World War I Poetry Analysis 

World War I, also known as the War to End All Wars, was a worldwide conflict which occurred between 1914 to 1918. A majority of the fighting took place in Europe between the Entente Powers (comprised of France, Russia, and the United Kingdom) and the Central Powers (comprised of Austria-Hungary, Germany, and the Ottoman Empires). The occurrence of the war was very momentous and left a permanent scar in the lives of many, most notably the brave soldiers that fought in the war. The conflict was seen as a tragic event in the eyes of many. On the other hand, it could be seen as a platform for the birth of a new form of literature: war poetry. When the news of the war struck countries such as France and the United Kingdom, numerous advertisements were published in newspapers in an attempt to recruit soldiers in the army. One of the most persuasive methods used were poems which were guaranteed to embellish the rewards of a soldier. As intriguing as they seemed, the poems were just another sly ruse to lure young, innocent men into joining the army.

An example of such a poem is Who’s For the Game? by Jessie Pope. Pope was an English poet and journalist who was renowned for her inspiring yet deceitful poems which were published during World War I. Some saw her poem as a bundle of optimism and believed that they should join the army because, after all, war was just a game. However, there were a handful of people who begged to differ. Wilfred Owen was one of them. Owen was a poet and a soldier who fought in the First World War. He is considered as an exceptional monument in the history of war poetry due to his ability to lay out the realities of war through his poems. One of his most famous poems is Dulce Et Decorum Est which was initially addressed to Pope and her poem Who’s For the Game?. Owen was a soldier who had faced the tragedies of war, while Pope was a mere hypocrite who remained in England and wrote about something she had no experience of. It can be seen through both poems that Owen and Pope shared contradicting views on the realities of war.

The poem, Who’s For The Game? is an extended metaphor which compares war with a game or a match. The title itself is informal and denotes fun with a slightly dangerous tone. The first stanza is like an invitation to people to join the game. Throughout the poem, the word “game” refers to the war that is occurring. It is also evident that although the game is very important, it is not very serious. In the second line, a passion for blood is brought up through the use of the word “red”. Additionally, it is indicated that the fight is physical but is straight-forward and exciting. The poet also uses sporting terms such as “grip” and “tackle” which make the war seem as simple as a game of rugby. The word “unafraid” is used to express the fact that one should not be a coward. Other persuasive statements include “sit tight”, which indirectly means that if a person decides not to fight, they will be missing out on all of the ‘fun’.

The poet ensures that the theme of sports is present throughout the piece by using terms such as “toe the line”, which is when sportsmen line up at the start of a race. At times, an informal phrase may be used to emphasize the simplicity of war. For example, the phrase, “country a hand” demonstrates this. The idea of fame is continually brought up and is used as a technique to convince the readers to join the army. An example is the quotation, “turn to himself in the show” which elaborates on the idea that everyone wants a significant role which will be acknowledged. Furthermore, the poet makes this idea sound even more impressive by contradicting it with the statement, “seat in the stand”. This refers to those who will not participate in war and forms the concept of cowardice.

A similar approach is used in the first line of the third stanza. The term “picnic” implies fun but this aspect is contradicted through the use of the words “not much”. In the next line, a positive mood is established as the word, “eagerly” exhibits enthusiasm. The phrase “shoulders a gun” creates the perception that war is as uncomplicated as picking up a gun and fighting. The last two lines of the third stanza indirectly state that it is better to come back with an injured leg rather than to hide and not fight. This, yet again, is used to captivate the reader by forming the idea that those who do not fight in the war are cowards.

As the poem comes to a close, the poet uses rhetorical statements such as “Come along, lads- but you’ll come on all right”. This quotation makes it seem as if the poet has already made the decision for the reader. The writer aims to portray the fact there is only one sensible option to follow (which is to join the war) through the words “one course”. The phrase, “up to her neck in a fight” produces a sporting image and an informal tone. The final line of the stanza is “And she’s looking and calling for you”, which creates a romanticized and heroic image. The poem appears to be very convincing because Pope used persuasive and contradicting statements that were in favor of her opinions. She was able to manipulate the cravings of the men, such as heroism, and as a result, produced a piece which was the probable reason why most men joined the army during that time.

