Three phases
'Poetry', Wordsworth reminds us, 'is the spontaneous
overflow of powerful feelings', and there can be no area of
human experience that has generated a wider range of
powerful feelings than war: hope and fear; exhilaration and
humiliation; hatred – not only for the enemy, but also for
generals, politicians, and war-profiteers; love – for fellow
soldiers, for women and children left behind, for country
(often) and cause (occasionally).
- John Stallworthy, Introduction to The Oxford
Book of War Poetry
The war was a terrible and unique experience in the history of mankind; its poetry
had likewise to be unique and terrible.
The 'war poets' went into the army with patriotic assurance, fought in misery,
danger and muddle, and expressed their horror and protest in poetry.
The poetry can be seen to fall into three phases.
The poetry written at the beginning of the war – 'The Illusion' – is characterised
by an unreal conception of war, by lyrical, hopeful, patriotic verse glorifying
fighting and welcoming death.
The second phase – 'The Reality' – results from the experience of war,
especially after the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The changed views were
reflected in new techniques: more concrete imagery and freer verse forms.
The third phase is 'The Aftermath', where those poets who survived look back
and reflect on the cost.
It is possible to appreciate the depth of the poetry of the
Great War by examining the work of three poets (all officers):
Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen.
Rupert Brooke epitomises the idealistic pro-war poetry of
the early years.
Siegfried Sassoon represents the satiric anti-war poetry of
the post-1916 period.
Wilfred Owen, the most complete of all the poets of WWI,
would be a great poet in any company and in any era; his
poetry is - as Ben Jonson said of Shakespeare - 'not for an
age, but for all time'.
Before WWI, war poetry was seldom written by those who had actually
been to battle, and was usually heavily laden with romantic allusions to
the glory of the struggles, the value of the sacrifices, and couched in
traditional, flowery, abstract language.
E.g. Charge of the Light Brigade, by Tennyson.
Certain topics were acceptable- love, beauty, heroes, nature, patriotism,
glorious death, courage- but not brutality or ugliness of war or death. To
write poetry about blood gurgling from a man’s throat or a wagon wheel
crunching over a dead man’s face was unthinkable before 1916.
Enemy=foe or the host
Dead=the fallen
Dead bodies=ashes or dust
One’s death=one’s fate
Legs and arms=limbs
Blood of young men=wine
Read ‘For the Fallen’ by Laurence Binyon. Highlight or underline the
vocabulary that suggests battle and war are good, and any other diction
that is reassuring and affirmative.
What attitudes would you expect to find in poems written before the war
occurred? Why?
What are some romantic words used in war poetry?
Give two examples of poems that reinforce this illusion?
Most of the young officers and many of the poets- of the Great War had
been educated in English public schools. They had learned, above else, a
sense of duty and responsibility to their country, as well as self-command
and discipline, the sort that could enable them to lead soldiers out of
trenches and into machine gun fire. Many of these young officers were at
the Front only weeks, sometimes days, after being safe in school. Twenty
per cent of those who joined the forces from public school were killed.
Most of the younger men who enlisted (two and a half million men
signed up) were influenced by the patriotism of Rupert Brooke, and they
followed him to their deaths. It is difficult to over-estimate the influence
of Brooke; to his contemporaries, he expressed perfectly the idealism of
This was before the Battle of Somme, before they realised what war in
the Twentieth century was really like (friends drowning in mud or
suffocating in gas).
Men queued for hours to enlist in the army.
More of a pre-war poet than a true war poet; his poetry typifies the early
period, in which war is seen as noble, patriotic and chivalrous.
He had romantic good-looks and an attractive personality, a literary
reputation and considerable ability.
When he learned he was being sent to Gallipoli, he wrote “I’ve never been
quite so happy in my life, I think. Not quite so pervasively happy; like a
stream flowing entirely to one end.’
On April 23rd Brooke died from blood poisoning, in the Aegean Sean on his
way to Gallipoli.
The importance of his poetry is less in its quality than in the impact it had. It
is difficult to over-emphasise the influence of Brooke on his contemporariesHe seemed to embody the idealism of 1914.
