Compare and Contrast Tennyson’s Charge Of The Light Brigade with Owen’s Dulce Et Decorum Est War and poetry have been linked for hundreds of years. The function of poetry in war is to aid the memory and convey details of war. Over the centuries it became a way in which people could communicate not only stories but also ideas and emotions in an imaginative and expressive way. One characteristic of the link between poetry and war has remained: Throughout the history of war, poems have provided a commentary on what people, communities and nations do.
The first of two poems that to be analysed is The Charge Of The Light Brigade written in 1854 by Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809 – 1892). Tennyson was a famous, well recognised writer. His father, George Clayton Tennyson was a rector and vicar so Tennyson was born into a religious family which could influence his poems. He was well educated and studies at Trinity College Cambridge. He wrote in blank verse and couldn’t follow conventional rhyme schemes as he was tone deaf. He attempted to write drama but had limited success. He was Poet Laureate from 1850 to 1892 and was made Baron in 1884.
He died aged 83 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. Tennyson did not fight in any wars so did not have the same knowledge of war when writing COTLB as the writer of the second poem, Wilfred Owen. COTLB was written during the Crimean War. The Crimean War was fought between 1854 and 1856 and involved Britain, France and Turkey against Russia. It was for control over a holy land. The fighting should have ended in summer 1854 but it was decided that the great Russian naval base at Sevastopol was a direct threat to the security of the region and in September 1854 the French and British landed their armies on the Crimean peninsula.
At the Battle of Balaklava the British suffered a great loss. The winter of 1854-55 brought great misery to the troops, particularly to the British as they were short of everything. Finally, in early 1856, Sevastopol fell and the war was brought to an end by the Peace of Paris. Newspaper reports at the time were very emotive and glorified the soldiers. The use of metaphors made the articles more entertaining than informing. The use of euphemistic language got the reader not to think of death and the horror of the war (“…noble fellow’s death cry…”).
COTLB is based on a part of the Crimean War where an allied commander failed to take account of the fact that he was on a hill and could see what was going on and his troops could not. His troops then marched straight into enemy lines. The enemy was armed with guns and artillery. However, only 673 allied soldiers were involved in that charge and only 157 of them were killed in it. The second of the poems to be looked at is Dulce Et Decorum Est written in 1917 by Wilfred Owen (1893 – 1918). Owen fought in World War I. He didn’t want to fight but believed it was his duty.
His experience of war was brief but eventful, experiencing some of the most horrific things. In May 1917 he was caught in a shell explosion and was diagnosed with shell shock. He was evacuated to England in June. It was during his spell in hospital that he met fellow war poet Siegfried Sassoon (also a patient). The period after this was one of his most creative and was when he wrote many of the poems for which he is remembered today. In June 1918 he rejoined his regiment and returned to France. He was killed on November 19th 1918 leading his men across the Sombre canal at Ors (only a week before the end of the war).
World War I was fought between 1914 and 1918. The war was Britain, France, Russia and Belgium against Germany, Austria and Hungary. The war ended in an allied victory and the establishment of the League of Nations. Since the Crimean War, weapons and technology had advanced. In the Crimean War, weapons such as bayonets, daggers and cannons were used whereas in WWI machine guns, gas and bombs were used. The weapons in WWI were more effective and dangerous and killed many more soldiers than the older weapons. There was much more medical support in WWI.
Hospital networks were established and there were extensive medical support systems. There also many more medical volunteers. In the Crimean War the soldiers had much less medical support and because of that many soldiers had to fight with injuries and illnesses. By the end of WWI over 5,000,000 British men had joined the army, whereas in the Crimean War, only 250,000 British men joined. During WWI, posters were used as propaganda to try and get men to join the army and fight. Imperative verbs were used in the posters and they acted as commands to the men.
DEDE was one of Owen’s most famous war poems and was published posthumously in 1920. The original, drafted in 1917, was dedicated to Jesse Pope (jingoistic, female poet who painted an idealistic view of war). However, the audience for his bitter horrific account was later changed to address a wider audience. Jesse Pope used jingoistic poetry as propaganda to try and get young men to go to war. The poems ridiculed men who didn’t want to fight by making out they were cowards. The young men didn’t know most of what happened in the war so the use of jingoistic language in the poems encouraged men to think that war wasn’t bad.
