Great number of people were
inspired after the World War I to write about the horrific truth behind it.
While the English society was praising and supporting the war, encouraging
young men to fight for the cause, those same young folk suffered dreadfully.
Many of them faced awful fate and lost their lives on the battlefields. Group
of poets of that time wanted to depict all that was really happening on the
battle fronts, to unfold the lives of the young men who endured a great deal of
pain and utter despair. That group of poets are called war poets.
The most distinguished war poets
that wrote about the absurdity of the war and the great loss of human values
were Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, both of whom participated in the war
as officers. They were both horrified by how the war affected them and their
fellow soldiers so they wrote about the pity of war. Wilfred Owen later wrote: “…English
poetry is not yet fit to speak of them. Nor is it about deeds, or lands, nor
anything about glory, honour, might, majesty, dominion, or power, except
war. Above all I am not concerned with
poetry. My subject is war, and the pity of war. The poetry is in the pity.” According
to George Ewane Ngide (2016), “His descriptions of war experiences are so
profound that they discourage any possibility of war, thus leaving the human
race with one option namely, negotiation and peaceful resolution of conflicts
by those he calls “better men” who in the future will profoundly be involved in
what he calls “greater wars”. One of the most famous poems by Wilfred Owen
about the war is “Dulce et Decorum est” where one while reading can experience
the struggle the soldiers had. While tired and sick they were retreating from
the war, an appalling and vivid image of a soldier choking to death is
illustrated. Accordingly, Owen addresses another poet not to encourage the
young folk to fight:
“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.”
one of his poems is “Anthem for Doomed Youth” where he mocks the propaganda to
die for the country saying the sound of the war is requiem for the soldiers and
that nobody will be there to mourn them afterwards. In “Strange Meeting” which
is an anti-war poem, Owen emphasizes the idea that the war does not bring
progress neither for countries nor for the individuals. The dead soldier finds
himself in Hell and sees that as an escape from the war. There he finds his enemy
who later on realizes that is not making any differences: they both weep for
not living their life fully, for the joy they will miss out on:
“Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.”
the other hand, Sassoon as an outcry in his poem “Glory of Women” ironically
addresses the English women who praise the soldiers as heroes and love them for
fighting for the cause, they only worship their medals. They do not mourn them
as young men who were tragically killed, but as chivalric knights and heroes.
In Sassoon’s poem “The General” again the feeling of loss, bitterness and irony
is presented. The general is greeting the soldiers as he sends them to the
front, thus he sends them to their death. Most of the soldiers were already
dead because of the incompetence of the commanding officers.
All in all, the contribution of
these two poets to the Great War period are celebrated through their works
where one can still feel the suffering and struggle of the people, especially
the young men. The pity of war became their major theme as they exposed the
truth behind the war and the English society. Lane stated: “Poets like Sassoon
and Owen therefore do not fit any category of ‘myth destroyers’; instead, ‘their
myth was a faith in the endurance of man’s humanity: a myth rich and valid, but
perilous as any other, as history demonstrates'”(1972, p. 174).