Brooke’s war experience consisted of one day of limited military action with
the Hood Battalion during the evacuation of Antwerp. He died on the way to
Gallipoli, so he never experienced the horrors of Flanders. Consequently, his
poetry reflects an unreal conception of war. Emotional, sentimental,
romantic, the sonnets are full of honour and glory; patriotism; an emphasis
on England; the mystique of youth- the kind of sentiments held by many
young Englishmen at the outbreak of the war.
His optimism encouraged men to enlist: his poetry was used by
recruiters- certainly not his intentions, which may have been to make
death in war seem noble.
His poetry did a great deal to win the public to war poetry, making later
poets have a greater influence (Sassoon and Owen).
Do activity.
Analysis template
Content: what is the poem about. Don’t confuse with theme.
Diction: comment on what type of words are used (romantic, patriotic etc.)
Device: language techniques.
Mood: feeling reader gets from the words/ imagery created
Tone: writer’s attitude (sincere, ironic sarcastic, childish, humorous,
Theme: message of the poem.
A soldier buried abroad enriches that land because he has been enriched by an English
Euphemistic ‘heroic’ words: his body= “richer dust”
Romantic, patriotic: “bathed by the suns of home”
Alliteration: “Foreign field”; “Sights and sounds”
Personification: his heart= “a pulse in the eternal mind…”= after life.
Gentle, patriotic
Sincere expression of devotion
Skilfully composed tribute to England=worth dying for.
The idea of being reincarnated in the “eternal mind”
Sacrifice earns immortality
Brooke is innocent, even naïve about the war; the poet shows no
awareness of the realities of war- which is unsurprising as he hasn’t
experienced them.
Some critics have suggested an unconscious arrogance- to be English is
to be better than anyone else- but this is a celebration of his life, his
home, his country.
The poem expresses genuine patriotism and love for his country.
Explain how Brooke develops the idea of
patriotism in The Soldier.
Comment on some of the following in your
paragraph: language devices, tone, mood
and connotations. Include anything else you
can think of.
In groups you will annotate ‘The Soldier’, by Rupert Brooke, identifying
how Brooke has used figurative language to develop his themes of
patriotism and purification through death.
Figurate language appeals to the imagination. Refers to when a writer is
saying something other than the literal meaning of the words.
Allegory (poem or narrative that has a second meaning beneath the
surface one)
“foreign field”
Referring to the battlefield where the bodies of dead soldiers lay.
This is an example of a euphemism.
Brooke has use this euphemism to address the war in a lighter tone,
romanticising death and masking the harsh realities of war.
Poem is about the untimely death of a soldier that is undaunted by his
likely demise.
“there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever England. There shall be
in that earth a richer dust concealed.”
Dust=English soldier. The earth will be richer as there is an English soldier
beneath it (piece of England).
“A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware/Gave once her flowers to
love, her ways to roam/A body of England, breathing English air.
Personification of English.
Reinforces Brooke’s embodiment of soldiers as not only English but
“Some corner of a foreign field”
The field is a symbol for the simple graveyards soldiers were buried in.
portraying the horrible image of dead English soldiers in shallow graves or
lying on battlefields in a very light tone.
“Dust” used as symbol for English soldiers dead bodies. Addressing the
fatalities of war in a lighter tone.
Both symbols used to lighten the poems subject.
“and think this heart, all evil shed away”
Brooke implies a transformation from a soldier, ordinary and human, to a
cleansed soul who will live forever through England.
With death for your country comes great honour and transformation into a
pure soul, forever remembered for fighting for your country until the end.
This idea is what inspired young men to enlist in the army and a willingness
to die at war.
A larger purpose can be achieved though death, an example of Brooke
romanticising death and the war.
Reflection of the time.
It was a reassurance to the public about the war and the death occurring.
Brooke’s lack of war experience influenced the demeanour of his poetry.
‘The Soldier’ gives you a small insight into the ideology of soldiers and
the public, who were looking for a deeper meaning for the death and
destruction occurring.
Brooke felt death for your country would be rewarded in the afterlife.
This would be the greatest show of devotion to your country.
It’s poetry lost it’s appeal as the war progressed and the lightness in
which Brookes regarded the was war recognised.
Discuss the purpose of Rupert Brooke’s poem, The Soldier. Use evidence
from the poem to support your answer.
Intro: Introduce your argument/case and the points you will discuss.
Paragraph on the imagery created through Brooke’s figurative language
and how this supports your case.