In one of her poems, The Call (1915), there were many elements in the poem that could help encourage the men to go to war. A question that personally addresses the reader is repeated many times “… you, my laddie? ” That makes the poem sound conversational and that it is talking directly to the men as the word “laddie” is used. The men will also feel as though the question will require an answer so will be thinking about what their answer to the questions will be as they read the poem. She also says that if the men do decide to go to war, then they will be honoured. Who’ll earn the Empire’s thanks”, “Who’ll swell the victor’s ranks”. That will make the men think that good things will happen to them and they will be recognised if they decide to go to war. As well as that, Pope guilt-trips those men who feel reluctant to go to war. “And who wants to save his skin – Do you, my laddie? ”, “Who’s keen on getting fit, Who means to show his grit, And who’d rather wait a bit – Would you, my laddie? ”. Those lines make the reluctant men feel guilty as they would feel as though they are being compared to the soldiers who are portrayed as brave and patriotic.
They would feel that they are cowards as they are not fighting and that they are not committed to their country. The stanzas in Charge Of The Light Brigade are not all the same length. Stanza four is the longest with twelve lines and the final stanza, stanza six, is the shortest with six lines. The final stanza is shortest as the purpose of the poem changes and it is like a speech – to make the speech part more memorable they make it shorter than the rest of the poem. All of the stanzas end in the same phrase – “…six hundred”.
That is used to progress the storyline and to emphasise the men lost in battle. It could also be use to show that the men are working as a team. There are no patterns in the rhyme scheme which make the poem sound more like a narrative story. Apart from the first stanza, every stanza has two rhyming couplets or triplets. The use of these couplets and triplets increases pace and excitement (for both reader and soldier) and makes the stanza more memorable for the reader. Pairs of lines (including final of each stanza) mean each stanza sounds complete.
The lack of rhyme scheme reflects the experience of the soldiers as the lives of the soldiers while they were fighting in the war were all over the place and not following a set order, just like the poem is not following a set order because of the lack of rhyme scheme. Tennyson immerses the reader in the sounds of the battlefield through his use of dactylic rhythm. The pattern of stressed and unstressed beats is representative of the horses galloping into battle. He deliberately breaks from the regularity of this rhythm at certain points in the poem.
These are usually when he is describing the horror of the battlefield and the certainty of the soldiers’ death – it makes the lines unavoidable, somewhat like the situation that the soldiers found themselves in. One of the breaks is on the line “All in the valley of Death” in stanza one. That emphasises the horror of the valley and emphasises the soldiers’ almost certain death. In stanza one and throughout the poem, the term ‘Death’ is personified as it is given a capital ‘D’ – “…valley of Death”, “…jaws of Death”. It makes ‘Death’ sound inescapable and that it is certain the soldiers will die. …the valley of Death…” is a metaphor so sounds like the soldiers are entering a place owned by ‘Death’. It also makes the word ‘Death’ stand out on paper as there is a capital letter in the middle of a sentence so the reader’s attention is drawn to that word before any of the others. The capitalisation of ‘Death’ could also have been used because of Tennyson’s connection to religion. Direct speech “’Forward the Light Brigade! ’” is used to add a sense of reality to the poem. Direct speech is also a feature of a story and the poem is written like a story.
The repetition of “Half a league” indicates that the soldiers had a long distance to travel as the phrase is repeated three times. The reader will acknowledge how far the soldiers had to walk and will imagine how tired they would be. The word “…he…” is used for the commander instead of his real name, Lord Raglan, so that the blame is not directly put on him and the reader will not directly blame him. Elision is used in stanza two – “…dismay’d…”, “…blunder’d…” so the poem still fits its rhythm and the reader won’t be distracted from the poem by the change in rhythm.
The repetition of “Theirs not to…” is a parallel phrase which highlights change and what the soldiers can and will do; the reader will realise what the soldiers can and can’t do. Onomatopoeia is used “…thunder’d” so when you read the poem you mimic the sounds of the battlefield and you will to some extent feel as though you are at the battle. In contrast to COTLB, Dulce Et Decorum Est has a regular rhyme scheme with alternate lines rhyming (an extra set in the last stanza). The rhymes make the lines more memorable and quicken the pace of the poem.
Owen uses the techniques of caesura and enjambment to make the poem stick to the rhyme scheme and add variety. Owen’s poem gives a personal account of his horrific war experience. That tone is set by the use of Iambic Pentameter. The unstressed, stressed rhythm mimics natural stresses is human speech and makes it sound like a conversational story; because of that readers will feel like Owen’s account of war is being read to them personally and will be able to empathise with him. In stanza one of DEDE, the soldiers are retreating from battle and the stanza sets the scene of the horrific, exhausting battlefield.