Dulce Et Decorum Est is well known for the way in which it gives justice to the tragic actualities of war. It was written by Wilfred Owen, and is based on one of his own fatal experiences in war. The title “Dulce Et Decorum Est” is in Latin and means ‘sweet and proper’ in English. The poem explains how the soldiers were attacked by shells of poisonous gas while they were struggling to get to their destination, and how a close friend of the poet tragically fell victim to the horrendous gas.

The role of a soldier is straightaway portrayed to be unglamorous because the men are defined as “old beggars”. Although the men are fairly young, they are characterized as “knock-kneed”, which is a common characteristic found in old people as they tend to quiver frequently. Additionally, the men appear to be ill and impaired when it is stated “coughing like hags”. The frustration of the soldiers is evident through the use of the word “cursed”, and shows how significantly awful the job is. The phrase, “turned our backs” describes the attitudes of the soldiers and the fact that they have gone past caring. Furthermore, it can be observed that the men have to travel long distances with heavy equipment and require tremendous effort to do so. The word “distant” implies this. It is obvious that the soldiers go through numerous difficulties, such as the lack of sleep, when it is stated “men marched asleep” and “all went lame; all blind”. The phrase, “blood-shod” explains how the men are covered in blood due to the harsh battles they had fought in. Despite the fact that the men are on war grounds, they are so exhausted that they are unable to hear the bombs. This is stated in the quotation, “deaf even to the hoots”. The last line of the first stanza explains that a shell has just dropped behind the men.

The author uses short sentences with exclamation marks to create suspense and drama within the poem. This can be examined in the first line of the second stanza, through the use of the words, “Gas! Gas! Quick boys!”. A sense of excitement and a sudden rush of adrenaline can be observed when it is stated, “an ecstasy of fumbling”. Although most of the soldiers were successful in putting on their helmets, there was one man that had not managed to do so. This is evident through the quotation, “But someone was still yelling out and stumbling”. Throughout the next few lines, the man is described to be drowning in the gas, which is characterized as a form of liquid. The words “floundering”, “drowning” and “green sea” demonstrate this.

The third stanza is possibly the most crucial stanza in the entire poem because the poet directly refers to himself and his thoughts. His thoughts are given much importance as they are in a separate stanza. Although the stanza is only two lines long, a combination of emotions can be felt when reading it. The first line of the stanza is, “In all my dreams, before my helpless sight”. The phrase “helpless sight” makes the poet seem powerless and creates the sense of disability. The second line of the stanza is, “He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning”. The gas is characterized as water with the use of the words “plunges”, “choking”, and “drowning”. The stanza describes an image that was stuck in the poet’s mind for a long duration of time.

The first line of the final stanza explains how the poet had been haunted by the image of the drowning man. This is evident through the quotation, “If in some smothering dreams”. The word “pace” indicates that the soldiers are back on their slow march. The dead man is attributed to be like an inanimate object because he is “flung” into the wagon. A gruesome image is created with the phrase “white eyes writhing”. This phrase is also an example of personification. In the next few lines, the writer describes the physical condition of the dead soldier. The man is implied to have an awful face when it is mentioned, “his hanging face”. This creates a sick image in the reader’s mind which symbolizes pain. The quotation, “Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud…” expresses the fact that the soldier’s condition is worse than cancer and as bitter as vomit. The man’s condition is supposedly so terrible that it is worse than cancer, which is possibly the most atrocious disease man can get. The word “vile” denotes something that is disgusting and “innocent tongues” refers to the innocent, young men. The last three lines of the final stanza are considerably important because the poet confronts and contradicts Pope’s views on war which were expressed in her poem, Who’s For the Game?.

