Poems that speak directly to each other, or address a specific individual are amongst my favourites. I find them to be the most powerful, probably because the writer was so driven when they were written. I took English Literature for A Level and one of the texts was The New Oxford Book of War Poetry. Our course focused on the First World War. Not only is the poetry of that time incredibly moving, direct and blunt, the majority was written with a distinct purpose: revealing the brutality and futility of conflict. It is therefore necessarily graphic and emotionally charged.
Rupert Brooke and Charles Sorley
Edited by Jon Stallworthy, War Poetry begins with Biblical narratives and the epic war poems of Ancient Greece, and continues through time to poems penned during the Cold War. The anthology marks changes in warfare and attitudes to it. Before the outbreak of the First World War warfare was predominantly celebrated, romanced and glorified. By 1915 the poetry from the trenches was making sure that attitudes changed. The graphic imagery made it impossible to romanticise. Two poems that mark this change are The Dead by Rupert Brooke and Millions of the Mouthless Dead by Charles Hamilton Sorley. Both of these poems are sonnets, Brooke wrote several sonnets, taking the traditional form of love poetry and using it to demonstrate love or romance of war. Sorley’s sonnet is a response to the style of Brooke’s poetry. In The Dead, Brooke speaks of death making ‘us rarer gifts than gold’ whereas Sorley’s opening word is ‘Millions’ emphasising that there is no glory and that ‘is [it] not curses heaped on each gashed head?’ Brooke says: ‘Honour has come back’, whilst Sorley writes: ‘Nor Honour. It is easy to be dead’. Sorley’s rebuttal of Brooke’s poem is evident.
Wilfred Owen and Jessie Pope
One of the most famous poets of the First World War is Wilfred Owen. In one of his best remembered works Dulce Et Decorum Est Owen addresses a now obscure contemporary female writer, Jessie Pope. It should be noted that her war poems are not included in the anthology, although they would have provided contrast to the (12) female voices who give a less romantic portrayal of war. In her poem Who’s For A Game?, Pope pens: ‘Your country is up to her neck in a fight, And she’s looking and calling for you’. This echoes the sentiment of the Odes of the Roman poet Horace from whence the title of Owen’s poem is taken. Translated from Latin to English, dulce et decorum est pro patria mori means: ‘it is sweet and right (proper) to die for one’s country’. Owen accuses Pope of lying to children, ‘If you could hear [the effects of gas]… My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children… The old lie…’. The motif of a game is a common device in patriotic poems to encourage young men to sign up for war, for instance in Sir Henry Newbolt’s poem, Play up! Play up! And play the game!
A Poem of My Own
As I am posting on a Sunday, something that I wasn’t sure about doing having joined a church that advocates strict observance of the Sabbath, I thought I should post something relevant to scripture. (In an effort to put any concerned minds at rest, I wrote the majority of this post yesterday). This poem presents two sides of a debate, representing a teenager’s struggle with the law of chastity (premarital sex).
Be with me, my darling love, until the waters cover the sea
Aren’t devout servants wished by our Sovereign Lord?
How obedient is marked rebellion?
Then why this reluctant chastity, so fraud?
I wish to admire but one Creation
And in so doing – worship its Creator.
Too young for marriage are we, by elders, deemed
Intent to be a dusty room’s curators.
Now it is less important than it seemed
This white band of metal is freely given.
If this law’s to prevent promiscuity,
Then know that my desire is by love, driven.
Be assured that I shall love you faithfully
I have vowed that I will know no other thus,
And by this act with you – I display my trust.
It’s considered an outdated tradition,
Yet still one that resonates in my heart
It’s part of my faith – making it part of me.
By understanding, my doubts, your worth is proved:
Respecting, conserving and even loving
My decision – despite your own frustration.
My heart is set, I’m yours ‘til death us do part
Even if yours changes, mine will constant be.
None can take your place, nor make my heart so moved
By a single touch, word or by saying nothing.
Dead would my heart be without you, my sun, my star;
Our parting, my heart, would permanently scar.
So Love, don’t leave me but come away tonight
Forget the world – for together, we are right.
This is one of the poems that I am the most unsure about. As I have mentioned in previous posts I don’t usually construct poems or consciously use literary techniques as I have here and I would really welcome any comments about how the poem presents.