English Literature Poems

  • Created by: Niamh
  • Created on: 31-03-15 11:44

Peace - Rupert Brooke

THE POET: Rupert Brooke was a young and handsome man from a highly privileged background who wrote a number of idealized and extremely popular sonnets about war. 

ABOUT: This sonnet celebrates what Brooke feels is his generation’s great fortune to be born to fight in the First World War. He argues that it is a joy to be young and fit and able to fight for good in a world full of corrupt, cowardly men. He declares that the war has given the young a sense of freedom, and that to die in battle is a blessing to the proud and patriotic. Brooke’s message is that war in the world has brought inner peace to the combatants, who now know their duty and purpose in life.

ANALYSIS: The paradoxical image of 'as swimmers into cleanness leaping…' compares going to war as an act that cleanses the participants (like a baptism), like a dip in a pool or river. The metaphor of swimmers 'leaping' suggests playfulness— war is a pleasure as well as a rite of passage.

'Now, God be thanked Who has matched us with His hour…wakened us from sleeping': God has 'matched' the soldiers/young men of England, physically, mentally and skillfully to be able to go to war on God's behalf.

1 of 12

The Dead - Rupert Brooke

ABOUT: Brooke's sonnet is a tribute to those British soldiers who died serving their country in the First World War. Brooke declares that the dead men have made the deepest sacrifice possible; but in return they have ennobled themselves and brought honour back to Britain.

ANALYSIS: 'Blow out, you bugles': the assonance, here, that runs throughout the poem– perhaps here reminiscent of the bugles themselves. 

'rich Dead!': the highly valued dead are repeatedly referred to through metaphors of earned wealth. The opening line is a passionate call to memorialize the dead soldiers.

'None of these so lonely and poor… made us rarer gifts than gold': Even the poorest man has, by dying for his country, given a gift more precious than gold.

'poured out the red / Sweet wine of youth': in death, youth is used up, like wine decanted from a glass. Enjambment is employed here and could symbolise the continuous pouring of blood - death. Link with Religion? At Church the congregation drink wine as a symbol of Jesus' blood. He sacrificed his life for the sins of his people. Are the sacrifices on the same scale?

LINKS: In Flanders Fields, In Memoriam and Anthem for Doomed Youth. Remembrance poems.

2 of 12

In Flanders Fields

ABOUT: This is a poem of remembrance, a call for those living not to forget the dead who are buried in a foreign land. It demands that the living remember why the fallen died, so that they did not die in vain. This is one of the most famous poems of the First World War.

ANALYSIS: The juxaposition of the poppies and the crosses mixes new life alongside death, emphasising that life continues to flourish despite the war.

The poppy, with its fragile petals and thin stalk, symbolises the vulnerable young men who have died and those who are still fighting.

Poppies were also associated with sleep (opium being a poppy derivate) and McCrae, being a docto, would have been conscious of this: the idea of sleeping under the poppies is revived in the last lines. The line 'We shall not sleep, though poppies grow' reminds us of the sleep inducing power of the poppy.

'We are the Dead. Short days ago(...)': the use of caesura in the first line enacts a cut, successfully emphasising said theme. The phrase ‘short days ago’ is time diminishing. The use of an extensive list of past participles, including ‘lived’ and ‘loved’ aids in the emphasis of the vulnerability of life and how quickly it can diminish.

3 of 12

Grass - Carl Sandburg

ABOUT: This poem takes a peculiar perspective on the war, whereby the human perspective is decentred, placed to one side. Instead, the poem focuses on the grass rather than the men fighting in the war. It belittles man.

ANALYSIS: STRUCTURE: it is an example of free verse. Shorter lines seem to be ‘buried’ under the longer ones, as the bodies are under the grass.

‘Shovel them under’: a shovel deals with debris, muck or mud --> the lives of young men have been reduced to unwanted debris and must be cleaned up and hidden. Replaces the more humane term, ‘bury’.

‘Let me work’: personification turns the grass into a person who observes wars and cleans up after them. Nature, specifically grass, narrates the poem in first-person. Grass has some things in common with human beings: it lives and dies in abundance.

‘Two years, ten years’: implied metaphor equates grass with time, which erases memories of war.

‘Where are we now?’: humans pay so little attention to their tragic errors of the past that they do not even recognise a battlefield site when they see it --> people forget the fallen heroes after several years pass. Grass repairs battlefield scars.

LINKS: Nature has a similar purpose in Futility by Owen. Contrast to the role of nature within Exposure by Owen.

