War Poetry; Poem-By-Poem Analysis

A poem-by-poem analysis of each poem in the 101 Poems Against War anthology. Also includes social historical context of each poem (where applicable), background on the author and a list of poetry terms.

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ENGLISH REVISION
SEAMUS HEANEY; SOPHOCLEAN
First he was shivering on the shore in skins ­ MAN AT THE MERCY OF NATURE
Or hunkering behind shell-middens in a cave. ­CONJURES NEOLITHIC TIMES,
CAVEMEN- THE BEGINNING OF MANKIND
Then he took up oars, put tackle on a mast, -SLOW STEPS TO PROGRESS
And steered himself by the stars through gales. ­REMINISCENT OF GREEK/ROMAN
MYTHOLOGY- `BY THE STARS'- BEAUTY TO BE FOUND IN NATURE, COMPROMISE, BUT
MAN STILL THE HERO
Once upon a time ­TALES, MYTHS IMAGERY from the womb of earth-IDEA OF EARTH
AS MOTHER, WE ARE AT HER MERCY
The gods were born and he bowed down
To worship them. ­MAN'S ORIGINAL RELIANCE ON RELIGION Then he walked tall
From temple to agora ­ASSEMBLY PLACE IN ANCIENT GREEK CITIES, talking against
himself.-MENTAL STRENGTH DEVELOPS, ARGUMENTS, DEMOCRACY AND DEBATE,
THOUGHT AND PHILOSOPHY
The wind is no more swift or mysterious ­NOW SOME EQUALITY WITH NATURE
Than his mind and words; he has mastered thinking,-CONTRAST WITH THE FIRST
STANZA, HOW MAN HAS PROGRESSED AS CIVILISATION DEVELOPS
Roofed his house against hail and rain, -CAN NOW PROTECT HIMSELF, INDIVIDUALLY
TO THE ELEMENTS
And worked out laws for living together. ­PROGRESS- DEMOCRACY, JUSTICE, HIGHER
VALUES ESTABLISHED. THE GOOD MAN IS CAPABLE OF IS EVIDENCED HERE.
Homemaker, thought-taker, measure of all things, -`INVINCIBILITY' OF MAN- ALL
THINGS IMPLIES HIS MASTERY OVER ALL NATURE AND OTHER LIVING CREATURES
He survives every danger except death ­MAN BELIEVES HIMSELF SUPREME AND
DOMINANT- GREEK HERO IDEA
And will yield to nothing else. Nothing ­REPETITION OF NOTHING REINFORCES THE
NOTION THAT MAN BELIEVES HIMSELF UNDEFEATABLE
Else, good or evil, is beyond him.
When truth is the treadle of his loom
And justice the shuttle, all due honor
Will come his way. ­MAN IS CAPABLE OF GREATNESS But let him once
Overbear or overstep ­MAN'S CHOICE WHETHER TO LIVE IN HARMONY WITH
NATURE AND OBEY THE LAWS OF THE LAND OR TO TRY AND CONQUER AND
DESTROY-THIRST FOR POWER
What the city allows, treat law
As something he can decide for himself - -WHEN MAN BECOMES ARROGANT,
SUPREMACY

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Then let this marvel of the world remember: -SOMEWHAT IRONIC `MARVEL OF THE
WORLD' ­ THINKS HE IS IN TOTAL CONTROL, THE PERFECT CREATION- NOT THE
CASE. CAN BE SEEN IN CHANNEL FIRING.
When he comes begging we will turn our backs. ­MAN CANNOT DEFEAT DEATH AND
IS NOT FULLY SUPERIOR AS HE WISHES TO BELIEVE. THE WORLD WILL NOT ALLOW
FOR ARROGANCE- WHEN MAN ABANDONS DEMOCRACY AND JUSTICE.…read more

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SIEGFRIED SASSOON; THE GENERAL
"Good-morning; good-morning!" the General said ­BREEZY, WELL SPOKEN, SEEMINGLY
UNARING. `THE GENERAL' IDENTIFIES HIS RANK AND THE FACT THAT HE IS LIKELY
ARISTOCRATIC. ALSO DEPERSONALISES HIM- DOESN'T USE HIS NAME- APPLIES TO ALL
GENERALS IN THE ARMY.
When we met him last week on our way to the line. ­GIVES CONTEXT AND EVIDENCES
THAT THE POEM IS FROM A SOLDIER'S VIEWPOINT.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of 'em dead, -COLLOQUIAL AND CONVERSATIONAL-
PERSONALISES THE POEM.…read more