Paragraph on historical context and how it is reflected in the poem. (and
supports your case.
Conclusion: some up ideas discussed and reinforce your case.
1. rich, rarer gifts, gold, sweet wine, youth, joy, serene, immortality, holiness, love, Honour, king, royal wage,
nobleness, heritage.
2. Rich, rarer gifts, gold. Sweet wine, immortality, honour, king, paid, royal wage, Nobleness, heritage.
3. “Blow out, you bugles” Bugles are blown as a call to battle.
4. No matter how poor they were before they died, dying in battle as enriched them – with such rewards as
honour, nobility- and they have given these same rewards to the world, enriched the world with them.
5. Implying that death is a release from the weariness of the world, and that they chose to die.
6. Their future-work, pleasure, the happiness of “serene” old age, and having children of their own.
7. The soldiers have given up the chance of immortality in giving up the children they might have had.
8. Holiness, love, honour, and nobleness- they have made the world better, they have restored honour to it.
9. It personifies Holiness, Love, Pain, Honour and Nobleness, who now rule the earth bestowing the wealth upon
their subjects like a medieval king.
10. Ironically, the resting place of the dead who have paid such a heavy price for the return of Honour.
11. Moral uprightness, honour and nobility. Links with the overall theme of ‘payment and reward’.
13. similar sense of acceptance of death; both mention the loss of the everyday pleasures.
This is one of the five sonnets Brooke wrote in a series, it celebrates the
sacrifice of the young men going out to die.
 Glorifies war and dying for ones country.
 A bugle is a military musical instrument used at celebrations, suggesting
that this was a time to celebrate and look forward to things (the war). It
symbolizes the honour brought by fighting for your country.
 ‘the rich Dead!’, is an important element in the opening line of the poem.
It defines the dead as honourable signifying that people who will or
already have died are war heroes and bring honour to the country.
 Why is the word Dead written with a capital letter?
Suggests the importance of dying for your country.
‘These laid the world away’ (L 4)
Implying that death is a release from the weariness of the world.
'gave up the years...their immortality' (L5-8)
he cleverly interjects the idea that death is not without loss. Not only
for the soldiers themselves who have lost their future, but also for
their offspring 'who would have been' (L7) cutting off the immortal
line of subsequent generations.
Describe how Rupert Brooke used figurative
language to create intensity in The Dead.
Romantic illusions of warfare were soon shattered for men like Sassoon and
Owen, who had direct and sustained experience of the hardships of trench
warfare: troops pinned down by machine gun fire, often knee-deep in mud
with rats and disease. The British Expeditionary force, that crossed the
channel to fight the German army, was well equipped for open warfare after
several years of fighting in South Africa, but wholly deficient in material for
siege or trench warfare, which required hand grenades and entrenching
tools. Shell-shock, desertion, the unburied remains of bodies were normal
and everyday; a ‘Blighty One’ was a self-inflicted wound bad enough to get
the soldier sent home to England.
After the battle of Somme in 1916, the heroic days were gone forever. Tank
warfare was introduced in that year, but the war finally ended not because
of the superiority of one side but because of the total destruction of morale
on both sides.
A great gulf developed between the fighting men and the civilians back home,
and between the front-line soldiers and the senior offices who gave orders from
safety back at headquarters. There on the other side of the barbed wire were
fellow sufferers; the soldiers felt less hostility towards the ‘enemy’ than towards
the people at home who profited from the war, who were sheltered from its
realities, and who remained wilfully ignorant of its horrors.
The poets saw it as their responsibility to tell the terrible truth of the misery truth that was being kept from those in England by the propaganda of
politicians and war profiteers.
After the Somme, poetic techniques changed to reflect these changing
attitudes. No longer did the Romantic and ‘poetic’ language of pre-war poetry
seem relevant or appropriate. The horror the poets experienced was reflected in
concrete imagery and satire, in blank and free verse, in colloquial language.
Through their poems they began to question the decisions and motives of the
senior officers.
Where was he born and what year?
What did Sassoon do after leaving College?
When did he enlist in the arm?
What was his role in the arm?
When and what was Sassoon’s first personal loss of the war?
What and when was Sassoon’s second loss of the war?
How did Sassoon react to this? What nick name was he given?
What earned him a military cross?
What battle was Sassoon wounded in the shoulder? What did this lead
What did Robert Graves do for Sassoon?
