Of The Light Brigade Essay, Research Paper
The attitudes of poets towards war have always been expressed vigorously in their poetry, each poet either condoning or condemning war, and justifying their attitudes in whatever way possible. I aim to explore the change in the portrayal of war before and during the twentieth century, and also the structures and devices poets use to convey their views persuasively, and justify them.
These two poems describe war, and scenes from war, with varying levels of intensity and reality and also from different viewpoints.
Tennyson?s ?Charge of the Light Brigade? was written during the Crimean war. It is about a military blunder, where six hundred men were sent to charge straight into gunfire. Lord Tennyson was the poet Laureate at the time of the Crimean war, but did not witness any fighting.
?Dulce et Decorum est? was written during the first World War, by Wilfred Owen. Wilfred Owen was a soldier in the first World War, and he writes from first hand experience.
The two writers have totally opposite attitudes towards war. This could be firstly because of the times and positions the two writers were in. Wilfred Owen was a soldier in the first World War. He spent months in disgusting conditions in the trenches near the front line, as shown by the way the soldiers were ?coughing like hags?. He would have seen many people die in agony and, having experienced one of the most destructive wars in history, he has a very unfavourable view of war. He was involved in the first World War, so he knows the realities of warfare. I can see that his poem is aimed at the poets who wrote about glory, honour and patriotism. I can see this by the use of ?you? in his poem. He wants to show clearly the realities of conflict, behind the heroism and splendour, and this is shown by the vivid language and imagery he uses. He has a very unromantic view of war.
Lord Tennyson, however, shows a totally different approach to war. Being the poet Laureate, it could be argued that Tennyson was trying to underplay the completely unnecessary death of so many men. In this way, his poem becomes political, as he is defending the ?establishment? (where men were told, when they joined the army and sent to die, that they would die heroically, not as fools, despite being sent to the front line by generals far from the danger) . On top of this, Tennyson was not in the war, he was in Britain during the campaign, therefore he relied solely on accounts from soldiers, most likely high ranking officers, and his imagination to write the poem. This is reflected in his view of war. He does not consider the dreadful realities of war, only the honour and bravery.
The two writers use many methods to convey their opinions, and also to show or to hide the realities and myths surrounding war.
Firstly, the two writers try to make their poems sound as realistic as possible (whether this be the case or not) and as convincing as possible.
Both writers use direct speech in their works. In Tennyson?s poem, ?Forward the Light Brigade!? is used, and in ?Dulce et Decorum est?, we hear ?Gas! Gas! Quick, boys?. This direct speech not only makes the poems more exciting, as the two lines express action, but it also adds a touch of realism and immediacy.
Wilfred Owen makes his poem more realistic by using the senses to aid his descriptions. He includes the sounds of gas shells dropping, and of
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs?.
He then gives an impression of the awful taste of this blood;
?bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues?.
This descriptive use of senses makes the poem shockingly realistic, and also very vivid.
The use of Latin in Owen?s poem also makes it more convincing. He writes ?Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori?. Translated, this means: ?sweet and meet it is to die for one?s country?. The use of Latin is very respectable and unobtrusive, which is a sharp contrast to the other words and images in the poem. It shows Owen?s intelligence and education, thus making him more credible and believable.
Tennyson does not use senses, but he tries to make his poem realistic by showing elements of discipline. Tennyson writes:
?Their?s not to make reply,
Their?s not to reason why,
Their?s but to do and die…?.
This discipline brings the poem to a sensible, down-to -earth level, making it more feasible and convincing. However, at the same time, it implies that the soldiers are very heroic, as they are prepared to die.
Both poems contain various images to make them more vivid. The moods of these images, which really determine the moods of the poems as a whole, are very different to each poem.
?Dulce et Decorum est? uses very shocking images, which create a very intimidating, and often sickening mood. The first verse shows the awful conditions in the trenches. The first simile Owen uses is ?Bent double, like old beggars under sacks?. This is totally unexpected, as an army is supposed to smart and well dressed. I see that the soldiers are badly equipped, as:
?Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod?.
This is also very surprising. I begin to imagine the pain and discomfort the soldiers had to put up with, on top of the fear of death. I am also given an insight into the appalling conditions in the trenches. Soldiers were ?knock-kneed, coughing like hags…? and ?all went lame; all blind…?. This shows that it affected everyone.
In the second verse, colour is used to make the scene more vivid, and also more exciting. The ?green sea? is referring to the green colour of the chlorine gas. The colour green is often related to ghost films, giving the scene a haunting, threatening feel.
The third verse begins by describing a soldier who has been gassed. When portraying the soldiers ?hanging face?, Owen compares it to a ?devil?s sick of sin…?. This simile has the impact of suggesting that the soldier was in so much agony, that the expression on his face is totally unimaginable. This is absolutely horrifying that someone could be in so much anguish, and yet still alive and suffering. Owen then goes on to use the simile: ?obscene as cancer…?. He uses ?cancer? to depict the blood the soldier is coughing up because, at the time and still today, peoples? knowledge of cancer was very limited, and they really only knew that people died from it. This is reflected in the fact that people know little about the atrocities and horrors of war and death.