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July 1916 he was awarded the Military Cross. Despite his decoration and reputation, he
decided in 1917 to make a stand against the conduct of the war. One of the reasons for his
violent anti-war feeling was the death of his friend, David.
At the end of a spell of convalescent leave, Sassoon declined to return to duty; instead, he
sent a letter to his commanding officer, titled Finished with the War: A Soldier's
Declaration.…read more

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BEFORE HE ARRIVED AT THE FRONT). NAMELESS- COULD APPLY TO ANY WW1
SOLDIER.
In winter trenches, cowed and glum, -TONE CHANGES DRAMATICALLY, CONTRAST TO
HIS PREVIOUS `GRIN' AND `EMPTY JOY'. WINTER/SPRING- DARKENS THE TONE.
With crumps and lice and lack of rum, -CRUMPS COULD REFER TO THE SOUND OF
SHELLS FALLING ON SOFT EARTH. `CRUMP' ALSO MEANS `HUNCHBACK' IN OLD
ENGLISH- COULD REFER TO THE STOOPED STANCE OF THE SOLDIERS AS SEEN IN
DULCE ET DECORUM EST.…read more

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A queer sardonic rat ­ IRONICALLY EXCHANGES HUMAN/ANIMAL ROLES AND
PERSONIFIES THE RAT. `SARDONIC' -VIEWING BATTLE DISDAINFULLY. AMUSEMENT ON
THE PART OF THE SPEAKER IS EVIDENT. WHIMSICAL DESCRIPTION.
As I pull the parapet's poppy ­PERHAPS THE SPEAKER IS A LOOKOUT- ON THE PARAPET
AT DAWN. POPPIES- COMMON WARTIME IMAGERY. PLOSIVES PERHAPS MIMIC GUNFIRE-
MAKE AN OTHERWISE PASTORAL IMAGE VIOLENT. POPPIES GENERALLY ASSOCIATED
WITH BLOODSHED.
To stick behind my ear.…read more

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QUESTION OF WHETHER THE SPEAKER KNOWS THIS/SEES IT AS INEVITABLE. ALSO
EVIDENCES THE SPEAKER'S RESIGNATION YET HOPE.
THE POET AND TIME PERIOD
Isaac Rosenberg was born to a Jewish family of Russian descent in the poor East End of
London in 1890. Rosenberg was an artist and poet who attended art school following
leaving Jewish secondary school at the age of 14 to become an apprentice engraver.…read more

Page 8

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Were they inclined to quiet laughter? ­REFINED PEOPLE, CULTURED, QUIET- AGAIN
OPPOSES AMERICAN CULTURE
4. Did they use bone and ivory,
jade and silver, for ornament?
5. Had they an epic poem? ­REMINISCENT OF OLD CULTURES, GREEK MYTHS ETC-
PATRONISING
6. Did they distinguish between speech and singing? ­AGAIN SLIGHTLY CONDESCENDING-
MANY ASSUMPTIONS MADE ABOUT CULTURE.
THIS FIRST SECTION IS COLD, CLINICAL, QUESTIONING, VAGUELY JOURNALISTIC,
REMINISCENT OF WAR JOURNALISM THAT EXPRESSED NO EMOTION OR PITY.…read more

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It was reported their singing resembled
the flight of moths in moonlight. ­DELICATE IMAGERY.
Who can say? It is silent now. ­FINAL QUESTION EMPHASISES THAT WE WILL NEVER
KNOW THE TRUE ANSWER TO ANY OF THE QUESTIONS. POIGNANT FINAL SENTENCE
REITERATES THE IDEA OF LOSS.
THE POET AND TIME PERIOD
Levertov was born in England to a Welsh mother and a Hassidic Jew father who had
emigrated to the country to become an Anglican priest.…read more

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NLF, suffered 1.1 million dead and 600,000 wounded during Hanoi's conflict
with the United States. Civilian deaths were put at two million in the North and South.
THE POEM ITSELF
The short sentences of the poem create dramatic impact. The poem has a `question and
answer' structure- could be a journalist, an officer in the army, an ordinary American
civilian asking the questions- perhaps this ambiguity references how little anyone knew of
the Vietnamese people before they abruptly ended the peaceful agricultural lifestyle
they celebrated.…read more

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