaiming the earth after the war and the disappearance of the human race. The continuation dots used in the title compel the reader to extend this further with thoughts of hope, joy and peace.
The lines, ‘there will come soft rains and the smell of the ground’, conjures up an image of fresh cut grass on a crisp fresh morning compared to the rotten smell of the ground during the war. The reader can almost touch and taste the new beginning that has arrived to wash away the bitterness that the atrocity of battle has left. Teasdale writes from the perspective of nature itself and gives a beautiful and descriptive account of how nature will triumph when mankind has gone, ‘not one will know of the war, not one will care at last when it is done’.
It has a slow tempo that slowly brings to life the gentle, soothing sounds of nature. Teasdale’s has used rhyming couplets and an effective use of alliteration is evident throughout, ‘swallows calling with their shimmering sounds’, ‘whistle their whims on a low wire fence’, conveys images and sounds of nature at its prettiest. The images are made even more profound with the use of personification, ‘frogs in the pools singing at night’, and ‘spring herself, when she woke at dawn’, the latter line almost defining spring as the personified character in the poem.
It sums up in the most astounding way, natures utter distain for the endeavours of human kind. All three poets were alive during the war, therefore were in some way touched by the atrocities. All poems have a war theme but they are told from different perspectives. In my opinion Popes ‘War Girls’ was written in honour of woman as a form of adulation. It illustrates the significance of woman and the roles they played up until, ‘the khaki soldier boys came marching back’. The life’s these woman endured was extremely difficult but cannot be compared to the lives of the soldiers in the trenches portrayed by Gibson in ‘Breakfast’.
I think Gibson’s intention was to portray the intense pain and suffering of the ordinary foot soldiers, living extraordinary life’s. Teasdale takes a more cynical approach in that nature will not only endure but will carry on without even noticing, ‘that we were gone’. I find it difficult to share Teasdale’s view of the irrelevance of mankind but it is however, my preferred poem. I feel that it was the most descriptive and it also contained the most emotive language, using beautiful lyrical tone and rhythm style.