It may not be surprising that the agitations that sent many young able men into WWI fundamentally differed from those of WWII. Soldiers who sought heroism, and fighting to the death for one’s king and country in the previous war, gave rise to a generation of silence as the horrors of permeated through the crowd in poems. Poems represented a unique frontier for the expression of the sentiments regarding the senseless wars, from WWI to Vietnam. Wars do not only wear down the soldier and the modern fighter fighting for nothing more than defense and the expansion of a state-backed idealism. Poets are victims in their own way, expressing their sentiments through their writing that offers more refuge if compared to journalism and other forms of media (Fusell 7).
By mere insinuating that poets in the war period could not escape the horrors of the war and its unjustified indulgence may be an understatement until one encounters “Desert Flowers” in which the author, Keith Douglas acknowledges to have repeated the themes earlier on expressed by Isaac Rosenberg. It is apparent that despite the fact war scenarios give rise to different sorts of poetry, whether in praise of the war or mulling over its unforgettable impact on soldiers and the society alike, the poets that recollect their surroundings at the time cannot escape its ghostly effects. It is therefore not exclusive a matter of recounting how the leader tinkers with loyalty of the soldier to send him to an avoidable war, or how the “appalling stench of rotting carrion” littered the wet fields in Flanders and Picardy, or even how the soul of a nation and society was betrayed and sacrificed in mockery of valor. But rather, poetry is the desire to vent out a frustration yearning to conquer the supposed lying in journalism while the soldier pays with his/her life.
The two wars impelled two versions of poetry with each rhyming with the then social view of the war. Such a similarity in public view and the dimension of poetry only confirms Parini’s assertion that “poets cannot just choose to separate themselves from the life of their times.” The WWI occurred at a time when modern idealism that came to dominate in the aftermath of the war and gained traction with WWII and subsequent wars such as the Vietnam war was in its infancy. The enthusiasm of able young men to go to war may have been impelled by such factors as naivety of the horrors of the front lines, probably due to forced conscription in the face of protecting the nation against invading adversaries and on the other hand, or because the war “offered an invigorating flight from a tired, cynical society’ (Fusell 1).
Poets and their Art
Such poems as “joy of battle” by Julian Grenfell and “Flower of Youth” by Katharine Tynan are accurate attestations of poets rhyming with societal views about heroism, victorious knights, the lifting of the “V” (Fusell 13) in the air as a sign of victory, soldiers/warriors getting decked by medals and the streets running awash with citizens shouting victory. However, by learning from the war firsthand, such enthusiastic soldiers turned poetic, and oratory antagonists of the war revised the public appeal for war and its anarchical repercussions and subsequently the style of poetry with a strong call to reconsider tradition of composition. Therefore while Katharine Tynan wrote of boys in the fervor of their youth having the chance to meet their God in person, Sassoon warned that such evils as National Socialism only drove young men to their death and for their carcasses to be trodden under foot (Fusell 5).
The coming of WWII may not have been altogether a surprise, given such earlier “prophecies” by such vehemently voiced figures as Vera Brittain who foresaw the myopic nature of the Treaty of Versailles. However, the poets also felt the same sting out of WW1 for instance the recourse made by Sassoon from aspiring to become a poet veteran to becoming the antiwar poet and ambassador tell a sad tale of pre-1914 naïve idealism and formalism influenced by such slogans as “my king” becoming more responsive to modern principles where war meant individuals fighting for value. Therefore the warnings given by poets of the horrors of wars rhymed with the changing public perception of war in which case the poets subscribed to the general sentiment clouding over the society.
Wars in the aftermath of WWII such as the American involvement in Vietnam and the Middle East tested the supposed balance between citizenry subscriptions to the ideals of governance as the ultimate unchecked representation of the masses and the generation of silence that had more or less prevailed prior to the expansion and the empowerment of other forms of media in the reporting of wars. Again, similar to the rather bold forms of poetry in the aftermath of the Great Wars, contemporary poetry such as Song of Napalm,” by Bruce Weigl and North American Time,” a remarkable poem, Adrienne Rich (Fusell 17), rhyme with public sentiments. They decried of the lessons not learned from the catastrophe of wars, such as the Battle of the Somme and the Leningrad massacre (Fusell 5). Poets yet again stay loyal to their profession in addressing the breakdown of civility and its implications on both the coward and the so-described skilled men of valor.
- Fusell, Paul. Introductions. The Norton Book of Modern War Part I: The First World War