The “old lie” is a term that was developed by Wilfred Owen. The phrase refers to the story that was told to soldiers and civilians of the day. This story was indeed an idealistic view of war and fooled the general population into believing that war was glamorous and glorious and that dying for ones country was noble and dignified.
The old lie was developed over many years and originally started in the days of the Romans that in roman times fighting for your country was honourable as every warrior needed to be extremely fit and skilled in battle, hence, it was an occupation for the physically elite.
In modern day war, an unfit unskilled man can easily kill a skilled and fit man with a gun with little or no effort, and this death is one of an undignified nature and certainly not glorious.
The views from Roman times have been carried through to the modern ages though and even though it was a reality that war was no longer fought by skilled men and death on a battlefield was anything but dignified, civilians had no idea of this and still believed the “old lie” as old attitudes had been carried through to the modern days.
The attitudes of people towards war changed during World War One for many reasons. Originally the attitude to war in the 18th and 19th centuries was that war was glorious and that dying for your country was a noble and graceful act.
These views were conveyed to the general public through literature such as the poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Lord Alfred Tennyson.
This poem was written about a particular battle during the Crimean war and is based around the fact that the soldiers in that war dies a noble death on the battlefield and even though they died due to an inexplicable mistake by one of the commanders not one of them questioned that decision.
The general public were not fully aware of the horrors that war held and poets of the time did not seem prepared to shed war in a negative light, perhaps war raised morale and patriotism in the country.
When Brooke started writing at the beginning of the First World War attitudes were that war was seen as romantic and glorious and death on the battlefield was considered noble and dignified.
As the war developed, these views changed in correspondence with the publications of Wilfred Owen’s poetry. Owen’s poetry shed a new light on war and it discussed how death on the battlefield was actually undignified and death was not honourable and that war was pointless and horrific. Owen expresses these views through his poetry.
A factor that heavily contributed to people’s perception of war was the literature that was published both through poetry and the media as plenty of people in that time read poetry and the media had a huge influence over people’s opinions.
If the general trend in literature being published was that war was glorious and dignified the public’s opinions were more than likely to follow in that general direction and vice versa, hence poetry had a huge grasp over the thoughts of the entire country as if one respected poet demonstrated those views, this could sway the perception the whole country had to war
On the other hand the views of poets and the media could be propaganda that was employed in order to help raise the morale of the country and for numerous other causes. An example would be “Charge of the Light Brigade”, where Tennyson’s views are so concentrated on the positive aspects of the battle through the use of euphemisms one can only suspect that there was a propaganda campaign behind this in order to perhaps shelter the armed forces from criticism and to raise the morale of the country.
“The Charge of the Light Brigade” was a poem written during the Crimean war after Britain had just lost a battle in devastating fashion, due to a mistake by one of the commanding officers, soldiers were sent into an ambush and close to six hundred died pointlessly and their deaths were avoidable or postponable at the very least.
Tennyson actually wrote this poem as a third person as he was in no way involved in the war and drew all his information from the famously biased British media, i.e. a newspaper. Perhaps this played a role in his idealistic and euphemistic portrayal of the battle.
Tennyson’s attitude to war was one of extreme jingoism and was extremely idealistic. His view of war was that it was glorious, dignified and honourable to die for your country. His poetry conveys to the reader that he possibly knew of the true horrors of that battle but he played down the negative points through euphemisms, for example, “while horse and hero fell”, this line is essentially saying that the soldiers died on the battlefield but though the use of the word “fell” and “hero”, Tennyson allows a sentence about death to become majestic, serene even, which is a testament to his skills as a writer.
Through Tennyson’s poetry it becomes apparent to the reader that Tennyson has never fought in a war himself and that he was most probably raised to accept the “old lie” as gospel truth. This is due to his idealistic views and his use of euphemisms, and his jingoistic attitude to war allows him to actually glorify a battle that could not have gone worse for the British.
Tennyson demonstrates through this poem that he very much respects soldiers that have fought in battle. In “The Charge of the Light Brigade” he immortalises all the soldiers who died but made sure not to name any specific soldier as this would raise his profile above that of the rest and in his eyes they were all equally respectable.