It describes the effects of the war on the soldiers – “…coughing like hags…”, “Drunk with fatigue…”. Those descriptions are used to inform readers at home of the horrible effects the war has on the soldiers and possibly to shock them as they might not know exactly how the soldiers are affected. There are a lot of pauses in the stanza – “Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge”, “But limped on, blood-shod”. That gives the stanza a slow pace. That could have been used because the soldiers would be marching at a slow pace and pausing a lot because they are tired and in pain.
Powerful verbs are used to describe the soldiers – “…cursed through sludge”, “But limped on”. They are used to emphasise how bad the soldiers’ conditions are and to make the reader empathise with the soldiers. “… we cursed…”, “…we turned… ” – the word ‘we’ (first person plural pronoun) is used to show that the author is part of the team of soldiers (as he was a soldier) and to also distinguish that the audience is not part of that team. Consonance (“…sludge”, “…trudge”) is used to slow the reader down; the soldiers would have also been slowed down by tiredness and illness.
Phonaesthesia (“…coughing…”, “…trudge”) is used to mimic the emotions of the soldiers. Owen builds up the description of the tired, exhausted soldiers by using metaphors – “Drunk with fatigue…”. The metaphors are used to emphasise how bad the soldiers’ conditions were. Similes were also used – “…Bent double, like old beggars…”, “…coughing like hags…”. They are used to compare the soldiers to people and creatures you would associate with sickness and death. The reader will have a mental image of the soldiers as the described creatures and realise how horrible their conditions were.
The similes also provide contrast to the audience’s view of war. Lexical field is used to build up the image of illness and old aging. “All went lame; all blind”, “…deaf even to the hoots”. The reader could assume from the references to rapid aging that the soldiers would soon die. Personification is used to help describe the weapons – “…disappointed shells…”, “…haunting flares…”. The personification is used to make the weapons sound like they had a large part in the war by describing them in the same way as the soldiers. There is also a lot of caesura – “But limped on, blood-shod.
All went lame; all blind”. The caesura is used so the poem sounds like a man telling his story as there are natural pauses. Much of the language used in the stanza contradicts the war propaganda being used at the time as most of the propaganda was encouraging a positive view of war. Stanza four of COTLB is the longest and most descriptive of the six in the poem as it describes the middle of the battle. The phrase “All the world wonder’d” is used to make reference to the theatre of war as the audience/readers don’t know what is happening.
The word ‘while’ is used as a contrast between the soldiers fighting and the people at home. Lots of dynamic verbs start lines (foregrounding) “Charging…”, “Plunged…” so the reader has a good idea of what is going on and they can picture the scene in their minds. They make the lines sound dramatic and full of excitement. The nouns are missing from those lines (elliptical phrases) to keep with the rhythm. The phrase “Cossack & Russian” dehumanises the army. Euphemisms are used for death “Reel’d from the sabre-stroke”, “While horse and hero fell”.
They help with the jingoistic nature of the poem as the reader doesn’t directly think of death and when they do the euphemisms remind them that the soldiers died honourably. Prepositions are used “Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon behind them” to emphasise that the soldiers are in a location where they are surrounded by weapons and can be shot at any time. The reader will realise the danger that the soldiers are in as they can be shot at any time. The use of caesura emphasises the loss of soldiers as it puts emphasis on “Not the six hundred” which makes you think that the six hundred died in the battle.
Stanza two of DEDE is about a gas attack. Direct speech is not used on the first line. “GAS! Gas! Quick, boys! ”. Speech isn’t used because Owen didn’t want the line to stand out on paper. Also on that part of the line, all of the syllables are stressed and it breaks from the rhythm of the poem. Having all of the syllables stressed sounds like someone is shouting urgently to the soldiers which would have happened during the real gas attacks. The pace of the poem increases as the soldiers are rushing and stumbling to get their gas masks on. “An ecstasy of fumbling, Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time”.
It mimics the desperation of the soldiers to get their gas masks on and the quickness of their movements. There is a link to water throughout the stanza. “…floundering…”, “…green sea…” (gas), “…drowning…”, “…plunges…”. The link to water is used because suffocating in gas is often compared to drowning in water and many soldiers suffocated in the gas attacks. The water links are an extended metaphor so the reader can clearly see that there is a link between gas and water. Lots of continuous present verbs “Fitting…”, “…yelling…”, “…stumbling” make the gas attack sound ongoing and relentless.
