How do the Poets McCrae, Kirkup and Owen Present their Opinion of War?
Through the poems "No More Hiroshima's" and "Mental Cases," the poets convey their views on the impact of war, and the devastation it can cause; Owen's powerful account of the effect of war on the soldiers, and Kirkup's poignant description of the destruction of Hiroshima, is in stark contrast to McCrae's patriotic language and use of euphemism in the poem "In Flanders Fields. Written from personal experience of war with Owen and McCrae, and by Kirkup from having explored the city of Hiroshima years after the devastation, the difference in language illustrates the different perceptions of war through different eyes. Owen's, at times, deeply traumatic language reflects the use of poetry as an emotional outlet, whereas Kirkup's writing is far more narrative, using free verse, and allows the reader to see the lasting impact of the atomic war through the eyes of the poet. McCrae contrasts to both of these in that he speaks from the perspective of a soldier who has died as a result of war, which has a dramatic impact on the audience; he illustrates how, even though the war culminated with so many lives lost, they were ultimately fighting for a cause, and it would have been worse if they had surrendered and died for nothing.
"No more Hiroshimas" also studies the impact of war, but looks more closely at the impact, not just on the soldiers, but of a whole city and the community within it. Kirkup's simple, yet hugely poignant poem evokes a sense of purpose; he shows the reader how the aftermath of the atomic bomb is still painfully apparent, but to him it is ironically by how everything has changed: "I had forgotten to remember where I was... a cheerfully shallow impermanence." It is as if they have tried to remove all visual recollection of what has happened, but in doing so the town feels empty, reflected further through Kirkup's language, where he uses words such as "thinly", "forgotten", "ramshackle", "drab" and "shallow." These simple words that are scattered throughout the poem convey the lasting impact of one catastrophic action, illustrating how it should never be repeated. Kirkup's language suggests an antipathy towards the apparent commercialisation of Hiroshima, and how the facade of "flimsy department stores" and "souvenir shops piled high with junk" is almost obscuring the memories of what happened. Kirkup's description of a "memorial ruin tricked out with glitter-frost and artificial pearls" creates an ironic image of a smokescreen being used to hide the truth; even a memorial, which was created to honour the dead, tries to conceal the horrifying reality of what happened.
The poem "Mental Cases" explores the psychological impact of modern warfare; Owen's language conveys the deep mental anguish felt by war, and how the everyday life of a soldier after he has returned will be tarnished by the memories of what he saw. Owen's writing was strongly influenced by his time in the Craiglockhart War Hospital and by fellow patient and poet Siegfried Sassoon, who became a close friend to Owen. Sassoon is credited with encouraging him to begin to write as an emotional-outlet, resulting in the very vivid imagery in his poems. The victims of shell shock whom he saw at the hospital also directly influenced his poem. In the poem, he describes them as "purgatorial shadows," creating an image of them being only half alive; his use of language in distorting the physical features of the soldiers creates an unsettling, and almost horrific image: "what slow panic gouged these chasms round their fretted sockets?" The word "fretted" brings to life the suffering of the soldiers, and makes it appear more real; placing the word "slow" next to "panic" has the same effect, in creating this prolonged image of suffering.
Owen's frustration, like Kirkup's, is acutely apparent throughout their poems. Their desperation to have the reader grasp the harsh reality of warfare is reflected in very different ways, through their style of writing. Whereas Kirkup's language is more reflective, with subtle hints throughout of loss and desolation, Owen's use of dynamic words such as "tormented" "gouged" "fretted" "ravished" and "perished" have a more instantly distressing effect; they make what he is witnessing seem far more real to the reader.