He demonstrates his respect for the soldiers through the line, “When can their glory fade? … Honour the light brigade”. This shows us that Tennyson felt strongly that the light brigade deserved to be honoured for what they had done. The issue of their honour was quite an emotional issue for Tennyson, hence, the rhetorical question, “When can their glory fade?”, which of course is rhetorical as in his eyes, their honour can never fade.
The rhythm and rhyme in this poem are meticulously assembled to convey several subconscious messages to the reader.
The rhythm of the poem is reminiscent to the sound of a horse galloping which bears significance in the context of this text as the men who dies in the battle the poem is based on, died whilst riding horses.
Tennyson uses the line “Cannon to the right of them, Cannon to the left of them, Cannon in front of them” to great effect. The repetition of the word cannon and the increase in tempo when reading these lines helps to convey to the reader how much danger the soldiers were in and how the odds were stacked completely against them. The repetition and change in tempo integrates well with the rhythm which is reminiscent of a horse galloping and all of this helps to paint a vivid image in the reader’s mind of the battle scene.
The rhyme in this poem is varied. There are several examples of half rhymes and the effect they have is that they give some tune to the poem to help it be rousing.
Alliteration is used in this poem in order to emphasise the tragedy of what happened, for example, “horse and hero” and “all the world wondered”. These uses of alliteration help to give a more sombre feel to the poem and help the reader to fully experience the tragedy of the battle and to help keep the solemn and respectful feel of the poem.
Another poetic technique used by Tennyson in this poem is that when he addresses the reader he talks in the present tense, for example, “When can their glory fade?”. Tennyson may address readers in this manner to possibly feel more personally linked and involved and this may help to evoke emotions from the reader.
Metaphors are used in this poem in order to stress the unavoidable danger than the soldiers are in, for example, “into the jaws of death”, this line gives the reader the effect that the soldiers are doomed before they begun and could help the reader to comprehend how much danger the soldiers were in during battle.
“The Soldier” is a poem written by Rupert Brooke at the beginning of World War One. This poem was written at a time when people’s attitudes towards war were still very much linked with the “old lie” and the jingoism of Tennyson although attitudes were now changing.
Attitudes were changing as more men had experienced war and knew the true horrors of war. This poem was written during a transition period from when they “old lie” was widely believed, to the point when it was obsolete.
This poem is extremely nationalistic due to the repetition of the word “England”. For example, “A dust whom England bore” and “A body of England’s, breathing English air” are but to name a few references of England in this poem.
Brooke was quite prepared to die for his country, we know this from the line, “In that rich earth a richer dust concealed”, in that line he is talking about his own ashes being the dust with not an ounce of regret, this shows he is perfectly happy to die for his country and he also feels that because his ashes are from England this is a richer material than foreign Earth as he has successfully personified his ashes into England, Brooke is once again showing his nationalistic attitude here.
Brooke writes this poem in the form of a sonnet (14 lines with 10 syllables per line) which is traditionally a love poem. Brooke uses this form of poem to convey to the reader how devoted and in love he is with England.
Throughout the course of this poem Brooke puts across to the reader that it is an Englishman’s duty to fight for England, to repay the country that has nurtured you as you would your mother. Brooke never directly quotes this but implies this through lines such as, “A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware. This implies that a soldier should be grateful to his country for turning him into the man he is and if the honour of his country is at stake, he must defend his country as he would his mother who also bore him.
This poem has an extremely serene tone and includes a lot of euphemism in order to play down disgusting and violent scenes like death on the battlefield, and turn them into peaceful and serene scenes.
For example, “A body of England’s, breathing English air”, literally translated this sentence is describing a corpse which is quite a disgusting entity to imagine but through the use of euphemisms such as “body of England”, the sentence sounds less disgusting and almost serene.
Another example of euphemisms in this poem is the line “If I should die”, Brooke is keeping an optimistic attitude about whether he will even die and is not condemning himself, which lessens the effect of the line and brightens the tone of the poem.
Brooke also uses the euphemism of the word dust instead of ashes in order to further play down how gruesome death on the battlefield was, “A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware”.