An asyndetic list is used – “He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning”. The list slows the pace of the poem down and puts emphasis on the verbs. The word “…helpless…” in line seven of the stanza sums the stanza up as the soldiers are helpless. The stanza makes the soldiers seem ordinary and not heroic. The soldiers are thought of as brave by the reader as they have to go through the horrific events. Owen tries to mimic the details of the gas attack as closely as he can so the reader has a clear view of what happens in the attacks and is shocked by the gruesome effects of the gas.
The final stanza, stanza six, of COTLB is the shortest of the stanzas in the poem as it is summing up the poem. It sounds like a speech as it contains rhetorical questions “When can their glory fade? ” and imperative verbs “Honour the charge they made! Honour the Light Brigade”. The lack of a 2nd person pronoun (‘you’) with the imperative verbs makes them sound less aggressive and sounds like it is just suggesting/asking you do what Tennyson is saying. Throughout the poem, Tennyson has been implying that the soldiers are noble and should be honoured.
In the last three lines of the poem, he makes direct reference to honouring the soldiers and the nobility of them “Honour the charge they made! Honour the Light Brigade, Noble six hundred”. There is a graphic, detailed description of the death of a soldier in stanza three of DEDE. “…hanging face…”, “…froth-corrupted lungs…”. The description of the death is graphic because it creates a horrific image of the death in the reader’s mind. It could also disturb the reader. In that description, Owen focused on just one soldier in contrast to Tennyson always referring to the “six hundred”.
The alliteration in the line “…watch the white eyes writhing…” emphasises how grotesque the situation was. The gassed man was flung into the wagon. “Behind the wagon that we flung him in”. This means that the soldiers must have been occupied with the fighting as they only has time to throw the body in the wagon and not take care of it. It also sounds like they are just throwing the bodies away as there are so many of them. The metaphor “…smothering dreams…” is used as the soldiers’ experience seems like a bad dream they can’t get out of. Extended clauses add extra description.
The phrase “…bitter as the cud” could have two meanings. Blood is bitter and it could be a reference to blood and also the soldiers will be bitter when they die because they weren’t supported by their country and didn’t want to fight. The phrase “…sores on innocent tongues” could also have two meanings. The soldiers had sores from illnesses they had caught and also the people at home will feel sore as they have encouraged the soldiers to go to war and they are now dead. The phrase “If you could…” reminds the reader of the fact that they and other people at home haven’t experienced war.
That could be part of Owen’s message to Jesse Pope and the other jingoistic poets as they haven’t experienced war like he was and therefore can’t give an accurate description of it like he can. The final four lines of the stanza and the poem gave the message ‘Don’t talk about things you don’t know about’ to the jingoistic poets such as Jesse Pope. Owen gets the readers on his side by addressing them as “My friend…”. Addressing them like that would make them more likely to pay attention to what he is about to say and are likely to agree with what he is about to say.
The line “…children ardent for some desperate glory” makes it sound like the soldiers are desperate for glory and by addressing the soldiers as “children” you are reminded of how young the soldiers are and could say to the mothers that are reading the poem that in a few years their children would have to fight. The caesura in the last four lines makes you think about what is being said as it slows you down and makes you pause to give you time to think. Owen seems to come to a conclusion at the end of the poem. “The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori. ” (It is sweet and good to die for your country).
He has proved that that is a lie throughout the poem with his horrific account of what really went on in the war. It also says to the audience that the jingoistic poets such as Jesse Pope are lying and you should take no notice of them. A pararhyme is used right at the end as the rhyme scheme of the poem says that “glory” should rhyme with “mori”. However, the two words do not rhyme even though the letter sounds are similar (stressed ‘I’ and unstressed “I”). “Mori” could instead be intended to rhyme with the word “Lie” (which it does) which is directly before the final piece of punctuation before the word “mori”.
Having analysed both poems, I have come to the conclusion that in the times of the Crimean War, war poems were mainly written to honour the soldiers who fought (“Honour the Light Brigade”) and to convince young men to join the army. However, as time progressed and we got to World War I, the poems were more about the true horror of war (“…before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. ”) and tried to convey a message to the reader that war is not like it was portrayed in certain types of media.