War poetry refers to a poem written by either an active combatant or a civilian during an era of war

War poetry refers to a poem written by either an active combatant or a civilian during an era of war. The majority of war poems were written during World War 1 and were a way to escape the very real danger of trench warfare. Poets such as Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke and many more depict, through experience, a true scene of what it was like in war and how they were affected.
Wilfred Owen was born in Oswestry, England in 1893. At the age of 19 Owen became infatuated with poetry. With much of his earlier poems being mainly influenced by the works of John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley. He had a very strong Christian background and from the years 1911-1913 he helped to teach Bible classes and led prayer meetings. He also later worked as a language tutor in France. He returned to England where he decided to enlist because of the pressure from those around him as well as the propaganda that surrounded the premise of becoming a soldier.
Owen is regarded as one of the best writers in the war poetry genre and we can see that many of his pieces are based, in some way or another, on his experiences. For example, his most famous poem ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ is written based around his experience on January 12th 1917, where he and many others were wading through deep sludge and were attacked with poison gas.
Owen was killed on the 4th of November 1918, merely a week before the Armistice was signed. Eighty-two of the poems he wrote have been published in several anthologies. Only 5 of his works were published while he was alive. ‘Strange Meeting’ was one of his best pieces with Siegfried Sassoon deeming that it was to be ‘Owen’s passport to immortality’.
Owen wrote Strange Meeting in 1918 which was published a year after his death in 1919. The poem tells the story of two dead soldiers that meet in an unknown place, one being the speaker and one being a sleeping man that awakens. These two soldiers engage in a conversation and share their experiences finding each other’s similarities. Many critics also believe that the sleeper is the speakers alter-ego. This idea can be further backed through the extreme similarity linking the sleeper in the poem and the speaker. Especially their love for poetry and its inevitable role in life of the future.
The poem is very clearly anti-war and was written to talk about the misconceptions of war and unveil the ‘truth untold’ (Line 24). In line 1 the speaker is glad that he has made it out of conflict, not knowing that he is dead and he believes he is in a secluded trench. Further on in Lines 11-13, we can see that the speaker is ‘enjoying’ this place. Although it is different, it is a safe haven from the thousand pains of war, there is no blood in this place, and there is not the sound of thumping guns. However, the sleeping man expresses how his loss of life has impacted him. In line 37 the sleeper says “I would have poured my spirit without stint”. Here he is talking about how much he misses the world he once lived in and if he were to live again he would write and educate people about the real horrors of war that were so hidden from the general population.
The poem’s structure is set out in such a way that it enhances the common theme of ambiguity. Owen makes use of 4 irregular stanzas to dictate his message. Each line is written in Iambic Pentameter which is defined as “a line of verse with 5 metrical feet, each consisting of one unstressed or short syllable followed by a stressed or long syllable. For example, line 7 “with PITeous recogNITion in FIXED EYES”.
He then combines this technique with slant or pararhyme. This type of rhyme is not perfect. Owen takes advantage of the way it can disorientate us to enhance the almost dizzying experience the poem gives. The rhyme comes pairs of two lines, each with similar length, forming what is known as a heroic couplet. His use of heroic couplets can be seen as a way of mocking the misconception of a glorified war and that it is heroic in nature to be a part of it. This use may also stem from the pressure that Owen himself felt about enlisting. The poem lacks a large amount of figurative language and uses its odd structure as the main way to impact the reader.
Owens use of imagery can be instantly seen in the first stanza. He establishes the ambiguity of the place with the first two words ‘It seemed’, instantly adding a feeling of uncertainty. It is said to be in a place away from battle. The speaker describes it as a place down a profound and dull tunnel. Which seems to have existed for a long time and is made of granite, a particularly coarse mineral. So far, we can picture a trench, isolated from the outside world.
Owen also uses a significant amount of alliteration in the first two stanzas. The words seemed, escaped, some, since scooped, also, sleepers, fast, bestirred, sprang, stared, distressful, bless all emphasise the strong ‘s’ sound and it perhaps acts like an echo to help create the image that we are in the enclosed trench.
He also intertwines various techniques into one, such as metaphors and imagery. For example, in line 34 the sleeper says ‘Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels, I would go up and wash them from sweet wells’. Here the sleeper is referring to the mechanical workings of war and that when they have become clogged with blood, there then becomes a part in every soldier that wishes to ‘clean’ the blood that they had shed. Meaning that they regret what they had done. It can also be seen later in line 39 where the sleeper says ‘Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were’. This is the man talking about the unspoken traumas that war can have on people, the fact that the way that men think after war will be different from before it. Thus, adding to the anti-war nature of the poem.
The poem ends abruptly. The final line “Let us sleep now…” has no rhyming couplet and is used to signify the abruptness of war and how quickly something can end. Due to the lack of pararhyme, it shows that the outcome can be unsatisfactory as if there were no point to it.
The poem is still relevant to today because although we understand the impacts of war more, we still will never know what it is actually like, except through experience. Because of this, war can still be glorified. It can be made to be seen like an adventure, as seen in this photo. The true extent of impacts of war can be hidden behind the perceived glory, but when some sign up they do not completely think through the potential consequences that may come.