Trench Poetry

Trench Poetry
World War I
► The
ultimate shock of modernity
► “the ultimate rite of passage: a definitive
coming to manhood for the industrial age,
in which boys became men by confronting
mechanical horror and discovering their
essential masculinity, perhaps even their
essential humanity, in a realm from which
feminine presence is banished” (Campbell
Rupert Brooke
► The
► The Soldier
War discourse
► Patriotism/nationalism
► Honor
► Nobility
of spirit
► Selflessness
► Glory
► Holiness
Work in groups of four
Share the poems you have chosen and explain why you
chose this particular poem.
Discuss the following questions (in as much as they are
applicable to your poems) and write your answers on a
piece of paper:
Where is the poet? Who is he? What defines him?
What are the most striking images in the poems? Why?
How is nature portrayed?
How is the Home Front (civilian life) portrayed?
What might the purpose of the poem be?
How does it compare with Rupert Brooke’s poems?
Choose one poem to present to the class. You’ll need to
explain why you chose it.
The poems
trench setting (dominant icon of WWI)
formally conservative, realistic text
portrays heretofore unknown gruesome details
rather that “beauty is truth” (Keats), “horror is truth”
participant’s point of view, emphasis on personal experience
details of the physical and psychological effects
presented as an unmediated truth
soldier as passive sufferer
some use of Crucifixion/Christ imagery
inversion of pastoral imagery (nature)
accusation of those at home (especially women)
separation between those who have experienced this war and those
who have not
Purpose of shocking those at home and educating them
► Sasoon’s
declaration against the war
‘Shell-Shock’ (post-traumatic stress)
“The extent of war neurosis among combatants in the 1st WW
is a direct result of a tension between the offensive
personality which the Western European military
commands attempted to instill in their troops and the
defensive personality required to survive the reality of
trench warfare. The dominance of long-ranged artillery, the
machine gun and barbed wire had immobilized combat,
and immediately necessitated a passive stance of the
soldier before the forces of mechanized slaughter […]
When all signs of physical fear were judged as weaknesses
and where alternatives to combat – pacifism, conscientious
objection, desertion, even suicide – were viewed as
unmanly, men were silenced and immobilized and forced,
like women, to express their conflicts through the body”
(Showalter, 171).
► “Reality
had changed in fundamental ways
that called into question the assumptions on
which art, and civilization itself, had been
based” (Hynes 11).
► Take
a look at a really great website
Works Cited
► Campbell,
James. “Combat Gnosticism: The
Ideology of First World War Poetry Criticism.” New
Literary History 30.1 (1999): 203-215.
► Hynes, Samuel. A War Imagined: The First World
War and English Culture. London: The Bodley
Head, 1990.
► Showalter, Elaine. The Female Malady. Women,
Madness, and English Culture, 1830-1980. New
York & London: Penguin, 1985.

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