In this presentation I will be evaluating the sections ‘Happiest is England now’ and ‘O Jesus make it stop’ and comparing howthe attitudes towards war are portraited. I will focus on the epigraph of bothpoems and then the poems Happy is England Now by Freeman, England to her Sonsby Hodgson, Attack by Sassoon, Anthem for Doomed Youth by OwenThe epigraph of ‘Happiestis England now’ is from a song from the musical ‘Oh what a lovely war’ in which the message that the performers (inthis case the women) are trying to send is to make men enlist in the war and toadd to the war effort. They seem to make war seem glorious and it is the man’sduty to enlist and to fight and protect their country. This section relieson patriotism to rally men to enlist in the war.This contrasts with the epigraph of ‘O Jesus make it stop’.
It is also a section of song, in which thelyrics are sung to the tune of Auld Lang Syne. This is quite iconic as AuldLang Syne is traditionally used to bid farewellto something of significance. Today, we sing Auld Lang Syne to conclude the oldyear, however in this context, it could have a much darker connotation, the end of the soldier’s lives.
And this grim sentiment is what resonatesthrough the section, how the men were enticed into joining the war by a sweettune, but now they are oblivious the real reason for their fighting and are heraldingthe end of their lives. This section is used to show the desperate nature of the men who are fighting in the war. The poem ‘Happy isEngland Now’ by John Freeman is an extremely patriotic poem in whichFreeman writes about how he feels towards the war, the glory of defending one’scountry. ‘England to her Sons’by Hodgson is also a patriotic poemdesigned to make men enlist, however it has a much more solemn mood than ‘Happy is England Now’, as it is muchexplicit on the sacrifice of war.Firstly, I would like to draw attention to the personification of England, the use ofthe possessive pronoun ‘her’ (whichcan be seen in Her faithfullest children, Herhills and rivers and her chafing sea). This is an example of propaganda and patriotism which was themain way the government enticed young men to enlist and join the war. The personification continues through thepoem as England is described as having a ‘new passion stirring in their veins, When the destroying dragon wakes from sleep.’The personification here showsEngland with a passion building in its blood and body and describing Germany asa ‘destroying dragon’.
Notice the alliteration which adds to thedemonization of Germany, describing it as a beast that the English are going togo and slay. By using a dragon, there are connotations of St George (the patronsaint of England) slaying the dragon, which further adds to the patriotism that this poem is trying toportrait. In ‘England to her Sons’poem, England is also personified asa mother character and the soldiers are all her children. This is evident fromthe line ‘Sons of mine, I hear youthrilling’.
The personificationreally highlights the loss that the war will cause to the nation, but toindividuals as well as shown by the lines. In the first verse, England says shecan hear the young men excitement atthe outbreak of war. She suggests that they should prepare themselves for whatlies ahead and promises to provide as many men as necessary, shown by the line’I give you freely’. This opening demonstrates both the patriotic fervour and underlying fears which were prevalent at thattime.The second verse of ‘Happyis England now’ is as equally patriotic,and this is displayed by values that England’s Sons hold core; that of self-sacrifice and judiciousness.
Thesemen are afraid of nought except the shamethat may come from their own actions as shown by the line ‘Fearing but dishonour’s breath’. Furthermore, Hodgson states thesoldiers are willing to accept injury of death without complaint due to theirhopes for the future and their belief in the righteousness of their cause will eventually bring them successdisplayed by the line ‘Strong in faiththat sees the issues and in hope that triumpheth’ Freeman in ‘Happy is England now’ uses an end-stopped line of the sentence”grief itself is proud.” toallow the reader to reflect upon this bold statement. Freeman shows a balancewith the glory and the sadness of the war which can be seen inthis phrase.
This portrays the idea of England being a mother and how thesoldiers are her sons and how they share a deeplove. It is saying that even if England’s children are killed, England isstill proud from the grief that the war has caused. This style also makes thewhole piece seem like propaganda asFreeman states a disconcerting emotion such as “grief” is a positive emotion of pride. In ‘England to her Sons’, Thefinal verse depicts England expressing her feelings towards the war andaddresses the loss that she knows is inevitable.