Another euphemism used to play down death on the battlefield is that Brooke uses the word “sleep” instead of the word “death”. The effect this has on the reader is that it greatly reduces the shock to the reader and once again maintains a peaceful tone and helps to portray death on the battlefield in a serene fashion.
The sound and rhythm of this poem contributes to the serene feel of the poem as the poem is written the form of a sonnet which is traditionally used to write love poems, therefore Brooke is expressing his love for England. Love poems are always tranquil and never violent; hence, that is the tone of this poem.
This poem uses a lot of personification. For example, this poem heavily personifies England into many different forms. For example, “her (England) flowers to love” and “Her (England) sights and sounds”. These two lines show Brooke Personifying England.
Brooke talks about colonisation of a foreign field even if the English lose the battle as their ashes will be absorbed by the ground and turn that, metaphorically, into English territory. He expresses this through the line, “In that rich earth, a richer dust concealed”. This once again reinforces his reputation as a nationalist.
The poem “Peace” which was also written by Rupert Brooke is essentially a poem that has been designed in order to encourage men to enrol in the army. The line, “we, who have known shame, we have found release there”.
This line translates into, if you carry shame then joining the army will rid you of all your shame, which if nothing else is a clear message to encourage men to enrol in the armed forces. Brooke may have written this as his views are clear from “The Soldier” and those are that it is an honour to fight for your country so it comes as no surprise that Brooke is writing a poem about the advantages of enrolling in the army.
Brooke also talks about spiritual rewards in the afterlife through death on a battlefield for England, for example, “Nothing to shake the laughing heart’s long peace there”. This line is talking about that fact that dying on a battlefield for England is an extremely small price to pay for an eternity of peace and enjoyment in the afterlife. This once again reinforces his reputation as an extreme nationalistic.
Some time after Rupert Brookes’ views on war were commonplace, an entirely new and different attitude to war was developed during World War One and this is reflected in the works of Wilfred Owen.
This different attitude to war that developed was an attitude that was completely against war. Through greater use and reach of the media and possibly less propaganda and through the literature of poets such as Wilfred Owen, the general public were no longer fooled by the “old lie”.
People generally started to realise that war was actually quite a horrific experience and no longer considered it glorious once realities such as conditions inside the trenches were exposed.
“Anthem for Doomed Youth”, was a poem written by Wilfred Owen during the First World War.
This poem is very similar to “The Soldier” by Rupert Brooke, in that they two poems essentially deal with the same issues: that of remembering the dead of the war and death on the battlefield, but the views and tones of the poems are a world apart.
The two poems, “The Soldier” and “Anthem for Doomed Youth” are both dealing with the issue of the death of a soldier on a battlefield. Owen’s viewpoint is that when a soldier dies on a battlefield it is an extremely undignified death, he expresses this in the line, “What passing bells for those who die as cattle? Only the monstrous anger of the guns”. This conveys to the reader that the lives of soldiers were treated merely as numbers and that most soldiers were cannon fodder whose only purpose was to die a meaningless death on the front line, only marked by the continuous shooting of the guns. Owen portrays death on the battlefield as the least dignified way to die.
Tennyson also concurs with the views of Brooke, as from the poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, the line “When can their glory fade?”.
The poem “The Soldier” was written in the form of a sonnet because Brooke is trying to emphasise his love for his country as sonnets are generally love poems.
The poem, “Anthem for Doomed Youth” was written in the form in the form of a sonnet because Owen is trying to put across to the reader the idea of ironic love, that is, the fact that one id prepared to die for one’s country but the state can not take the time to offer the corpse a simple funeral. The fact that dying for one’s country means so much for that person but that love from the country is unrequited; as far as the country is concerned the soldier is only another figure that can be added to the death toll.
The title of the poem, “Anthem for Doomed Youth” has had the word “anthem” been put into the title as the word anthem is there to inform the reader that this is what is most likely to happen to a soldier that joins the army, that is, an anthem for their life at the army that always ends in a gruesome undignified death.
The significance of the word “doomed” in the poem, “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, is that Owen is trying to convey to the reader that the soldiers are doomed for a horrible undignified death before they have even set off for battle; there is no solace or escape for those that enter the path of war.