What ended Sassoon’s participation in the war?
What does epigrammatic and satirical mean?
Who were Sassoon’s poems aimed at?
He makes great use of repetition and motifs to create the feel of the
monotonousness of war, how men just kept on dying.
Using the term he rather than I, making the poem universal. Any soldier
could read it and apply it to themselves.
Also supports the idea that war results in a loss of identity, and people
are reduced to nothing more than ‘creatures’.
Sassoon emphasises mankind’s infinite capacity for cruelty, ‘dazed
muttering creatures’.
In the fourth line the figurative effects of imagery are combined with
phonological ones (assonance, alliteration and sibilance). “Tins, boxes,
bottles, shapes too vague to know,” creates a very busy confused line,
echoing the hectic, confused nature of the war.
The magic sentence shows that you understand the link
between the techniques and the writer’s ideas. You
need to show that you understand the role of the
writer/director. You will also need to develop ideas and
include specific examples. Magic sentences make a
great start to a SEXY paragraph. Authors/directors
DELIBERATELY choose techniques because they feel
they are the most effective way of teaching us about
life/messages which go beyond the text.
Siegfried Sassoon selects motifs to emphasise the stark realities of
trench warfare.
Rupert Brooke employs religious illusions to romanticise war and death.
The poet extends the metaphor to develop this idea of the ultimate
reward gained when dying for your country.
Task: In pairs you will create 3 magic sentences for The Rear-Guard, by
Siegfried Sassoon.
Now turn each Magic sentence into a paragraph.
S= topic sentence/statement
E=evidence to support your statement
E=explanation of your statement
D= develop your paragraph by evaluating the effectiveness of
the technique you discussed, relate your paragraph to today/
your life etc. (Evaluation and synthesis).
I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority,
because I believe that the War is being deliberately prolonged by those who have
the power to end it. I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of
soldiers. I believe that this War, on which I entered as a war of defence and
liberation, has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the
purpose for which I and my fellow soldiers entered upon this war should have
been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them, and that,
had this been done, the objects which actuated us would now be attainable by
negotiation. I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops, and I can no
longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil
and unjust. I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the
political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.
On behalf of those who are suffering now I make this protest against the
deception which is being practised on them; also I believe that I may help to
destroy the callous complacency with which the majority of those at home
regard the contrivance of agonies which they do not, and which they have not
sufficient imagination to realize.
Task: Summarise the main points of Sassoon’s declaration, include any quotes you
think are significant.
Poem begins innocently enough with the “Good morning” greeting, although the
expectation of a crisp cheerful poem is dashed with dramatic effect at the third line,
when we learn that the soldiers he smiled at were mostly dead.
This revelation is shockingly matter of fact, Sassoon's identification with the men who
have been lost in action is emphasised in the colloquial "'em".
Sassoon is saying that these are ordinary men, men who followed orders and who
hardly seemed to matter in the broad scheme of political plans and policies.
Why does Sassoon name the men?
Explain the last line?
In WWI, many men died, because of the incompetence of those in charge and Sassoon
highlights that here, in this poem.
What does line one reveal about the General’s mood? Why is this
He is in a good mood, which is opposite to how the soldiers felt. The
General didn’t spend anytime on the front line and wasn’t exposed to all the
death and destruction, therefore he wasn’t as depressed at the soldiers.
“Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ‘em dead,” Explain.
General is smiling at these men while giving orders that result in their
deaths. Incompetent.
“And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.” Explain.
The orders given by the General and his staff are getting these men killed.
The General has not been on the front line and therefore doesn’t know what
is in the best interest for the soldiers.
Explain lines 5-6
Sarcastic tone. These line celebrate the heroism of these men, they are
returning to the front line even though they know it is a futile mission, they
still wish to defend their country.
Line 6: Arras is a city in northern France. This city was where the front
line was located throughout much of WWI. The British's attack on the
Western Front was known as the Battle of Arras.
Explain line 7.
Bitterly ironic, Harry and Jack returned to the front line where they were
killed all because they followed the generals orders.
Write a paragraph discussing the purpose of Sassoon’s “The General”.
Start your paragraph with a Magic Sentence.
Try and integrate your quotes into your sentences.
Evaluate the techniques you discuss.
Relate the ideas you discuss beyond the text.