The phrase, “My friend, you would not tell with such high zest” suggests this. When the poet states, “my friend”, it refers to Pope and all of the other poets that make the concept of war seem pleasant. The quotation, “with such high zest” is used in order to create the idea that one should not talk about war with such enthusiasm. The poet uses “children” as a symbol of innocence and “desperate glory” is associated with all of the young men that are keen to make something of themselves. As the poem comes to a close, the writer reintroduces the title of the poem to emphasize its significance. Although the title appears to be positive, it is contradicted when it is called an “old Lie”. The word, “Lie” implies the common perception that war is something that is sweet and proper. By using the statement, “an old Lie”, the poet makes the lie seem like an old cliché. By portraying a personal experience in a poetic format, Owen is successful in conveying the message that war is not a glorious mission, but rather a constant challenge of survival.

The poem, ‘Who’s For the Game?’ was written as a persuasive method to recruit soldiers into the army. While Dulce Et Decorum Est was a poem written to contradict Pope’s views on war, there are similarities between both of the poems. The major similarity between both poems is that they mention injury, although in vastly different ways. In Who’s for the Game?, it is stated that there is a possibility that one risks potential injury. However, the poet makes the injuries seem as minor as a broken leg, but fails to mention that death is also very likely. On the other hand, Dulce Est Decorum Est is based on how death is a frequent trend, and how it affects an individual who is a first-hand witness (the poet). Owen describes one of the many ways he struggled in war and concludes his poem by expressing his view that war is not sweet and proper. This counteracts the main concept of Who’s for the Game?, which makes war seem like a minor picnic which will end with glorious rewards, rather than probable death.

The concept of glory can also be observed in both of the poems. Who’s For the Game? presents this with exaggerated positivity, while Dulce Et Decorum Est interprets it with honesty and factuality. In Who’s for the Game, the quotation, “Who wants a turn to himself in the show” shows that it is obvious that everyone wants a big part in the ‘show’, or in the war, in this case. Because the poet compares the war with a show (a play or a skit), it makes the conflict seem very playful, almost as if it were merely an act. The quotation makes the soldiers sound like actors who are in need of glory and appreciation. In the last few lines of Dulce Et Decorum Est, it is stated, “My friend, you would not tell with such high zest, To Children ardent for some desperate glory, The Old lie: Dulce et Decorum est, Pro patria mori.” Owen characterizes the men as “children ardent for some desperate glory”. This phrase refers to the young men who initially joined the army in the hope of making something of themselves. However, he also mentions that “You would not tell with such high zest… the old Lie…”. In simple words, Owen says one should not describe war as something that is sweet and proper simply because that would be a lie.

Pope, who had never been in combat in the war, stated in her poem that war is supposedly fun. Through Owen’s poetry, it was obvious that the optimism was not mutual between both writers. In Who’s for the Game?, the statement, “Than lie low and be out of the fun,” creates the obvious impression that Pope finds war amusing, despite the fact that she never had first-hand experience. It is evident that Owen was disturbed by the events that had occurred through some of his vocabulary in his poem. For example, he used the word, “helpless”, which makes it seem like the situation was a mental challenge for him as he felt disabled. It is fairly clear that Owen found war disturbing and traumatic, while Pope gave readers the false impression that war is a pleasant event.

An informal tone is present in Who’s for the Game?, while a rather serious tone can be examined in Dulce et Decorum Est. Pope refers to the war as a type of race or a football match and as a result, this creates a very casual tone in the poem. On the other hand, Dulce et Decorum Est is very formal, yet simple at the same time because it shows no signs of exaggeration, but rather the raw facts of the war. Pope used her sarcastic comments to her advantage in order to persuade the people of England. On the other hand, Owen merely stated the kinds of events that took place in war.

Dulce et Decorum est and Who’s for the Game? are two of the most famous poems that were written during World War I. Both poems managed to capture the personal views of both poets. It is possible that both poems received so much popularity because of the way in which the ideas contrasted each other. Pope managed to convey the message that war was a ticket to glory, while Owen believed that war was, and never would be, something sweet and proper. During the time when both poems were published, the people of England were exposed to two conflicting opinions of war. It will never be known which poem was more successful, but mankind will never fail to realize the way in which World War I changed the entire world, and possibly, the face of literature itself.

Share this Post!