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When the First World War broke out, many young men joined the army. They saw the conflict in a patriotic view and as an adventure. This feeling was replaced by doubt and disillusionment after the Battle of Somme.
Many men died on the Western Front (the line of trenches running from north-west France to Switzerland). Life in trenches was horrible because of the rain and mud, the decaying bodies, the bombings and the use of poison gas. Many poets joined the war. There was a group of poets who experienced the war and in most cases lost their lives in the conflict. They wanted to awaken people’s conscience to the horrors of the war. These poets are known as ‘the War Poets.’


different attitudes to war

The reaction to the war passed through different stages:
1. The patriotic enthusiasm that led many to enlist like the poet Rupert Brooke
2. Anger, when many realized the lie of war propaganda. It became the main subject of Sassoon’s poetry.

3. Compassion, as we can see in Owens poems. His poetry is a sort of elegy for the young soldiers he admired.
4. Rosenberg had a detached and unsentimental view after the war.

Rubert Brooke
He was born in 1887. He was educated at Rugby School and then went to King’s College, Cambridge. He was a good student and athlete and was popular for his handsome looks. He did not fight for a long time in war since he died of blood-poisoning in the Aegean Sea. He was buried on the Greek Island of Skyros.
He is a War Poet because he wrote five sonnets in 1914 in which he tried to testify the safeness of the war by stating that war is clean and cleansing. He says that the only thing that can suffer is the body, and he considered death as a reward. He used traditional forms and his poems show a sentimental attitude which will disappear in the works of the other War Poets, who experienced the real evils of the war.
After his death, he was seen as a ‘new romantic hero’.

Siegfried Sassoon
He was born in a Jewish family in 1886. His reactions against war were violent and expressed them through irony in his poems. Sassoon also protested publicly against war. He wrote a Declaration against the War and read it in the House of Commons: “I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority, because I believe that the War is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it. I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that this War, on which I entered as a war of defence and liberation, has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the purpose for which I and my fellow soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them, and that, had this been done, the objects which actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation. I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust.”

Luckily, his friend Robert Graves convinced the review board that Sassoon was suffering from shell-shock and he was sent to a military hospital where he met Owen.
Sassoon’s poems are collected in The Hold Huntsman and in Counter-Attack. He denounces the political errors and the sacrifice of the soldiers.
In a documentary manner he describes the physical horror of the war through anger and satire. What he achieved was not compassion, but the spontaneity of shocking and realistic detail. He was a pacifist.

Isaac Rosenberg
He was born in a Jewish family. He was a talented painter and studied in Art School of Brikbeck College, London University. He wanted to make money as a portrait artist, but the war broke out, so he had to enlist. He died at the front.
He differs from the other War Poets. His poems can be seen as Modernist in technique. His vision of the war was unsentimental and did not care about the pity of war. He presented realistic and shocking details, sometimes through irony or paradox and contrast. His language was “scriptural and elemental” as Sassoon described it. His poems were published in Collected Works in 1937.


Wilfred Owen

He was working as a teacher of English in France when he decided to return to England to enlist.
He was killed in a machine-gun attack just seven days before the armistice
His poems are painful and are about men who have gone mad or men who are clinically alive although their bodies have been destroyed.
He uses a lot of assonances and alliterations that give his poems a haunting quality. He uses “para-rhymes” (for instance loves/lives; seeds/sides; star/stir).

In the preface of his book “Disabled and Other Poems” he says: “This book is not about heroes. English poetry is not yet fit to speak of them. Nor is it about deeds, or land, nor anything about glory, honor, might, majesty, dominion or power, except War. Above all, I am not concerned with Poetry. My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity. Yet these elegies are to this generation in no sense consolatory. They may be to the next. All a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true Poets must be truthful.”
The poet denounces the evils of the war and the pity of the war. His poetry is not about heroes, it is not a patriotic poetry and it is not consolatory; on the contrary, his poetry is just about War and the pity if War. He wants to awaken people’s conscience, he also criticizes war propaganda.

Differences between Owen and Brooke
Brooke’s mood is patriotic and idealistic. Brooke’s glorifies the war while Owen is critical against the war. Brooke’s imagery is taken from the English landscape while Owen takes his images from the supernatural world or nightmares.
According to Brooke to dye in war is noble whereas according to Owen there’s nothing noble or decorous to die in war since war is evil.

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