S= topic sentence/statement
E=evidence to support your statement
E=explanation of your statement
D= develop your paragraph by evaluating the effectiveness of the technique
you discussed, relate your paragraph to today/ your life etc. (Evaluation and
If you want to challenge yourself try and write two or three paragraphs.
Neither Brooke nor Owen survived the war; Sassoon, who did, continued
to be angry, continued to use poetry to criticise the war.
The army, for its delays in demobilisation.
The supposed ‘land fit for heroes’ that politicians promised and did not
Civilians and even returned soldiers for the ease with which they
seemed to forget
And above all the sheer wastefulness of the four years.
Early war poems are idealistic, patriotic, heroic, in the Rupert Brooke
Experienced the reality; was converted to a horrified satirist by the vision
of waste and terror on the Western Front.
To show the truth about the war, the other side to the propaganda and
romantic beliefs that glorified war.
2. To record the true experiences of a soldier who lived with the stench,
the death, the horror.
To expose the hypocrisy; to condemn the complacency and callousness
of civilians.
4. To end the war; to criticise and condemn its conduct.
Described the horrors of war unsparingly
2. Poems often based on actual incidents
Made a scathing and exact attack on those at home who remained
wilfully insensible to the sufferings of the soldiers at the front.
War is destructive, waste of human life; should never have happened.
2. The horror, not the honour, of death.
Realistic record of the agony
4. He held the establishment responsible for prolonged suffering of the
His targets: politicians, generals and other high-ranking officers; those
back home either profiting from the war or remaining ignorant.
2. Direct concrete descriptions- great immediacy, hard-hitting, no
glamour, illusions.
Piles horror on horror with deadening impact of effect of experiences.
4. Forceful and direct, and often lacking completely in subtlety and
No subtle or carefully-worded phrases; lack of niceties, yet very
6. Tone: bitter, disillusioned, forceful, angry.
Satirical, cynical, mocking, especially of the concept that it is glorious to
die for one’s country.
8. Unlike Owen, was never a conscious experimenter, but was forced by
the need to capture the truth of the front line experience into using
colloquial and conversational language that was new in poetry.
He went to the war from an idyllic pastoral background;
He began by writing war poetry reminiscent of Rupert Brooke;
He spoke out publicly against the war, and yet returned to it;
He influenced and mentored the then unknown Wilfred Owen;
He spent 30 years reflecting on the war through his memoirs; and last he
found peace in his religious faith.
Wilfred Owen was tutoring in France when the war broke out. The reality of
the horrors was brought home to him when he visited a hospital for the
wounded; in September, 1915, he returned to England and enlisted in the
Artists’ Rifles.
In January, 1917, he was posted to France and saw his first action, during
which he and his men were forced to hold a flooded dug-out in no-man’s land
for 50 hours whilst under heavy bombardment. In march he was injured
(concussion) but returned to the front-line in April. In may he was caught in a
shell explosion and , when his battalion was eventually relieved, he was
diagnosed as having shell-shock, and was sent to Craiglockhart Was Hospital
near Edinburgh.
Here he met Siegfried Sassoon who had been sent there to avoid a courtmartial (declaration against the war). Sassoon already had a reputation as a
poet and agreed to look at Owen’s poems; Owen had been writing poems
since he was 11. Sassoon was impressed.
The in Craiglockhart, and the early part or 1918, was in many ways his most
creative, and he wrote many of his poems for which he is remembered to
day. Sassoon was strongly influential on him, encouraging Owen to develop a
more concrete and realistic style that his conventional, imitative, romantic
style, influenced by Keats.
In August 1918 Owen returned to France. He was awarded the Military Cross
for bravery at Amiens, but was killed on November 4 whilst attempting to
lead his men across the Sambre Canal. He was 25 years old.
Owen was as much angered and appalled by the war as was Sassoon, be he
expressed it differently. Whereas Sassoon declared himself a conscientious
objector, in the hope that a decorated hero’s protest would have some
impact, Owen felt he could not express the feelings and thoughts of the
ordinary soldier in his poetry unless he went back to war to share their
In October, 1918, he wrote to his mother,
“I came out in order to help these boys- directly by leading them as well as
an officer can; indirectly, by watching their sufferings that I may speak of
them as well as a pleader can. I have done the first.”