McCrae's message in "In Flanders Fields," is in stark contrast to the previous two poets. Whilst he accepts the tragedies found in warfare, reflected in his moving account of the fallen soldiers, his use of euphemism places a light/shade contrast into his writing, which is harder to find in Kirkup's poem, and almost non-existent in Owen's; the negative imagery used in Owen's poem is replaced with a sense of hopefulness and patriotism. The poem is thought to have been written during the Second Battle of Ypres, inspired by the death of McCrae's close friend Alexis Helmer. Even though used as an emotional outlet, like with Owen, his poem shows more acceptance of the war, honouring those who died and remembering why they did. McCrae's poem was in many ways a message to the soldiers to keep fighting, and can be viewed as an enduring message today. He contrasts to Owen in that he does not want to show regret in his poem; no matter how much remorse is shown they cannot reclaim the lives that were lost. McCrae, instead, speaks of how it is the responsibility of the soldiers left to "take up our quarrel with the foe." Even though they may not see the war as just or moral, the way they can honour the dead is by winning the war and not surrendering. McCrae's use of writing in the fourth person strengthens his message, making it more powerful: "we lie in Flanders Fields." By speaking as one of the fallen soldiers, his words and message appear to have more significance. In his bold statement at the beginning of the second stanza: "we are the dead," his language is the most direct statement of all three poets, yet because he follows it by speaking of their life, using the imagery of nature that is present throughout the poem, it does not seem so apparent. His use of caesura also separates the statement from the rest of the stanza; separating the image of death from the image of life. His description is one of poignancy, as well as reflection. The reader is drawn in by the beauty and sincerity of his language: "we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow..." The deeper meaning to these words is also the use of "dawn" to represent the beginning of life, and "sunset" to symbolise the end. This contrasts to "Mental Cases," where Owen refers to dawn breaking "open like a wound that bleeds afresh." The simile he uses here to compare how every new day is like a new wound, bringing yet more pain and horrifying memories of the war, reflects how the two poets' use of one simple word can bring such dramatic contrast. Even though dawn is meant to symbolise a new day and beginning, nothing can erase they saw on the front-line. McCrae juxtaposes this by using euphemism to create an image of the soldiers not being truly dead. They are still represented by the poppies lying "In Flanders Fields."
The image of nature is also used prominently in "No more Hiroshimas." Kirkup uses it to describe the only true remnants left of the atomic bomb and how, no matter how hard the people try to erase what happened, its mark will always be felt through the things, which man has no control over: "The river remains unchanged, sad, refusing rehabilitation." The personification of the river here is ironic in that it is one of the only moments in the poem where Kirkup places a particular emotion with something. Everything else he often describes as either empty or dead, or in using lists to show how the it is trying to be hidden form memory; one of the very few times the word "atomic" is used, to describe the "atomic lotion, for hair fall-out" it is in a list, reflecting how it is partly dismissed in the desperation to forget. The alliteration of "r" echoes the rolling of the river, adding a rhythm to the otherwise free-verse poem; this partly portrays the confusion and change of reaction in the poet himself upon witnessing all of this. His emotions range from cynicism to disbelief, horror and anger and, finally, to genuine grief over what has happened; the change in line length and rhythm alters the speed and way the poem is read.
"In Flanders Fields" uses the imagery of nature, like with Kirkup, as representations of remembrance; whilst things can be rebuilt, nature is constant and will not change in accordance with society's will. The symbol of the lark, which represents life and hope, is used powerfully to convey how overpowering the war has become, as they are "scarce heard amid the guns below." This sorrowful image of hope being obscured by the death and destruction of warfare is made more poignant, by McCrae describing how the larks "still bravely singing fly." This once again links back to the message he wants to convey about carrying on with the war. Even though this symbol of hope appears to be fading as a result of the increasing loss of life, it is still there and fighting to remain so. This is also similar to the image of the poppy, which even today remains as a symbol to honour the dead, partly as a result of McCrae's poem. Despite Flanders Fields being central to numerous battles in World War One, resulting in extensive bloodshed and war-torn ground, poppies grew in abundance "between the crosses." This illustrates the power that nature has; as a true account, it conveys the simple yet hugely moving power of McCrae's language. The honesty and poignancy of his words reflects the different ways war can be perceived. Even though he and Owen were both soldiers in the war, their responses through their writing could not be in greater contrast. This shows how different perceptions can be based on different outlooks, and also how the use of language has portrays this. McCrae's writing chooses to emphasise the images of how the "poppies blow" and the "larks bravely singing fly, " giving life and meaning to them. The crosses remain un-animated, as McCrae chooses to remember the dead, and portray them in his poem, through a symbol that also represents life.
