War Poetry and Society Today

A Connection Between World War 1 and 2 War Poetry and Current Society

An undeniable dilemma man has faced throughout history is the problem with war. There is an on going battle between the natural man and what he faces in war. Does war come natural or should we resist? This is a theme that is faced in many literary works. Many notable poets and authors have addressed this issue. World War I and World War II produced a great number of writers on either side of the spectrum. Poets have expressed their sentiments for a war, and they have expressed their disagreements with a war. War poetry brought about a new era in subjects addressed that can relate to the twenty-first century man.

One of the most memorable war time poets is Henry Reed. In Reed's poem "Naming of the Parts" he uses a pun on the word "spring." He refers to the spring as a part of the gun, and also as the season of Spring. Reed writes, "...we call this/Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards/The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:/They call it easing the Spring (Reed 33)." Notice how Spring is capitalized when the soldier repeats what the drill instructor says. Spring is historically the season of rebirth and fertility. Reed uses the imagery of flowers and bees to illustrate the season of Spring. The same imagery he uses for Spring is also used for sex. The young man inside the class is thinking of the Spring flowers. Reed is trying to imply that sex is on the soldier's mind rather than fighting. One might find a "make love, not war" theme in this. Sex and love is a natural part of a young man's life. A young man sitting inside of a classroom learning how to fight should be with a woman instead. Reed's poem seems to have a neutral tone of war, but it seems that he does not think that a man's desires should be ignored.

Society today teaches how that men should better themselves while in their prime. A man should join the war effort during World War II. Now, a man should go to college while in his prime. These where and are the social taboos in Western culture. However, a man in his prime usually desires love and companionship, and not an education. It seems that Reed is trying to describe a theme that is reoccurring throughout history. Loving is what comes natural to a young man. Society's pull can be observed by the unchanging legal age limit of marriage in the United States. Marriage usually occurred in a person's teens during the Middle ages. The average age of marriage for a male is now 27 (Average Age). Men are now expected to put their emotions aside in order to contribute to this closely industry centered world. It is easy to see the same student in his poem today in many high school and college students today.

Almost every war or conflict in American history starts with a high rating. The current conflict in Iraq is no exception to that. World War I also started with a high approval in Britain. The poem "Volunteer" by the Prime Minister H.H. Asquith demonstrates the patriotism at the start of the War. Asquith writes, "And falling thus he wants no recompense,/Who found his battle in the last resort;/Nor needs he any hearse to bear him hence,/Who goes to join the men of Agincourt (Asquith 54)." Asquith uses a vocabulary that gives a sense of pride and duty. He seems to be expressing how a young man should enjoy the idea of fighting for his country. It also seems to imply that it is good to be able to die for one's nation.

Inversely, most conflicts end with a low approval rating. Toward the end of World War I a poet named Wilfred Owen wrote a shocking poem called "Dulce Et Decorum Est." The poem title comes from a the Latin phrase that translates to "It is sweet and honorable to die for the fatherland." The poem title gives the impression that this is a patriotic poem. The poem is actually an anti-war poem. Owen describes how hellish war can be. In The final line of his poem Owen writes, "The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori(Owen 54)." It is interesting to note that Owen entered the war as a volunteer.

The conflict in Iraq had a 70 percent approval rating at the start of the war. As I write, the conflict has a 30 percent approval rating(Bush's Approval). This demonstrates that the bloodier a war gets, like in Owen's poem, the more people disapprove of it. The start of the current conflict had a sensation of adventure to it. The brave men and women who serve were going to avenge innocent people. Now that thousands are dieing with no quick improvement there is much discontentment. War has seen this ever since the end of World War One and the start of the Korean Conflict. A war gets disapproval as it tarries.

War has always taken a mental toll on those who are affected by it. Soldiers never come back from battle the same. The advent of modern warfare brought about the excess of a condition known as shellshock. Many poems have been written about this. A poet named Ivor Gurney is a prime example of this. Gurney composed several poems while on the battle field. He was sent to a hospital in 1917 after being wounded and gassed. His mental state began to deteriorate there. In Spring 1918 he had a major breakdown, and in October, after a series of suicide letters, he was discharged from the army, suffering from "deferred shellshock." He was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia, and certified insane. He spent the last fifteen years of his life in a mental asylum. Gurney wrote much of his poems while in the asylum. Gurney also composed music, and would sometimes put lyrics to his compositions. He was so insane that he claimed to have written Shakespeare's plays at one point(Fry, Ivor Gurney). This is a good example of the strange effects that battle can have on a person.

There is no exception to shellshock today. There are currently plenty of soldiers returning from the Middle East who suffer from war trauma. There has always been a problem will the psychological impact of war on a soldier. A great increase in battlefield trauma occurred with the creation of the Spitzer bullet(Hawk, The Great). This, along with hand held explosives, made for a very bloody war. The soldiers who saw this kind of warfare were scarred for life. Warfare today is no different.

The Great World Wars of the first half of the Twentieth century were terrible occurrences. One of the very few good things that came out of them was the unique style of poetry. Many great poets of World War I and World War II explored deep and difficult ideas. It seems that the poets used their harsh experiences to explore their emotions. Poets such as Reed, Gurney, and Owen express their ideas about the effects of war on the human mind. It is interesting to observe how the feelings of soldiers 90 years ago are so similar to what soldiers feel today. It also seems that there is patriotism and anti-war ideas in any war. Poets wrote about how they loved the idea of war. Poets also wrote about how they hated the idea of war. It does not seem that any old ideas will go away in the future or any new ideas will come about in the future. Everything has been constant, and it will remain that way.

Work Cited

"Average Age of Marriage." Medindia.net. 34 Nov. 2008 .

"Bush's approval rating lowest on Iraq war anniversary." Www.chinadaily.com.cn. 20 Mar. 2008. China Daily. 24 Nov. 2008 http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/world/2008- 03/20/content_6553117.htm.

Fry, Michele. "Ivor Gurney." Counter-Attack. 1998. 24 Nov. 2008 .

Hawks, Chuck. "The Great Cartridge Families." Www.chuckhawks.com. 24 Nov.

2008 http://www.chuckhawks.com/great_cartridge_families.htm.

Marks, Alan. Peace and War : A Collection of Poems. Ed. Michael Harrison and Christopher Stuart-Clark. New York: Oxford UP, 1989. 33,+.