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Poetry Essay (the poet's attitude toward war)

bizkitgirlzc 29 / 2  
Oct 29, 2007   #1
Hello, can someone help me with my essay? I want to know if I've answered the prompt carefully and if my grammar is alright:

Read the following poems very carefully, noting that each presents the poet's attitude toward war. Then, in a well organized essay, examine how each poet uses literary deices such as imagery, diction, figurative language, tome and structure to express his particular vision on the value of war.

Pink Floyd, 1960s band once sang, "Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way." In poems "How to Die" by Siegfried Sassoon and "The Happy Writer" by Herbert Read, British poets express their anti-war sentiments on how society idealizes the cruel reality of killing and dying in war. Both Sassoon and Read present the desperation of war and how society silences it by romanticizing its horrors.

While the atrocities of war can be summed up in a few crude words, the diction and imagery in Sassoon's and Read's poems make the reader see their contempt for war. In "How to Die" is stunningly picturesque in the way its imagery can weave the entire scene in the readers head. Sassoon uses this sort of graphic diction when depicting a battle scene where the imagery is vivid and striking:

The dying soldier shifts his head
To watch the glory that returns;
He lifts his fingers toward the skies
Where holy brightness breaks in flame; (Sassoon, LL 3-6)
This very same depiction of battle that is beautiful illustrious is also terribly romanticized. The beauty of the scene is false and may very well be an artificial memento that is idealized by society. Sassoon alludes to God and holiness and basically all that is portrayed as an ideal death in this specific scene. Words like "glory" (4), "skies" (5), and "holy" (6) all give hint to the religious aspect that romanticizes heroic death. The narrator of the poem confirms this with his last line in the first stanza, "And on his lips a whispered name" (Sassoon, LL 8). It wraps up the religious beauty of a warrior's death by alluding to the fact that a soldier in battle dies with the single word of "God" on his lips when in reality the last thing on a soldier's mind would be God or religion. This stanza is plainly scenic and represents the wrong propaganda society feeds off. Sassoon uses it to show what society sees a soldier's death as while at the same time showing that what he hates the most about war is the absurdity of society's portrayal of death in war. The reader can assume that it is society Sassoon mocks when he mentions, "You'd think, to her some people talk" (Sassoon, L 9), because of the sarcasm he uses throughout the second stanza of the poem.

In contrast to Sassoon's technique, "The Happy Warrior" uses diction differently. Whereas, Sassoon uses picturesque diction to portray society's romantic view of war, Read uses picturesque - if not horrific - diction to convey the ruthless reality of killing in battle. Unlike Sassoon's figurative diction, Read prefers more precise language that is, for the most part, literal and even grotesque. The straightforward description of killing in battle shows the reader that Read also hates war:

His wide eyes search unconsciously.
He cannot shriek.
Bloody saliva
Dribbles down his shapeless jacket (Read, LL 4-7)
It is a descriptive scene that is horridly vivid with its imagery and words like "shriek" (5), "bloody" (6), and "shapeless" (7) give us a taste of the disgust the narrator feels towards war. This depiction is supposed to capture the appalling truth of killing on the battlefield, of killing another human being, of killing moral standards. The image that is given by line 6 gives the impression of a beastly animal with gory drool hanging from its mouth. It presents the perspective from which Read views war as: barbaric and primitive. And since the narrator has described the soldier as primitive in his actions by having killed another, his primitiveness has also killed his sense of ethics along with the enemy.

Even though both poems are against war, they are written with different voices - with different tones. Sassoon, for example, prefers a subtle sarcasm that is quiet in its mockery of society's idealized version of war:

But they've been taught the way to do it
Like Christian soldiers; not with haste
And shuddering groans; but passing through it
With due regard for decent taste. (Sassoon, LL 13-16)
What the narrator shows in these lines is a mockery of society. The soldiers have been taught to die the Christian way, not quickly or in agony but with decency. What the narrator is doing is making fun of the way civilians believe that soldiers die - in a heroic pursuit, with bravery and courage. They do not possibly conceive the idea that soldiers agonize with pain and pray for a swift death during war as lines 14 and 15 suggest. Sassoon's sarcasm is cleverly weaved in the poem: not obvious at first but still there.

Read, on the other hand, prefers to use a reflective tone that is only shows sarcasm until the poem reaches its end. His description is shocking but his conclusion to the poem is sarcastic:

I saw him stab
And stab again
A well-killed Boche.
This is the happy warrior,
This is he... (Read, LL 8-12)
The narrator not only recounts how he sees a killing of an enemy soldier but he also reflects on the irony of this. He calls the surviving soldier the "happy warrior" and even though by all rights the soldier should be relieved to be the one alive, he cannot be the "happy warrior" because he has killed another human being. If Read's description of the soldier is any hint, the reader can easily assume that the soldier is in a state of shock if not traumatized, "His wide eyes search unconsciously. / He cannot shriek" (Read, LL 4-5). The description of the soldier is a strong one considering that it is accurate in the representation of an after-shock after committing such a gruesome act. The sarcastic tone in calling the soldier the "happy warrior" serves to tell the reader how disgusted Read feels towards war.