4 of 12

Exposure - Owen

ABOUT: the poem explores the fact that, rather than conventional weaponry, the real cause of thei men's suffering is that they are lying in the open under freezing conditions. Owen depicts the fate of soldiers who perished from hypothermia, ‘exposed’ to the horrific conditions before dawn. 

ANALYSIS: 'The merciless iced east winds that knife us': the sibilant ‘s’s combined with hard consonants ‘d’ and ‘t’ create a cutting, bitter edge to the elements which ‘knife’ the men, leaving us in no doubt about the pain they intentionally inflict.

Through the use of the first person narrative, Owen, who suffered in the war first hand, presents us with an image of communal endurance and courage. Collective pronouns highlight that he is one with his men: ‘our brains ache’, ‘we keep awake’, ‘we cringe in holes’.

In the penultimate stanza, Owen links positive words by an expansive long ‘I’ sound in ‘kind fires’, ‘smile’ and ‘child’. This men acknowledge the fact that their death is inevitable; they embrace it, ‘For love of God seems dying.’ This statement could be interpreted in two ways: either their love of God is dying, or God’s love of them is dying.

In the third stanza, Owen writes of ‘Dawn massing in the east her melancholy army’. By personifying ‘dawn', or nature as a woman, Owen is highlighting the fact that 'mother nature' has turned against them, and that the maternal, compassionate image of a woman has been subverted. In much fiction, the coming of dawn is a motif for the arrival of hope. Here however, it only brings another day of ‘poignant misery’.

5 of 12

Into Battle - Julian Grenfell

ABOUT:  Grenfell’s soldier in this poem follows the classical ideal of the soldier, who looks to gain glory through battle. The poem describes the inspiration that a soldier can take from nature in the quiet contemplative moments before battle.

ANALYSIS: The poem does not look upon death as a terrible loss nor at war as a useless waste of life and resources. This is all very clear from the tone and the figurative language that is used in the poem. 

Five stanzas are dedicated to claiming that the fighting man is directly and consciously supported by nature. This is done either in a life-sustaining manner, ‘The fighting man shall from the sun take warmth, and life from the glowing earth’, or in a direct practical manner, ‘woodland trees … guide to valley and ridge’s end.’ 

“But Day shall clasp him… Night…”: the poem ends on a note of reassuring restfulness, the ecstacy of battle done.

LINKS: the anthology moves from poems by those with a lack of knowledge of the front line - Grenfell actually went to war. However, he still indulges in some of the Classical idealizations of the warrior that Brooke, Asquith and others also dealt in.

6 of 12

They – Siegfried Sassoon

ABOUT: This poem satirically contrasts the moral improvement to British soldiers promised by a Bishop with the physical damage and moral degradation that they actually experience.

ANALYSIS: The second stanza subverts the message of the first. ‘They’ has a clever rhythmical structure, intended to create a particular tone to the poem. Sassoon subtly subverts the Bishop’s strident sermon in the first stanza by his use of colons and semi-colons as caesuras or pauses in the middle of each line. These give the first stanza a deliberately halting rhythm that, along with the rhetorical confidence of the Bishop’s sermon, gives his speech a subtle staginess that suggests an insincere performance. 

“Their comrades blood has bought…”: the soldiers are explicitly compared to Christ, who ‘bought’ man eternal life by dying for their sins.

“New right to breed an honourable race,”: the Bishop uses pseudo-scientific language, popular around the turn of the century. In Social Darwinist terms, the ‘right to breed’ is claimed through the sacrifice of soldiers. This line can be compared with those found in Rupert Brooke’s ‘Peace’ and ‘The Dead’.

“For George lost both his legs…”: A grim litany of injuries follows, spelling out the true consequences of war for “the boys”. Note that the soldiers are named, rather than idealized and anonymous in the Bishop’s sermon.

7 of 12

Ballad of the Three Spectres - Ivor Gurney

ABOUT: This poem tells the story of a soldier who one night meets three ghosts  while on duty in the trenches. They each prophesy a different fate for the man, and the soldier is forced to contemplate how the war will end for him.

ANALYSIS: As I went up by Ovilliers / In mud and water cold to the knee” : the poem begins with a realistic scene in France. The realism of the scene ‘grounds’ the fantastical element, making it more believable.

“That walked abreast”: The spectres march three in a line- they are the ghosts of soldiers. This martial discipline adds to the strange drama of the encounter.

“He’ll stay untouched…then live one hour of agony”: this ghost predicts a soldier’s common and dreaded fear: that he will be forced to live through the hell of the war in its entirety, only to be killed in “agony” at its very end.