In Owen’s first draft of this poem the title was, “Anthem for Dead Youth”. This title is less striking than the title that it was later changed to which was, “Anthem for Doomed Youth”.
The original title was less striking because it refers to the past tense, that is, the word “dead”. This word is not as striking as “doomed” because if the soldiers are already dead the reader will not feel personally connected, hence, will not evoke as strong emotions.
They way that Wilfred Owen uses the word “doomed” in order to suppress the number of people joining the army, Rupert Brooke and Alfred Tennyson use language for the opposite effect, to promote going to war.
For example, in the poem, “The Soldier” by Rupert Brooke, the line “if I should die” comes to mind. The word “if” is used in this poem for contrasting effect to the word “doomed” in “Anthem for Doomed Youth”.
The word “if” is used to play down the idea that he will even die on the battlefield, hence, it is being used for an optimistic effect, in complete contrast with what Owen is aiming to achieve with his use of language. Owen is aiming to achieve a pessimistic attitude to war amongst people and Brooke is trying to increase optimism amongst the population.
Lord Alfred Tennyson, also, uses his language for an optimistic attitude of war to be achieved. For example, “into the jaws of death” is used instead of describing their death. This metaphor takes attention away from the death and does not even include details of deaths; all this positive language is used to give the reader an optimistic attitude towards war. This is the opposite to what Owen is trying to achieve using negative language.
The poetry of Wilfred Owen is very rich in imagery. For example, in “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, very vivid images of a Victorian funeral and death on a battlefield (which are the two scenes compared in the poem) are portrayed using many different poetic techniques.
The comparison of death on the battlefield and a Victorian funeral are composed through metaphors
In the first stanza of this poem, imagery as well as sound are used to great effect in painting a picture of death on the battlefield
An example of this would be, “The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells”, the metaphor of a shell being a choir, this helps to paint a vivid picture in ones mind of what it is like on a battlefield and what a soldier must feel like to die on one compared to an ordinary funeral, two different types of wailing are meant by the word in this quotation, one would be the wailing of the shells and another the wailing of relatives grieving.
Sound is used to great effect in that very same quote as the words “shrill” and “choirs” work very well together to help the reader to get a greater sensory feel for the situation.
Brooke also makes a jibe at Victorian funerals, “No mockeries for them”, essentially he is trying to call the ceremony of a funeral a complete mockery as well as comparing the two different types of death.
The use of onomatopoeia is also employed in the first stanza, for example, “stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle” and “wailing shells”, these two uses of onomatopoeia help to further build up imagery of the situation in the mind of the reader and alliteration is also used when describing the rifles, this increases the tempo of the line to further add onomatopoetic effect to the rifle.
That imagery puts across to the reader an image of the most undignified death, and shows the reader that once a soldier has dies, nothing will stop for it, not even to pay respects; their death is undignified, painful and gruesome.
Through imagery Owen is trying to convey to the reader that war is not noble, that it is never glorious for either party and that death on the battlefield is meaningless.
The second stanza talks about the inability of those left behind to mourn and metaphors now deal with visual comparisons between a conventional funeral and death on the battlefield.
The way Owen does this is that he uses metaphors to provide images of those left behind unable to grieve. For example, “Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes”. This is strong emotional imagery through which Owen helps the reader to understand what it was like to grieve somebody but not be able to have any contact with that person, even a best friend could be killed and nobody would be able to pay their last respects.
No sound is used in the second stanza to accompany the imagery that is put across to the reader. The imagery, on the other hand, is still powerful enough to give the reader a vivid idea of what is happening in the poem.
Much of Owen’s poetry is based upon evoking the senses of the reader and allowing the reader to experience, in some way, the horrors that the soldiers faced.
For example, Owen begins the poem with hard striking words that the reader may be shocked at, for example, “Only the monstrous anger of the guns”. As the poem progresses though and we enter the second stanza a sense of serenity creeps into the poem, for example, “Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds”. This is a serene line and the difference between these two stanzas is that one uses hard, violent language whilst the other uses serene language. This is the difference in terms of death on a battlefield and a traditional funeral that Owen was referring to.
The differences between the two deaths is that death on a battlefield is violent and brutal and nobody has time for last respects but with a traditional funeral it is serene and everybody gets time to grieve, these two styles of death are mirrored in the style of writing in both stanzas.