Kirkup's experience of visiting Hiroshima leads him to be confronted with the "atomic peace geared to meet the tourist trade." The oxymoron "tidy-waste" reflects the confusion of Hiroshima, and how everything seems out of place with what it should be. His evident disgust and anger at this is reflected in how he wants it to "remain like this, for all the world to see... dogged with shame." He, and the reader with him, see a place, which is so determined to recover from the atomic devastation that it has completely erased the memory of what happened. It cannot, however, simply be ignored; furthermore, Kirkup's words echo how it should not be forgotten, as without it the city becomes lost behind the façade it has created. He describes how "anger too is dead;" the remnants of Hiroshima' community have suppressed their emotions for so long, in their desperation to forget, that they cannot even feel anger at what has happened. The theme of death is constant throughout the poem, from when Kirkup describes his room as an "over-heated morgue" to the third to last stanza, where nearly every image is associated with death: "In the dying afternoon, I wander dying round the Park of Peace." The image created here ironic in that the Park should be a place that celebrates the life of those who died, yet Kirkup describes it as a "dead place... the stunted trees..." to constantly illustrate the atmosphere felt in the city. He goes on to give us the only glimpse throughout the entire poem of the residents of Hiroshima; Kirkup depicts them as being old to subtly remind us of the casualties amongst the younger generations: "the gardeners are old... survivers weeding the dead brown lawns around the Children's monument." This is one of the most poignant images of the entire poem, as Kirkup triggers, through his writing, the reader to feel the same emotion that is, in his eyes, so painfully absent in Hiroshima. Through the narrative approach to his writing, contrasting to the other two authors in that he writes in the first person, he brings us to feel the same shock and distress that he does, over the images he creates. The one rhetorical question he asks in the poem is one that lingers long after it is said, and stems from the true irony of the poem: "and why should memorials of what was far from pleasant have the grace that helps us forget?" The memorials were built so that the dead could be remembered; yet here they are seen as helping people to 'forget' the devastation.
Owen's language is more filled, not necessarily with anger, but with grief and bitterness towards the situation he is witnessing; his use of rhetorical questions reflect his frustration with the "madness" of war and the effect it has had mentally on people's lives. It is not the physical wounds often associated with war, but the mental ones that are impossible to heal. The "who," "where" and "why" questions revolving around the soldiers returning from war remain unanswered in the first stanza, keeping their identity ambiguous; this also reflects Owen's longing to understand what has happened, but the minds of the soldiers, where he describes of how the "dead have ravished" them, act as a shield, preventing him from doing so. The second stanza centres on the past lives of these soldiers, and how they can never re-capture it: "always they must see these things and hear them." They cannot escape from the horrors of war. The image of "twilight" links to how even in sleep they cannot escape what the memories of warfare. Every image is tainted with the images of war and the "multitudinous murders they once witnessed." The word "multitudinous" further emphasises the reality of the war, and how it cannot be forgotten; the use of alliteration also strengthens this, as the line has more of a lasting impact. Owen's language in the second stanza is the most poignant as he speaks of the "mental cases" in his poem, partly because of his use of the past tense: "treading blood from lungs that had loved laughter." He reiterates the common theme amongst the three poems of what cannot be undone; the sense of finality is present, whether with McCrae speaking of the dead: "and now we lie in Flanders Fields," to Kirkup's description of Hiroshima: "an awful emptiness... the new trees are still small." Both conflicts left a mark, which is evoked in different ways by the three poets.
Owen's writing is similar to McCrae in that he writes in the plural form, referring to the soldiers as a collective. He however, does not use the fourth person until the very end, when he speaks of them as "pawing us who dealt them war and madness." Here, his use of the word "we" is quite ambiguous, as it appears as if he is accepting responsibility for the war that has driven them to 'madness.' This last line could be interpreted in many different ways; it seems more like he is guilty on behalf of society and the people who supported the war. Owen's clear dismay at the reality of war stems from the "old lie" that he speaks of in his most famous poem "Dulce et decorum est" - the full final line translating to: it is sweet and honourable to die for your country. His poignantly honest account of the torment of the soldiers in "mental cases" is a result of the broken promise of war, and how it was portrayed in the poems of propaganda poets such as Jessie Pope as simply a game. Owen shows the reader the other side to war that is not idealised and a 'game,' but filled with horror, bloodshed and unbearable loss. His poem questions these statements made by other poets who, unlike Owen, had never seen the front -line, or the horrors witnessed there. Whereas in McCreae's poem, his style of euphemism fits with its patriotic and hopeful message, in "Mental Cases" euphemism would seem out of place; he does the exact opposite to McCrae in that he emphasises the suffering of the soldiers, and doesn't try to obscure them. He wanted people to see the catastrophic results of the conflict, which had cost so many lives, and affected nearly every soldier who went to war; their minds will be tarnished forever with the memory of the conflict and atrocities witnessed; it is "rucked too thick for these men's extrication." His poem is not meant to be hopeful like McCrae's as it was written for a different reason; McCrae's use of nature as positive imagery completely juxtaposes Owen's use of it to show the extent of the mental damage caused by warfare: "sunlight seems a blood-smear; night comes blood-black." The soldiers see even the image of 'sunlight', which is supposed to symbolise life and hope, as tainted by the war. The structure of Owen's poem mostly follows a trochaic metre; the emphasis on the first word of every line means that the poem develops a falling rhythm, to evoke the tone and style of the poem. It also draws the reader in more to Owen's words and message, so that they are instantly engaged.
