The Horrors Of War, Through The Eyes Of A Modernis Essay, Research Paper
The Horrors of War, Through the Eyes of a Modernist Poet Modernism was a movement in literature that was the result of many events of the times. First, the industrial revolution, which changed the way many people lived, strongly affected the writing of the Modernists. Modernist writers started to believe that the world was getting darker, which lead some Modernists to believe that this downward trend would culminate in the apocalypse. This dark feeling of despair is a very common theme in a lot of Modernist writing. This pessimistic writing was a direct result of revolutionary events from which the movement was born and thrived. The Modernists were the first writers in history to be faced with such drastic change in lifestyle as were seen in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During this time, technological advancement was moving faster, helping to make lives more convenient, as well as making it easier to end others lives. Just as the industrial revolution started to become less foreboding to people, a new crisis broke out of the ashes that fed the pessimistic views of the Modernists. This tragic theme of World War I is very prevalent in Siegfried Sassoon s poem Glory of Women . In this poem, a person comments on how women, while supportive of their troops fighting overseas, know nothing of the horrors of war which their sons and husbands are enduring. The speaker is possibly Sassoon because while he was very patriotic during the beginning of the World War I, as he started to hear more of the horrific nature of war, his attitude began to change from patriotism to pacifism. This poem seems to be a product of his pacifist movement. The poet/speaker seems very interested in presenting his or her prophecy of doom through a means that most people can relate. The poem is written with a sense of cynicism that can t be denied by anyone. The speaker states that the women who listen to the horrors stories are fondly thrilled by tales of dirt and danger . It seems natural that people are thrilled by tales of dirt and danger, but in this poem one might get a queasy feeling of distaste for these women because they get a pleasurable thrill from hearing of a war that is taking the lives of their sons and husbands. Sassoon is practically laughing at the misconceptions held by the women in this poem, showing them in a very unfavorable light of ignorance. Sassoon s voice doesn t seem that angry with the women, like a zealous war protester, instead his voice sounds more like an editorial writer, jabbing at the war effort with cynicism. He stands back and snickers at the way women view the war, perhaps to inform people that the war isn t like they might think. The speaker suggests that rather than glorifying the victories, perhaps people should take notice of all those who are dying for a cause that isn t justified, at least in Sassoon s mind. The poem is set just about anywhere that people who haven t learned of the horrors of war might be living. The setting is significant to the main theme of disillusionment that many Modernist poets struggled with because it suggests that there are people everywhere who don t know of the slaughtering of unseen faces that goes on during trench warfare. Sassoon also uses the setting of home, which is mentioned as the place where, You [the women] love us [the soldiers] when we re heroes . This perhaps feeds into his need to inform the people that women away from the war find shelter in a false sense of security that their troops (either husbands or sons) are going to be fine because they are winning the war and are becoming heroes. Sassoon also wants to make people realize that home is a very important place because it is the only place one might be safe from harm, therefore it should be cherished. The only time in the poem I get a very specific sense of a definitive setting is when Sassoon writes, O German mother dreaming by the fire, /While you are knitting socks to send your son/His face is trodden deeper in the mud. Here I picture an older woman sitting in a chair by the fireside, her eyes closed, with a tiny smile moving slowly across her face. This motherly figure is there to remind the readers that, perhaps their own mothers are ignorant of the true nature of war. This poem is about a soldier or anti-war activist that is recognizing all of the things women do for their sons and husbands when they come back from the war. Sassoon mentions that they worship decorations , listen with delight , and can t understand why When hell s last horror breaks them [the soldiers], and they run, trampling the terrible corpses blind with blood . This is probably the sickest part of this poem, I can imagine that many war veterans would have a lot to say about the fear experiences during war. He especially focuses on the women, who, in his mind, didn t understand how hard it is to kill others and endure the terrible nature of war which can break grown men very easily. Sassoon sets up this terrifying realization by very creative means. First, he titled the poem Glory of Women , which automatically has his readers believing that his poem will sing praise to women, and the word glory in the title suggests that war might be a main topic of the poem. This alone might lead one to believe theme of this poem is thanking women for all the support they ve given the military while the war was raging. Sassoon continues to confirm this by talking throughout most of the poem about the ways in which women support their troops. Then, Sassoon takes a very shocking turn when he questions why a German mother might be knitting socks for her son, who is either face deep in mud because he has been killed, or face deep in mud as a result of fighting in the horrible combat conditions of trench warfare. Here, the reader s mind changes from processing a peaceful scene at home to contemplating a serious irony. Because of the build up that Sassoon creates, this ending is very effective in conveying his anti-war message.
The main characters in this poem consist of the speaker (most likely Sassoon), a general population of women who have husbands or sons fighting in the war and all share these common mannerisms, and one specific mother of a German soldier. The German soldier s mother is another one of the women he refers to in the opening of the poem, except it is odd that he chose a German woman instead of a British woman. This may be to show that while German troops may be trying to kill British soldiers, killing another man is difficult to do because somewhere in Germany there is probably a woman, like a British soldier s mother, who will be mourning the loss of their son because he was killed. Sassoon is trying to suggest that if one acknowledges that this German woman could have a love for her son that is just like any mother s love, killing her son is very difficult. Sassoon might have realized that this was even more important in this war than ever because previously soldiers could generally see the people they killed and could deal with this issue of taking a life in a more direct way. This is not as true in the trench warfare that Sassoon is referring to, where most of the time you can t tell who you re shooting to kill. One of the most interesting aspects of this poem is the rhyme scheme that Sassoon has chosen to employ. Sassoon uses an A, B, A, B, C, D, C, D . rhyme scheme, which is very conventional, however, it is not the rhyme scheme s structure that is interesting, but rather the words that he chooses to pair in each rhyme. He is very careful to select words that contradict each other, or give us a very cynical message about war in general. In the second line, Or wounded in a mentionable place he speaks of a wounded soldier that is loved for being injured in a mentionable place. He ironically couples this rhyme with line four which ends the war s disgrace , suggesting that a woman at home might find it disgraceful to be wounded anywhere other than a mentionable place. Another shocking pair of rhymes can be found with lines eight and ten. Here, Sassoon rhymes the words thrilled and killed which strikes the reader very harshly. One must wonder if Sassoon deliberately put forth such a blatantly twisted image of a person (in this case possibly a woman) being thrilled when someone they love is killed in the war. Perhaps Sassoon is trying to overemphasize the housewife s desire to find attention. Nothing would attract as much attention as being the widow of a soldier who died in such an admirable way, fighting for his country, especially if he was killed in a pivotal battle. This helps Sassoon to paint this horrific portrait of war. In this way, it Sassoon seems to use the Imagists idea of having every word contribute to the overall message in every possible way. I think it is very easy to see that Sassoon is very bitter at this time in his life about the way the war has turned away from a patriotic movement and more toward an inhumane bloodbath where mothers are loosing their children to an unseen enemy. There seems to be a very strong sense of betrayal to those not involved in the war, who have been falsely informed as to the nature of war. Sassoon seems to feel that he has a duty to help those who have been deceived by giving them a very vivid example of the way war hurts more than those who are fighting. His theme is very direct and doesn t give the reader much choice, but to come to the same conclusion I have outlined thus far. Sassoon exemplifies a highly skilled Modernist writer in the way he uses speech, form, style, human emotion, and theme to buy readers into a gloomy outlook on war, as well as life that is very typical of Modernist writing. This is just one of many examples of the way Modernists, focused much of their poetic effort on pessimistic subjects like war in order to inform the ignorant and prophesize the coming of darker times.