Wilfred Owen uses vivid imagery and carefully worded poems in order to help the reader experience the true realities of war. Through these images Owen puts across to his readers that war is not glorious and that war is not what everybody thought it to be, Owen portrays this well through the use of wordplay, sound and imagery.
The pessimistic language that Owen uses has a very strong effect on the attitude he paints towards war, as does the optimistic language used by Tennyson and Brooke have strong effects on the attitude they paint towards war.
Owens’s overall attitude to war was that war is horrific, inhumane but that there was also tremendous love and loyalty between the soldiers, this is shown in the line, “But in their eyes shall shine the holy glimmer of goodbye”. This line shows that the soldiers who fought side by side had feelings for each other and could not bear to watch their friends die in this fashion. Even though Owen portrays war as horrific and undignified and inhumane, the fact that soldiers were so loyal to one another may have been the one beautiful thing Owen saw in war.
This view of gratitude towards loyal soldiers is shared by Lord Alfred Tennyson. In the poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, Tennyson writes, “Their’s not to reason why, their’s but to do and die”. This line showed that the soldiers obeyed commands even though they were wrong and threatened the lives of the soldiers. This shows incredible loyalty to their officers and the army. One of the only parallels between the views of Tennyson and those of Owen is that they both agree that the soldiers who go to war are brave, obedient, loyal and fearless and those are qualities both Tennyson and Owen believe soldiers have no matter what their views on war they are united in respecting soldiers.
Wilfred Owen also wrote another poem concerning the matter of war and this poem is called “Dulce et Decorum Est”.
This is an extremely important poem in the context of this essay at least.
It is extremely important as it incorporates the concept of the old lie as it’s focal point. The “old lie” of course being what I discussed at the beginning of this essay, that being that it is noble, glorious and dignified to die for your country on a battlefield, which the poetry of Wilfred Owen firmly dispels .
The poem is divided into three sections, with each section containing eight lines. The rhyme scheme of this poem is ABABCDCD in every one of the three stanzas. There are four extra lines at the end of the poem which summarise and contain the morale of the poem which of course is to do with dismissing the old lie as fiction, “My friend, you would not tell with such high zest to children ardent for some desperate glory, the old Lie: Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori.”
Like “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, this poem is based on imagery that evoke the senses. There are many uses of similes and metaphors in this poem which leads to a vivid visual painting.
For example, in stanza one, “Coughing like hags, we cursed through the sludge”. This line uses a metaphor and a simile to great effect to convey the conditions the soldiers were in during battle.
Another example of the excellent imagery formed through the use of similes and metaphors, this time from the second stanza, “and floundering like a man in fire… under a green sea, I saw him drowning”. This shows great use of a pointed effect using a simile and the metaphor of the soldier drowning contributes to the vivid imagery Owen uses to paint images in your mind.
The imagery in this poem is of a very different tone and nature compared to the imagery in the poetry of Rupert Brooke and Alfred Tennyson.
For example, in “The Soldier”, serene peaceful language is always being used even though the poem is set in a battle situation, for example, “A body of England’s, breathing English air”. This sentence turns the scene of a dead corpse, through the use of euphemisms and serene language, turns the sentence into a serene and even patriotic scene.
Tennyson’s imagery produced through “The Charge of the Light Brigade” also contrasts to the imagery produced by Owen.
For example, “Dulce et Decorum Est” uses heavy and gruesome imagery to paint a vivid and realistic image of death whilst, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, uses language to the opposite effect, in order to euphemistically describe death, for example, “While horse and hero fell”. This line euphemistically describes death on the battlefield and also imposes the impression of the old lie upon the reader.
In the first stanza a lot of violent and blunt language is used, for example,” But limped on, blood-shod”. This line uses blunt and violent language. It would also appear that this language is the only entity that is driving the first stanza and without violent and blunt language the first stanza would be soulless and empty.
Another example of blunt language being used in the first stanza is, “Drunk with fatigue”. Drunk people generally are not fatigued so that line is an oxymoron. Aside from that being an oxymoron, this is again a line that appears to be pumping energy into the energy depleted first stanza. This blunt and violent language carries the whole of the first stanza.
