” War Poetry” is a literary genre that developed during the period of the First World War. It is the shadow of brutal life among the soldiers during the “First World War”. The war poets were mostly young men who volunteered or were conscripted to fight in the trenches of the Western Front. The war poets wrote their poetry to raise the question of either life or death; National pride or own existence; duty Or guilt; courage or cowardness.
The war poets or Trench poets are known as “Anti-war poets” because the soldier cum poets do not show war’s gravity but the war’s futility. They witnessed the horrors of modern warfare, such as gas attacks, shell shock, machine guns, barbed wire, mud, and rats. they also experienced the boredom, futility, and disillusionment of life in the trenches. Some of them died in battle, while others survived with physical and psychological scars.
Broadly speaking Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ or Ancient ‘Beowulf’ are mainly concerned with battles and heroism and thus regarded the war poem. But our immediate concern is war poetry in the 1920s which is notable for the sea change in attitude. In contrast to the romantic attitude to war as a glorious occasion for showing patriotism and heroism.
The theme of ‘War Poetry’
Randall Jarrell coined the term in his essay “The Literature of War.” Jarrell defines war poetry as a poem that has its theme of war and is written during or about war.
◽ The loss of innocence
◽ Brotherhood and Relationship
◽ The Horror of War
◽ Disillusionment with Religion
◽ Destruction of Nature
◽ Irrationality of War
◽ Emotional and Feelings
Purpose of ‘War Poetry’
◽ Poetry is the best way to express someone’s emotion and expression during the war.
◽ Another main reason for writing war poetry is to show the true picture of the war.
◽ It creates a sense of honor.
Characteristics of War Poetry
◽ It uses gruesome and showing imagery.
◽ It signed a break-off from the contemporary poetic tradition.
◽ Realistic document of war with all its brutality.
most prominent Anti-War poets
The war poets used poetry as a way of expressing their feelings and opinions about the war. They also questioned the authority and morality of those who started and continued the war.
There is a list of the most prominent Anti-War poets, who were involved directly in the war and eye-witnessed to see the brutality in the name of National pride on the battlefield:
◽ Wilfred Owen
◽ Siegfried Sassoon
◽ Robert Graves
◽ Issac Rosenberg
◽ Rupert Brooke
◽ Edward Thomas
Wilfred Owen ( 1893 – 1918 )
Owen was one of the most prominent Anti-War poets during the First World War as well as a soldier. He wrote only five poems published in his Lifetime but the most important poems are published posthumously. Futility, Strange Meeting, Anthem for Doomed Youth, Dulce et Decorum Est, and Insensibility are his most important poem. In his poem, he showed the terror of trenches, the pitiful shadow of soldiers’ lives. He wrote about War poems in the preface to the Edition:
“This book is not about heroes.
Nor is it about deeds or lands
nor anything about glory, honour
might, majesty, dominion, or power, except war.
My subject is war, and the pity of war.”
Siegfried Sassoon (1886 – 1967 )
War poetry is not complete without the work of ‘Siegfried Sasson’ who was awarded the Queen’s Medal for poetry in 1957. He was not only a poet but also a soldier. He shook the literary world to write his angry and compassionate poems about First World War. Sassoon wrote of the horror and brutality of trench warfare and ironically criticized those men who were blind supporters of a brutal war. The Hero, Counter-Attack, The Death Bed, Attack, Memorial Tablet, Banishmen, and The Last Meeting are the most important poems written by him. He wrote in his poem ‘Trench Duty’ about the extreme situation of the soldiers.
Robert Graves (1895 – 1985 )
Robert Graves was a great British writer, poet, and novelist. He served as a captain in the First World War. He was a good friend of Siegfried Sasson. He was badly wounded in the First world war and reported dead but he returns a few months later. Among his world-famous war poem include “Goodbye to All That” and “The White Goddess”.
Issac Rosenberg (1890 – 1918 )
Rosenberg is known for his “Trench Poem” written between 1916 and 1918. He was only 28 when he died. He was killed while fighting in the First World War. Among his world-famous war poems included ‘Break of Day in the Trenches’, ‘Dead Man’s Dump’, ‘In the Trenches’ and ‘On Receiving News of the War.’
Rupert Brooke ( 1887 – 1915 )
Brooke was an English poet known for his Idealistic war sonnets written during the first world war, especially The Soldier. He was also known for his good look. W. B. Yeats described him as ‘The most handsome young man in England’. The Great, The Dead, Lover, Heaven, Peace, and Cloud Safety are his most prominent poem.
Edward Thomas ( 1878 – 1917 )
He is commonly considered a war poet. His poem ‘The Pity of the War to Aftermath’ reflects his changing attitude to the war. His most prominent poems are Owl When First, The Owl is a poem which shows the mental depression, grief, disgust, and panic of the brutal war.
The war poets had profoundly impacted the literary and cultural landscape of their time and beyond. Their poems challenged the prevailing attitudes and propaganda about war and revealed its true nature and consequences. Their poems also influenced the development of modernism and realism in literature and art. Their poems also inspired generations of readers and writers who faced or witnessed other wars and conflicts in the 20th and 21st centuries.
The war has been transmitted in the poetry and so the realistic atmosphere of deadly warfare and the bloodshed on the battlefield but the eyewitness soldier-poets. The poets mentioned above contributed a lot to the development of War poetry. Some other minor war poets are I would get Kingsley Aims, John Beaching, Sydney Keys, and Vere Britain. War poetry contributed a lot to the development of the history of English literature.
War poetry is a powerful and enduring form of expression that can help us understand and empathize with the human condition in times of war. War poetry can also help us question and critique the causes and effects of war and violence. War poetry can also help us hope and strive for peace and justice in our world.
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