Power and Conflict Poetry: Context

The Charge of the Light Brigade - Tennyson (1854)

  • The Crimean War took place between 1853 - 1856 
  • Imperial Russia vs and alliance between Britain and France
  • Tells the story of a famous charge during the Battle of Balaclava
  • Confusion in orders relayed to the brigade led to lightly amoured cavalry on horseback unit charging towards huge guns
  • Brigade consisted of 600 soldiers who rode on horseback into the "Valley of Death" for half a league
  • Not a single soldier discouraged or distressed by command to charge forward even though they realised the commander had made a huge mistake
  • The poem is the writers reaction to the story when it was reported in the newspapers of that day
  • Victorian poet Tennyson expresses feelings that were similar to the peoples reaction during the First World War
  • Celebrating the bravery of the soldiers while being critical of the higher ranking officers who gave the orders
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Exposure - Wilfred Owen (1918)

  • Poem focuses on the misery felt by WW1 (1914-1918) soldiers waiting over night in trenches
  • Nothing is happening and no fighting but still danger of being exposed to extreme cold and their wait through the night is terrifying
  • An English poet
  • Work was characterised by his anger at the cruelty and waste of war which he experienced during service on the Western front
  • November 4th 1918 he was killed while trying to lead his men accross the Sambre canal at Ors
  • Exposure gives view of the front line based on Owens own experiences in the winter of 1917
  • About passive suffering: "nothing happens"
  • Owen once declared of all his writing that: "My theme is war and the pity of war"
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Storm on the Island - Heaney (1966)

  • Born in Northern Ireland in 1939
  • Eldest child to become a family of 9
  • Father farmed 50 acres in rural County Derry and was a cattle dealer
  • Much of Heaneys poetry is centred on the country side and farm life that he knew as a boy
  • Poem describes the experience of being in a cliff top cottage on an island off the coast of Ireland during a storm
  • Describes the bare ground, the sea and the wind
  • people in cottage are extremely isolated and can do nothing against the powerful + violent weather
  • Connects to Romantic ideas of nature being something mankind cannot tame
  • Storm on the Island contains metaphor for the politacal storm across Northern Ireland in the 2nd half of the 20th century
  • The storm pummelling the islna dcould be a metaphore for the violence in Northern Ireland
  • Blast = terrorist bombings
  • Island = Ireland - sound phonetically similar
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Bayonet Charge - Ted Hughes (1957)

  • Unusual for a Ted Hughes poem - focuses on a nameless soldier in WW1 (1914-18)
  • Describes experience of "going over the top"
  • This is when soldiers in Threnches ordered to "fix bayonets" and climb out of the trenches to charge the enemy position 20-30 metres away - aim was to capture the enemy trench
  • Poem descibes how this proccess transforms a soldier from a living thinking hiuman to a dangerous weapon of war
  • Hughes did not fight in the war but fascinated by his fathers stories and used imagination from stories, photos and video footage
  • In poem soldier doesnt feel as if he made a choice to actively participate in the war
  • he is a hand on a clock, clog in the machine expoited by much larger and more powerful forces
  • For those dirctly involves in the fighting, ideals such as honour were irrelivent and must be abandoned to suvive
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This is my saviour

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