Owen also uses many single words to shock his readers, and to convey his feelings. He uses immensely powerful and sickening words to represent the soldier who was being gassed. ?he plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.?. These words are not only disgusting, but are onomatopoeic. They sound like someone trying to breathe, but choking.
When describing the effects of war on him, he writes: ?If in some smothering dream…?. This implies that there is no way out of the terrible situation and the appalling conditions, and that it affects every aspect of soldier?s lives in the trenches.
By saying they ?flung? the dying man in the wagon, it shows even the dying and injured are not treated kindly or gently, and also that there are many dead or dying people, as they have a wagon to carry them in. They are dehumanising the injured, so as they aren?t as affected by the death and suffering. This is also shown in Owen?s poem ?Anthem for Doomed Youth?, also written about the first World War. In ?Anthem for Doomed Youth?, Owen compares a traditional church funeral, with the treatment of dead soldiers on the front line, and comes out with the conclusion that soldiers who die, often for nothing, receive no thanks, no respect and no acknowledgement when they are killed. In both of Owen?s poems, the impression put across is one of absolute criticism of war and its morals.
Owen writes about the ?white eyes writhing in his face…?. This disgusting image gives an impression of how close the man is to death, and by using the word ?writhing?, Owen conveys the man?s agony and distress.
Owen also writes about ?vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues…?. This contains two very powerful words. ?incurable? implies that the wounds and effects of war last for ever, and plague generation after generation, and ?innocent? is showing that young people went to war, without knowing really what they were walking into.
Another important phrase is ?froth-corrupted lungs…? Owen is suggesting that war turns everything which was good, bad, immoral and spoiled.
Other words which indicate pain, and create terrible pictures are: ?cursed?, ?haunting?, ?fatigue?, ?deaf?, ?clumsy?, ?yelling?, ?stumbling?, ?floundering?, ?helpless?, ?plunges? and ?gargling?. These words are neither majestic or euphemistic, but shockingly realistic.
The images created in ?The Charge of the Light Brigade? are very majestic and noble. The mood is very glorious and heroic.
The first image created is ?the valley of Death?. Interestingly enough, ?Death? has a capital ?D?. I think this is because Tennyson personifying ?Death? and he assumes a human form such as the ?grim reaper?. If this is the case, not only does it imply that the soldiers will die a quick, painless death when they enter the valley, at the hands of ?Death?, but also, with ?Death? being a person, he can only seize one person at a time, so many of the soldiers will not die. On top of this, this image makes the poem more exciting. These same features indicated by ?the jaws of Death? and ?the mouth of Hell?. What makes this heroic and gallant is that the soldiers rode boldly into ?the valley of Death?, and many of them also came out unscathed. It is as if they were cheating or outrunning ?Death?.
A heroic scene is also created when the general says:
?Forward the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!?.
This conjures images of heroes on horseback, charging fearlessly towards the guns, when they know they may be killed. These elements of fearlessness and and danger add thrill and romance to the poem. It would appeal to a young person, and perhaps encourage them to join the army. The way the soldiers carry on towards the guns when they know of the danger also seems courageous and daring. This is emphasised by phrases such as ?Boldly they rode and well…?.
Verse four is full of excitement and bravery. Colour is used when the soldiers ?Flashed all their sabres bare…?. This gives the impression of a very well equipped, smart, clean and impressive army – a contrast to the soldiers in Owen?s poem. The verse tries to convey the power and might of the Light Brigade. The soldiers ?Flashed as they turned in air…?. This suggests that they were so powerful and energetic that they were almost flying.
The verse also points to a clean, easy victory for the mighty Light Brigade,
?Charging an army , while
All the world wondered…
Right thro? the line they broke…?.
By reminding the reader that the Light Brigade charged at a whole army, and broke right through their lines, it makes it more courageous and brave, than reckless, as they succeeded. They are further made heroes by the fact that they killed the hated enemy;
?Cossack and Russian
Reeled from the sabre stroke…?.
Tennyson does not show the pain of the people killed, the blood and the anguish and agony both the enemy and the Light Brigade died in. He describes a very clean, efficient annihilation of the enemy which, according to Owen, is very unrealistic.
A heroic, gallant image is created as the Light Brigade ?Plunged in the battery-smoke…?. This is more reminiscent of a film, than of real life conflict.
The enemy are made to sound more evil and unchivalrous as, not only do they fire at the Light Brigade when they are charging, but also as the Light Brigade are, as it appears, calmly retreating.
Tennyson directly describes the soldiers as ?heroes?:
?While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well…?.
This makes me feel sorry for the soldier, that he should die after bravely fighting the enemy. Instead of making war sound terrible, it turns the dead soldier into a martyr.