In 1918, Owen drafted a preface for a collection of war poems that he hoped
to publish in 1919:
This book is not about heroes. 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.
Yet these elegies are to this generation in no sense consolatory. They may
be to the next. All a poet can do today is warn. This is why the true poets
must be truthful.
If anger is the word that best sums up Sassoon’s poetry, pity is the most often
applied to Owen’s. His work is more lyrical, often gentler- though he can be
equally as blunt, angry and satirical and generally more subtle than
Sassoon’s. He is considered the greater poet of the two, and the greatest of
the war poets. All his war poems were written between August 1917 and
September 1918. only 5 were published before his death.
The task of all poets can be said to be imposing order onto experience and
rendering it beautiful; war is a particularly ugly and disordered experience,
and requires an unusually highly developed control of language for this task
to be achieved. As Dominic Hibberd wrote, “Owen needed a style which
would express the pity of war without substituting disgust for grief, a
language which would make it possible to remember the dead at the going
down of the sun without concealing the fact that they had been slaughtered
‘like cattle’.” it is his great achievement that he succeeded in doing just this.
How old was Owen when the war broke out?
Describe briefly what happened to Owen at the Battle of Somme.
Why was he sent to Craiglockhart?
What memories did Owen write about in his poetry?
What was recreated in his poetry?
What was the main theme in Anthem for Doomed Youth?
What was Disabled a poem about?
Why is Owen the most famous War poet?
What does the first line describe?
One soldier fails to put on what?
What does the speaker see?
What are some concrete descriptions?
Short sharp words? What effect does this have?
What effect do the words fumbling, guttering, choking, drowning…
writhing have?
Poem begins with striking simile, “Bent double, like old beggars under sacks”. Pants a very
powerful picture of the discomfort and lack of dignity experienced by the soldiers.
“Knock-kneed, coughing like hags”, the troops march away from their enemies towards the
hope of a rest.
“All went lame; all blind”, what does this emphasise?
war spares no one.
“Drunk with fatigue”, what is the effect?
powerful/striking imagery of the soldiers struggling to march along.
Stanza two continues vivid imagery, describing the shocking gas attack from which one
soldier does not escape.
The narrator imparts the experience with a tone of horror, reliving the experience as he
retells it.
“In all my dreams, before my helpless sight/ He plunges at me, guttering, choking,
drowning”. What is the effect of the triple description?
The triple description of the soldiers plight, reinforces how haunted the narrator is, it is difficult
for him to find the words to describe it.
“An ecstasy of fumbling”, what device is used by Owen here? What is it’s effect?
the sense of panic felt at the moment the gas shells were dropped is made clear through
the use of juxtaposition.
“Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time… And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.”
What is the effect of using the words clumsy and flound’ring?
The figurative language of stanza two refers to the indignity of combat, The use of such
words as flound’ring and clumsy communicates a feeling of disorder.
“As under a green sea, I saw him drowning”, how is the speaker seeing the event?
The event is viewed by the speaker through the dim glass of a mask and thick cloud of
gas. Also could refer to a lack of understanding, he is observing the main through the
safety of his mask and feels indifferent.
What is significant about the third stanza?
The speaker directly addresses the audience in the third stanza, creating a more personal
connection and making the imagery even more striking.
What do you notice about the word choice in the third stanza?
His word choice becomes more basic, indicating the height of his emotions, “If you could
hear, at every jolt, the blood come gargling from the froth corrupted lungs.”
“Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud of vile, incurable sores on innocent
tongues.” particularly graphic description emphasises the idea of death
in war as being nothing short of gruesome.
“His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin”, what does this imply about
implies a sort of horror at the transformation from life to death.
The poem ends with the assertion that “Dulce et decorum est pro patria
mori” is a lie. To take the stance that death for your country is ghastly
and unbecoming is a bold move, as it could easily come across as being
unpatriotic. However Owen is not criticising his country, but the concept
of war and what it does to those who are innocent.
There is not a clearly defined structure to the poem, although Owen does
make use of rhyme, mostly on alternate line endings.
The poem opens with a description of trench life and the conditions
faced by the soldiers. Then comes the gas attack, and the poem offers a
graphic description of the effects of such an attack.
The opening stanza is characterised by language about 'fatigue': the
soldiers 'marched asleep', they 'trudge', and 'limped on'. They are 'deaf',
'lame' and 'blind'; all rather pitiful language intended to reveal the reality
of war and its effects.
