[Name of Student] [Name of Instructor] [Course] [Date] Poems about War: Common Themes Poetry about war has been written from almost as early as wars have been fought. Some poets have chosen to use the lyric medium to exhort soldiers and sing their praises; choosing to see the act of war as establishing ‘honor’…
Richard Lovelace’s ‘To Lucasta, Going to the Wars’ is addressed to a soldier’s sweetheart at the point of his leaving for war, who he tries to convince of the importance of going to war. The soldier first admits that the war may be compared to having another ‘mistress’, as he will now be chasing the ‘foe’ with more ardor and embracing his weapons and horse with a ‘stronger faith’ than he has chased or embraced his lover but then goes on to justify this comparison. The narrator then says that the only reason he is capable of loving her so much is because he loves honor more. This love of honor is proved by his taking to war so eagerly. In the poem, the act of love and act of war are compared and war is considered a nobler activity. The poem goes so far as to assert that not only is war a greater love, it is the only reason that men are capable of loving women – they are both quests to prove their honor. This view of bringing up the question of honor in war and placing it over other lesser concerns like romantic love appears in this poem of the 17th century. England, at the time, was known for valorizing bravery and war and espousing values of strong patriotic feeling among its citizens. This trend of thought is again reflected in English poetry in a poem like Alfred Tennyson’s ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’, which was written in 1854. Nearly two hundred years after the appearance of Richard Lovelace’s poem. Tennyson’s famous poem also speaks of the ‘noble six hundred’ who were part of the Light Brigade that fought for England against Russian troops in the Crimean War. Most of the poem is a fervent exhortation to the cavalry but there is already a note of recognizing the futility of war. As Tennyson writes: ‘Not tho' the soldier knew / Someone had blunder’d’; the soldiers are themselves unaware of why they are to fight the war that they are being sent to fight and this is a crucial idea that changes the perception of war from something seen as honorable and brave to something that is later conceived as foolish, wasteful and cruelly absurd. Wilfred Owen was among the first poets to most poignantly write about the horrors of war. His poem ‘Futility’ reveals a pained voice that is bewildered by the continuance of something as dreadful as the war. ‘Was it for this the clay grew tall?’ the speaker asks, as he describes the death of a young soldier from France. Already the style has changed from being one of fervent exhortation and pride to one of tragic loss and dismay. There is no encouragement to the troops or mention of ‘honor’ or even praises for the sacrifices made during the war. The poem instead humanizes the soldiers who are compelled to lose their lives in pointless wars that they have not been responsible for starting. Owen’s other poem ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ takes head on the older perceptions on war and debunks them. The title of his poem and the final line challenges Horace’s quote ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’, which roughly means that it is good to die for one’s country, and calls it an ‘old lie’. The language of this poem is harsh and unforgiving, describing the soldiers as ‘beggars’ and ‘hags’, who ‘all went lame, all blind’. The physical torture that the soldiers undergo at the front is described in all its horror, and there is no idealistic ‘ ...
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