The rhetorical question is used twice in this poem. It makes the reader think, and therefore imposes the writer?s opinion on his audience. ?Was there a man dismayed?? is the first use of the rhetorical question. It implies that the soldiers were not scared of the guns, once again, giving them a bold, valiant image. The second rhetorical question is ?When can their glory fade?? This indicates that they will always be heroes, and that their charge was brave and romantic.
Tennyson uses words such as: ?boldly?, ?forward?, ?charge?, ?flashed?, ?sabring?, ?shattered?, ?sundered?, ?stormed?, ?hero?, ?fought?, ?glory?, ?honour?, and ?noble? to convey the bravery and heroism of the men. Many of the words also convey excitement and action, making the poem more thrilling and romantic.
Tennyson, at the end of each verse repeats variations of lines which all contain the phrase ?six hundred?. By repeating this, I feel it becomes less and less unusual each time, so a reader would be less shocked that six hundred men were sent to charge towards the guns, each time they read it. After a few times, I anticipate the phrase and the rhythm, and do not really think about how many soldiers it is, and six hundred becomes familiar and unsurprising.
The pace at which the poems are read is also very important. ?Dulce et Decorum est? is designed to be read very slowly, apart from in the middle verse, which should be read quicker. This is because the middle verse contains action and adrenaline, so should be quicker. The other two verses should be slow, so the words are thought about and understood more deeply, and it becomes more meaningful and shocking. Also, the slow pace reflects the speed and the mood of the tired men in the poem.
In the first and last verses, this slow speed is achieved by the long words, and the long lines, the lack of a rhyming scheme, and the frequent punctuation. All these slow down the reading of the verses. The speed in the second verse is increased by the short words, often monosyllables and the reduced number of commas. These allow the poem to be read quicker, to convey action.
The reading of ?The Charge of the Light Brigade? is speeded up firstly by the rhyming scheme, which allows the lines to be read quicker. The rhythm of the lines is also important. There are two short syllables followed by one long one. This emulates the gallop of horses, thus speeding up the pace. It is called a dactyl. The short words and short lines are also an important part in speeding up the poem and the action. We can see that there is little punctuation in the poem, which ensures the pace is not impeded. This conveys excitement at the men?s bravery.
The sounds of the words also play a big role in setting the mood of the poems. The sounds in ?Dulce et Decorum est? are very had, due to the hard consonants. For example: ?coughing?, ?guttering?, ?gargling?, ?bitter?, ?cursed?, ?drunk? and ?deaf?. This creates a harsh, aggressive atmosphere, giving an impression of the terrible conditions and agonising deaths the soldiers were affected by, and is also harder to read, slowing down the pace further.
The words in ?The Charge of the Light Brigade? sound very soft, for instance: ?half?, ?forward?, ?volley?d?, ?reel?d?, ?fought?, ?sabring? and ?honour. This makes the poem all the more euphemistic, and less shocking. It is also easier to read, so the pace is speeded up. This softness is created by the soft consonants and long vowels.
Unlike ?Dulce et Decorum est?, ?The Charge of the Light Brigade? does not show the effects of war on people. This could be because Lord Tennyson was not in the Crimean war, and also because describing the terrible effects of war on people would interfere with the heroic, noble atmosphere he is trying to create. Wilfred Owen shows the effects on him up to his death in 1917, after his experiences in the first World War. He is condemning war, so he writes a small aside from personal encounters. The poem reads:
?In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.?.
I think this has a huge impact, more so than the powerful, terrible images he creates. It describes his nightmares of people being gassed, using three of the most shocking and revolting sounding words in the poem. For me, showing the horrendous and distressing effects on ordinary people is an incredible way of expressing his opinions, and trying to persuade people not to go to war, as it is a very powerful emotional appeal.
In my opinion, the last few lines of each poem sum up the the mood and the motion of the poems, and the attitudes of the writers on war.
The last few lines of Lord Tennyson?s poem reads:
?Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred.?.
Tennyson feels that the charge of the Light Brigade was noble and brave, not stupid. We can clearly see his romantic, glorious view of war epitomised here.
The closing lines of ?Dulce et Decorum est? are:
?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.?.
Owen is criticising the people who wrote of war in terms of nobility, glory and heroism, to con young people into the army. By using the word ?desperate?, Owen indicates that it is not glorious to die for your country, but reckless and irrational. He comments on the fact that the writers such as Jessie Pope prey on young peoples? appetites for glory, as glory was all people knew about war before they joined the army. Owen goes further than this, suggesting that the writers of glorious war poems have even lied to the young people, and sent them to the front line to die in their millions, in awful conditions and distressing situations.
Having explored both poems, I feel that the one which brings about the biggest response from me is ?Dulce et Decorum est?. This is because of the striking graphic imagery he uses, the way he describes the effects of the war on him, and also because of the way he directs the poem at the reader personally, using phrases such as ?you? and ?my friend?. In my opinion, ?The Charge of the Light Brigade? does not have the impact and the realism to convey the opinions contained in it effectively and forcefully. I feel is a more imaginative, outlook on war than Wilfred Owen?s graphic poem. The thing I did like about Tennyson?s poem was the excitement and passion and pace.