The speaker describes a vision in a dream of a gas victim 'guttering,
choking, drowning'. The listed verbs are associated with a lack of air and
The language used in the sections depicting the gas attack is strong,
representing both the anguish of the victims of the gas attack as well as
the effect on those haunted by what they have seen: 'watch the white
eyes writhing in his face, / His hanging face'. The repetition of the word
'face' makes it clear which element disturbs the speaker most: the
transformation in the face of the victim. The use of alliteration on the 'w'
sound reflects the agonised twisting of the gas victim.
War transforms soldiers, breaking them physically and mentally: 'Bent double'
'Knock-kneed'. Rather than glorious men, Owen presents the soldiers as
weakened old 'hags'.
The experience of war is something no soldier can escape: 'In all my dreams,
before my helpless sight, / He plunges at me'.
The effect of gas used in World War One is communicated to the reader through
Owen's use of verbs linked to death by a lack of oxygen: 'guttering, choking,
drowning', 'smothering'.
Owen offers the reader very graphic imagery associated with suffering, aiming to
present the truth about the war experience, arguably arising from his first-hand
experience of war.
Owen presents the soldiers as victims who have been betrayed by those who
encouraged them to go to war. He uses words such as 'innocent' and 'children' to
reinforce his positive attitude to the soldiers.
Owen is bitter about war and the encouragement given to go to war. He angrily
refers to 'The old Lie' that dying for your country is sweet and honourable.
The detailed description of a soldier dying as a result of gas attack is intended to
make the reader feel discomfort, forcing him or her to confront the reality of war,
something which is far from honourable or sweet.
Analyse how language features made at least two of an author’s
descriptions more vivid for you.
Note: “Descriptions” could include descriptions of people, places, ideas:
“Vivid” could mean easy to imagine, lifelike, powerful etc.
 Hints
Start your paragraphs with a Magic Sentence.
2. Try and integrate your quotes into your sentences.
Evaluate the techniques you discuss.
4. Relate the ideas you discuss beyond the text.
S= topic sentence/statement
E=evidence to support your statement
E=explanation of your statement
D= develop your paragraph by evaluating the effectiveness of the technique
you discussed, relate your paragraph to today/ your life etc. (Evaluation and
Read poem and annotate any language devices, imagery or anything that
stands out to you.
What is this poem about?
compares the traditional funeral rites - bells, choirs, prayers, candles - with
what the soldiers get = the noise of the guns and the grief of the girls back
List all the devices
Simile: those who die as cattle.
Personification: monstrous anger from the guns. Metaphor:
each slow dusk a drawing down of blinds.
sad shires.
personification & onomatopoeia: stuttering rifles' rapid rattle/ can patter.
personification, onomatopoeia & alliteration: shrill demented choirs of
wailing shells
contrast between the peaceful funeral rites and the harshness of death on
the Front
verse 1: shrill, harsh
verse 2: melancholy, sorrowful
Bitter anger expressed, especially through harsh diction : monstrous, rattle,
mockeries, shrill, demented
compassion and sorrow; the same contrast but gentler, but without the
softens in the last line, with softer consonants and longer vowels: And each
slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds – a quiet, moving conclusion.
laments the death of so many who die unnecessarily in violence and terror –
the waste of youth and life.
Even when men die honourably for their country, their bodies cannot be
brought home for burial but are left like slaughtered cattle; there is no
ceremony: those at home suffer silently.
Expresses grief and sorrow that those who die will never have a long life
(boys), nor a proper send-off.
The essential paradox of the poem is that while it dismisses formal
ceremonies as 'mockeries', it yet is itself a ceremony, a requiem.
What is an anthem? Why did Owen give this poem this title?
a song of praise. Is Owen's use ironic or sincere? Maybe both - a good
discussion point.
What is the main image that runs through this poem? What are
'passing-bells', 'orisons', 'palls'? Why the reference to 'drawing down
of blinds'?
that of the funeral. 'Orisons' are prayers; 'passing-bells' were rung when a
funeral passed; a 'pall' is the cloth put over a dead body; blinds drawn in the
day are a sign that there has been a death in the house
How is the image developed?