In the second stanza the tempo is suddenly increased by a huge amount and the reader feels like they have been woken up from the slumber that was the first stanza. Owen may have used this technique in order to allow the reader to see how quickly the soldiers could have been put under attack into a life threatening situation.
To give an example of the change in tempo, the last line of the first stanza was carrying on in a hypnotic rhythm, “Of gas-shells dropping slowly behind”. This line is very slow and calm, but the first line of the second stanza is, “Gas! GAS! Quick boys! -An ecstasy of fumbling”.
This change in tempo shows the reader of the poem how alert to attack these soldiers had to be at any moment and how reacting a second too late could cost them their lives.
In this poem, Owen always addresses the reader as “you”. This is important because it helps the reader to appreciate this as a piece of writing that is set in the present tense and as Owen directly talks to the reader, this may coax the reader to concur with Owen’s views and help to eradicate the old lie from their mind.
This may also help the reader to empathise with Owen, as if Owen were making some kind of plea. Referring to the reader directly may also have the effect of making the reader think more about the morale of his poem as Owen had referred directly to the reader, essentially the reader get more involved in the poem and is more likely to act on the words of the poem than to dismiss it.
In the third stanza of “Dulce et Decorum Est”, the metaphors and similes change dimension and become extremely sinister, corrupt and evil. This is done in order to create menacing images that would take the reader back in shock when he read the poem and would add further caused (based upon strong metaphors and similes used by Owen) for the reader to dismiss the old lie.
Examples of horrific and sinister language would be, “His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin”. That sentence would have traumatized some readers and invoked shock in all other readers as the topic of the devil is sinister and taboo and any comparison to the devil would cause controversy.
Further examples of corrupt diction, similes and metaphors would be, “the blood come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs”. This particular image is of an exceptionally gruesome nature, outlining the undignified manner in which this soldier died. This vivid imagery further adds to the evidence that Owen has shown us that would cause us to oust the old lie from our minds.
One more example of extreme sickening and vivid imagery in this poem is, “Bitter as the cud of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues. This sentence is especially gruesome as cud would also evoke the sense of smell which may actually make some readers want to be sick; such is the imagery and provocation of all the senses being given out by Owen in this third stanza.
The diction of gruesome similes and metaphors in this poem put across such a morbid image of death on the battlefield that the reader now knows that it is no way dignified and glorious and these imageries from the text go a long way in dispelling the old lie from the minds of readers, which of course was Owen’s goal.
Through the poetry examined it can be seen that the attitudes to war have moved from an attitude where war was seen as glorious and death on the battlefield was seen as dignified and noble. This attitude has slowly shifted towards one where war is seen as sickening and death on the battlefield was seen a undignified and that a cowardly fighter could no easily kill a much more skilled warrior from miles away and that no honour or dignity can be seen in that.
Tennyson represented the view that war was absolutely glorious and that any soldier who died in battle would die a dignified and valorous death. He represented he view that war was a great event where anyone who died in battle would be rewarded and that their name would live on forever. And
Brooke represented the view that war was still glorious but people were beginning to realise it was not as serene as they thought it would be. The general view of war was that it was heroic, brave, noble, glorious and dignified for a soldier to go into battle though less and less people still believed that.
Owen represented the view that war was horrific and that death on the battlefield was both inhumane and undignified and that any man could kill any man without having to put up a brave fight, hence, battle has lost any honourable meaning and is sickening and there is a pointless waste of innocent lives.
In conclusion, through critical analysis of poems by Rupert Brooke, Lord Alfred Tennyson and Wilfred Owen I have discovered that the general view on war has progressed from the times of Tennyson when war was considered noble, glorious and dignified. These views have progressed to the other end of the spectrum when at the time when Wilfred Owen was writing his poetry; Tennyson’s views were dispelled by Owen as the “old lie”. The modern view on war bought about through the poetry of Wilfred Owen was that war and death on the battlefield was undignified, pointless and gruesome.
All these views from every poet was conveyed to the reader through literature, that is, poetry, and poetry provides a good example of how views of war have changed over time and how the “old lie” is now obsolete.