The poetic nature as well as the expression of both poems lies greatly within the figurative language. Allusions play a great role in both poems. In Sassoon's "How to Die," the narrator makes many religious reference to God and Christianity:

When holy brightness breaks in flame;
And on his lips a whispered name.
Hankering for wreaths and tombs and hearses.
But they've been taught the way to do it
Like Christian soldiers; (Sassoon, LL 6, 8, 12-14)
The allusion first appears in the beginning of the poem such as in lines 5 through 8 where Sassoon uses the allusion to mock society's idealized version of a soldier's death. He uses God to romanticize the perfect death scene. Later, however, the narrator mentions in lines 13 through 14 that the soldiers have learnt to die the Christian way. By expressing this, the author is also mocking Christianity and the absurdity of religion and how it exaggerates the death of soldiers which can be clearly seen in like 12 where the polysyndeton found in "wreaths and tombs and hearses" serves to symbolize the extravagance placed on military deaths. Furthermore, Sassoon pokes more fun at the ridiculousness of how society aggrandizes and romanticizes soldiers' deaths when he mentions that it would seem they are "hankering" (12) for their funerals. Sassoon also uses the simile of "sullen faces white as chalk" (11) to show the pessimism of how many of the soldiers leave off to war, knowing that they are going to face their doom. Lastly, Sassoon ends his last lines with a paradox, "...not with hast / And shuddering groans; but passing through it / With due regard for decent taste" (Sassoon, LL 14-16). These lines express the contradiction of death and decency - how can death be decent? And furthermore, it hints to the absurdness of dying in a manner that is acceptable to society. The paradox is found that death cannot be a decent act and it certainly should not be done in a way to please others.

In Read's poem, "The Happy Warrior," however, the figurative language is made differently. While Sassoon immediately introduces the religious allusion to God, Read does not allude to anything until the end. He starts off with the symbolism of lines 6 through 7, "Bloody saliva / Dribbles down his shapeless jacket." This represents the poet's view of the barbarity of war. Read then moves onto repetition when the narrator describes how he saw the soldier the constant stabbing of the already dead enemy, "I saw him stab / And stab again / A well-killed Boche" (Read, LL 8-10). It shows the desperation and the brutality of killing another on the battlefield. Furthermore, to top off the poem, read concludes with an allusion to another poem by William Wordsworth, "The Character of the Happy Warrior." The irony in the conclusion is fond in this allusion where Wordsworth mentions that a "happy warrior" finds "comfort in his self and in his cause." But as one can see from what Reads grotesque description shows the reader, the soldier is neither comfortable with himself nor with his actions. Since Wordsworth's characterization of the "happy warrior" is most likely accepted by society as the fighting soldier at the front, it only serves to reinforce this mock of society's view of killing as well.

Finally, what brings together all the elements of diction, imagery, tone and figurative language is the structure of the poems. In "How to Die," Sassoon divides his narrative into two stanzas. The first stanza, lines 1 through 8, depicts society's romantic portrayal of a soldier's death. The second stanza (LL 9-16), however, mocks the way those who aren't present of the war, idealize the reality of war to the point of absurdity. In the other narrative poem, "The Happy Warrior," Read divides the poem into four separate stanzas with enjambment. It serves to divide separate thoughts throughout the poem and to mark emphasis on certain parts of the poem as well. The structure is what helps both poems fluctuate for the reader to interpret the poem a certain way. Sassoon separates what is ideal from reality while Read isolates the horrific parts of war by emphasizing certain sections of his narrative.

War is hated by both Sassoon and Read. There is no doubt about that throughout either poem. One talks about dying in war while the other talks about killing in war. Either is equally as atrocious according to both poems. Both discuss the way society romanticizes horror in such a way that it should horrify the rest of us.
EF_Team2 1 / 1,708  
Oct 30, 2007   #2

I'm happy to give you some editing pointers on your very fine essay!

[delete In] "How to Die" is stunningly picturesque

This very same depiction of battle that is beautifully illustrative is also terribly romanticized.

It presents the perspective from which Read views war [delete as]:

Sassoon's sarcasm is cleverly woven in the poem: - The past tense of "weave" as "weaved" is usually reserved for motion: "The drunk's car weaved back and forth through traffic." Here, "woven" is more accurate.

which can be clearly seen in line 12 where the polysyndeton found in "wreaths and tombs and hearses" serves to symbolize the extravagance placed on military deaths.

The second stanza (LL 9-16), however, mocks the way those who aren't present at the war [better would be "who aren't participants in the war"], idealize the reality of war to the point of absurdity.

Good analysis!


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