Contrasts between funeral rites in peacetime and the ugliness of death at
the front. Prayers / sound of guns, rifles; prayers, bells, mourning voices /
shells, bugles (= calling them to the army from their homes)
substitutes for mourning rites - candles = eyes of other soldiers; pale faces
of girls = pall; flowers = minds; blind = sun going down. [The images are
those of a house in mourning: the body would lie in the front room, covered
by a pall, with flowers and candles, and the blind drawn.]
Underline or highlight all the words that express sounds. How do they
reinforce the meaning?
stuttering, rattle, patter, voice of mourning, choirs, shrill, wailing, bugles
calling – they are ugly, angry sounds
Use a different colour to identify all the words that have something to do
with light.
candles, shine, glimmers, dusk, blinds
What is the effect of the simile, “who die as cattle”?
Dehumanisation, cattle led to slaughter, men had been sent to war to die,
doomed to die as dumb beasts.
What is the effect of the personification of shells, guns and war?
Brings war to live, makes it more threatening and relevant to the readers.
What is the effect of “the stuttering anger of the gun”?
Enhances the threat of the guns, they are angry, which is consistent with the
mood or tone of the poem. Anger at the rapid death and horror of the war.
Stuttering also onomatopoeia, we can hear the guns spraying bullets and
killing the innocent men.
‘bugles calling from sad shires’, explain.
In England at that time, areas of land and county’s were labelled shires.
Owen is implying through this personification that there has been a
catastrophic conglomeration of individual loss that even the land is said sad,
and calling out for those that will never return.
Discuss how Owen develops a theme in Anthem for a doomed youth.
Start your paragraph with a Magic Sentence.
Try and integrate your quotes into your sentences.
Evaluate the techniques you discuss.
Relate the ideas you discuss beyond the text.
S= topic sentence/statement
E=evidence to support your statement
E=explanation of your statement
D= develop your paragraph by evaluating the effectiveness of the technique
you discussed, relate your paragraph to today/ your life etc. (Evaluation and
If you want to challenge yourself try and write two or three paragraphs.
Give your partner feedback on the following criteria.
Has the paragraph got a clear structure?
Is the quote woven in/ integrated?
Have they commented on the effectiveness of the language techniques
Have they commented on the Poets intentions?
Does their analysis go beyond the text?
# Help them improve their writing by suggesting how they could improve
on any of the above criteria.
Before 1916, conventional, imitative, romantic, influenced by Keats.
Influenced by Sassoon to a more concrete style: Romanticism became
realism, abstraction became actuality.
Committed to telling the truth; less political, he was more concerned with
expressing the misery and agony of the soldiers who could not speak for
themselves. He opposed the war but felt obliged to be part of it. He was an
efficient officer who was awarded for bravery.
He came to see the war as absolutely evil in its agonies and senseless waste.
On the other hand, only as a combatant could he conscientiously and
effectively speak for the men who were suffering.
Focused on the particulars of war and men involved: dirt, muddle, boredom
and terror of the trench warfare.
Accurate accounts of gas causalities, madness and the wounded; recreated
the atmosphere of this particularly futile and unpleasant war.
Not patriotic, there is no sense of the poems being about one side or the
War’s horrors and the dignity of men- war became a metaphor for
precariousness of all human effort.
Compassion for the doomed soldiers, anger at those responsible.
Deeply felt sense of the appalling wastefulness of war, both causalities and
the human spirit.
Political: attacks leaders,
civilians etc.
Anger, bitterness.
Satirical: ironic and robust satire
Sharp and forceful.
Colloquial, everyday language.
Blunt and unsubtle.
less political: concentrates more
on compassionate studies of
fighting men.
Sharp sadness, melancholy.
Sympathetic: compassion,
Unmatched compassion for whole
doomed generation.
Uses biblical and religious images
occasionally as points of
departure: human behaviour
rejecting traditional wisdom.
Atmosphere of futility, waste and
 To record realistic horrors of war; to have it stopped.
 Anger at war’s brutality.
 Compassionate studies of the circumstances of fighting men.
 Exposure of hypocrisy.
 Realistic, brutal, unheroic- harsh retelling of actual experiences.
 Both can be sharp, forceful, satiric.
 Use colloquial speech.
 Vivid, concrete descriptions.
# Owen was influenced by Sassoon into this more direct use of language.

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