“he’ll come back on a fine stretcher, / Laughing for a nice Blighty”: the ghost suggests that the soldier will manage to get a ‘Blighty wound’— a minor wound that will nonetheless have him sent him home to Britain  for the rest of the war. He is insinuating that soldier is a clever coward.

LINKS: ‘When you see Millions of the Mouthless Dead’ by Charles Sorley or ‘Strange Meeting’ by Wilfred Owen.

8 of 12

The Volunteer - Herbert Asquith

ABOUT: this poem tells the story of an office worker who has died in battle on the front. Once he was a frustrated clerk living a boring life, living out his heroic fantasies through books. Dying for his country he finds true satisfaction, having lived out his heroic dreams. 

ANALYSIS: “Here lies a clerk”: the poem begins in the style of an epitaph for a clerk, or office worker.

“…no lance broken in life’s tournament…”: a picturesque metaphor for seeing action in war: medieval tournaments saw knights riding and fighting against one another for the approval of the king. A lance broken would mean defeat for the knight. The metaphor reflects the kind of romantic literature that the clerk obviously reads for amusement.

“twilight to the gleaming halls of dawn”: the half-lit spaces of the office are compared with the“gleaming halls” of the afterlife. The imagery of light and luxury expresses the contrast.

“Falling thus he wants no recompense”: dying in this pleasing way, he needs no other compensation for losing his life.

“Nor need he any hearse…Who goes to join the men of Agincourt”: No hearse (funeral car) is needed because the clerk lives on in name and glory. He is elevated to a place among the greatest historical heroes.

9 of 12

Glory of Women - Siegfried Sasson

ABOUT:  this poem accuses British women of gaining vicarious pleasure from the war, and glorying in the fighting of soldiers abroad.

ANALYSIS: STRUCTURE: ‘Glory of Women’ is a sonnet. The choice of a sonnet is again ironic— sonnets, of course, being traditionally associated with love. 

“You love us when we’re heroes…”: from the first, this poem has a confrontational,  accusatory tone, with the direct address of ‘you’ from a notional ‘us’; the voice of a male soldier. The idea of conditional love here— “when we’re heroes”— is the first sign of an accusation of hypocrisy leveled at women.

“You make us shells.”: women, Sassoon suggests, are complicit in the violence, because they are involved in the manufacture of weapons.

“O German mother dreaming by the fire…”: the sudden turn to the presentation of a German mother at home is surprising for the reader, after the focus on the insensitivities and moral complicity of British women in the war. In some ways she is presented more sympathetically than British women: her “dreaming”, because not elaborated on, doesn’t seem as immediately corrupt as that of British women.

LINKS: Elizabeth Daryush’s ‘Subalterns’ and May Wedderburn Cannan’s ‘Rouen’.

10 of 12

Dulce et Decorum Est - Owen

ABOUT: the poem describes a gas attack on a trench in World War One. The poem reveals to the reader the terrible consequences of a gas attack. It also presents the unglamorous reality of trench life. The Latin, a quote from Homer, used at the end of the poem means 'It is sweet and honourable to die for your country', a concept Owen is strongly denying.

ANALYSIS: The opening stanza is characterised by language about 'fatigue': the soldiers 'marched asleep', they 'trudge', and 'limped on'. 

'My friend, you would not tell with such high zest/To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie': he is rejecting the accepted attitude back at home that serving your country in war is glorious. He is critical of the 'high zest', or great enthusiasm, used to convince men to go to war. He sees war as brutal and wasteful of young lives. His choice of the word 'children' is also significant; impressionable young men are almost lured to war by the promise of 'desperate glory'. Owen is actually making a direct reference to a poet named Jessie Pope, who with her famous poem 'Who’s For The Game', ignorantly compared war to a sporting match.

11 of 12

Anthem for Doomed Youth - Owen

ABOUT: our speaker asks us what sort of notice or holy ritual marks the deaths of soldiers who are slaughtered in battle. 

ANALYSIS: 'Anthem for Doomed Youth' draws a sharp, satiric contrast between the peaceful sounds associated with the formal Anglo-Catholic burial rite and the 'monstrous' and 'demented' noises of modern warfare. The 'anger' of the guns is the only 'passing-bell' for these dead soldiers, the rapid fire of rifles the only 'orisons' (prayers), the wail of shells the only choir music. 

'The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;' the soldiers will not have a sheet/pall/flag placed over their coffin. They may never have a proper burial. They will not be transported home for their own funeral. The absent pall is metaphorically replaced with the grief of girls at home.

12 of 12


No comments have yet been made

Similar English Literature resources:

See all English Literature resources »See all Oxford Book of War Poetry resources »