This contrasts to McCreae's use of an iambic metre, writing principally in iambic tetrameter, in the style of a French rondeau poem. It creates the juxtaposing effect to "Mental Cases," giving the poem a steady rhythm which rises instead of falling; with the 'a, a, b, b, a' rhyme scheme, it allows it to be read more easily than the other two poem. Its structure gives it a simplicity and pace that allows the final line of the second and third stanzas, "In Flanders fields," to stand out more; the stanzas a sense of finality, and makes what McCrae is saying have more impact. In the final stanza, the true patriotism of his poem is shown, as well as the image of light coming fully to the surface. As one of the fallen soldiers, McCrae tells the soldiers still fighting that they "throw the torch; be yours to hold it high," once again using caesura to separate the past from present; it is now the duty of the soldiers to continue fighting and not "break faith with us who die," McCrae once again using "us" for powerful impact. His last words in the poem hint subtly at an ominous undertone, warning that if they do "break faith... we shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders fields." McCrae's final line mirrors the first, in indication to the poppies blowing in Flanders Fields. However, in the final line, the word "grow" makes further reference to how more poppies will grow as more soldiers die, but they will be meaningless if their death was for nothing; the dead will not rest in peace.
McCrae uses the final stanza to convey his message to the readers, and his opinion of war. Kirkup also uses his final stanza for the same purpose. Even though his frustration throughout the poem is real, his true emotions towards Hiroshima are only revealed in the final stanza. Here, his language is not angry, or disbelieving, but instead takes on a truthful simplicity. He describes how, true memorials are not the "photos showing the atomic desert" the "atomic bomb explosion centre" or the "peace tower." He sees them as the relics, which hold some true meaning: "the bits of burnt clothing... stained and tattered vests," and finally, in bitter poignancy, "the cotton summer pants the blasted boys crawled home in, to bleed and slowly die." These words render more emotion than any of the others, because they are the first true links to the life that had been taken away by the atomic bomb. Kirkup wanted to demonstrate how a memorial should not be something to forget the dead by, but to remember them, and accept the atomic war as part of their history; ignoring it can never erase it, something that was reflected in his description of the river.
All three poems portray very different perceptions of war. They are, however, all linked by the same theme of the consequences of war. All three poets do not openly criticise war, but by looking at the remnants left after it has happened, come to their own conclusions about the impact of it. In the case of Owen, with "Mental Cases," his horror is in what the war can do to people mentally. Owen's own diagnosis of shell shock will have influenced his writing significantly, as did his friendship with Sassoon, during their time in the Craiglockhart war hospital. His writing is the most vivid of the three poets, with the profundity and significance of every word clear to the reader. His message through the poem is not an attack on the war, but of the people who mislead them into entering it, unbeknown to the true horrors of modern day warfare. His feeling of frustration is shared with Kirkup in "No More Hiroshimas." The poem centres on the aftermath of Hiroshima, chronicling his reactions as he walks through the city. The theme of emptiness is the most apparent throughout the poem, and we share in the poet's shock over the memories that are being obscured, by the commercialisation created, in the desperation to forget. "In Flanders Fields" contrasts to both these poems, in that McCrae does not necessarily come to find acceptance with the war, but sees surrendering as breaking the duty to the fallen soldiers, who gave their lives to defend their country. He demonstrates how euphemism can be used to write a poem that, even though makes references to the dead and the war, can be hopeful and convey the message that it does. The three poems show the very different approaches to war, depending on different experiences and outlooks; McCrae and Owen both fought on the front line, yet their writing shows such contrast, because of how they reacted to the war. It is the poets' ability to convey these messages that make the poems so powerful; they all portray the common theme of remembrance, and how war will always leave an impact. It is their differences, in how they responded to the aftermath of the war, which contrast the three poems so much, making the messages they hold all the more powerful and enduring as a result.