England explains that thedeaths of the soldiers will be dictated by God, whom the poet believes to be onEngland’s side. ‘Go, and may the God ofbattles You on His good guidance keep;’ The ending of this poem, whileremaining patriotic also introducesa poignant note. England, Hodgson seems to imply, must and will accept thelosses that lie ahead. However, the national will also mourn, when the timecomes, for all the young men who have given their lives. Much like Freeman,Hodgson is fiercely patriotic,however he is not pro war; insteadhe acknowledges that men must do their duty and answer to the call of theircountry.The poem ‘Happy is England’ has a tremendous patriotic theme and this is especiallyapparent in the line ‘happiest is Englandnow In those that fight, and watch with pride and tears’.
The use of the superlative ‘happiest’ is powerful asit shows that the true pinnacle of England’s pride is in seeing her peoplefight and die to defend her. This underlying theme of patriotism and propagandais woven into every line that Freeman writes, and this is indeed his agenda, toget as many men to enlist and join the war effort. Conversely, the poem ‘Attack’by Siegfried Sassoon is about confronting the true nature of war. The poembuilds up line after line and concludes with uncontrollable fear and anxiety,emotions that probably raged rampantly in the battlefield. ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’is a sonnet made up of octet and sestet, which is traditionally used toportrait love, but here Wilfred Owenis comparing the deaths of the young men and traditional funeral rites. Itlooks at the darker side of war and especially at aspects which others would tend to look over.
‘Attack’ is a poem whichrelies on the shock value of the words to portrait its message. The poem startscalmly, with the imagery of a beautiful sunrise across the battlefield, howeverthis scene is soon destroyed by the harshreality of war. The line ‘At dawn theridge emerges massed and dun, In the wild purple of the glow’ring sun,’ describesthe beautiful scenery of the mountains emerging in the early morning sun. Thishowever is destroyed by the ‘Tanks (that)creep and topple forward to the wire.’ There seems to be a personification of tanks which is usedto invoke fear, which is converse to ‘Happy is England now’ where it is used toinvoke In the first section of ‘Anthemfor Doomed Youth’, Owen writes passionately about the cost of war for a country’s young and uses satire to mock those whobelieve that war is glorious. Owen relates the deaths of the soldiers to a mass slaughter of animals as shown bythe line ‘for those who die as cattle’.He uses personification, but unlikeHodgson and Freeman, uses it to show the brutality of war.
‘The guns are angry, shells wail and buglescall.’ Note also the onomatopoeia and alliteration present in line three, ‘stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle’ whichmakes the poem sound much harsher on the ear, creating discord within thereader.Sassoon,unlike the poets of the first section, dehumanises the soldiers instead of creating a personal connection. ‘Lines of grey, muttering faces, masked withfear, They leave their trenches, going over the top’, describes thesoldiers as ‘lines of grey’. Grey is usually used to symbolise something blandand by describing these men as grey they have become dehumanised and now arejust objects. This is further complimented by the line ‘Men jostle and climb to, meet the bristling fire’ This shows thecruel nature of war, that men would rather die than fight one another.
There isnothing glamorous about war, only cruelty,human barbarism and hopelessness.The last line of ‘Attack’ states that the soldiers were reallyin a pathetically hopelesssituation. Sassoon writes ‘Flounders inmud. O Jesus, make it stop!’ A flounder is a type of fish, so you can onlyimagine what the chances are of survival if a flounder finds itself stuck inmud. Sassoon is stating that going to war is like committing suicide. The lastthree words, ‘make it stop’ show how these overtly strong soldiers are leftwith nothing at the end but crying and begging for the torture to stop. Thetitle of the poem is Attack, this could be due to the nature of the poemitself.
Sassoon builds up suspense throughout the poem and ends with a torturous ending, much like an attack.Otherwise, the title attack could be referring to the feelings of the soldiers.War may be glorified and chronicled as a noble duty, but it is only sendinginnocent men to their death. The sestet of ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ describes theimproper deaths that the soldiers are being sent to and relates them to theproper funeral rites of the time. The imagery is extremely grim, describing the candles being ‘not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes (of the dead) shall shinethe holy glimmers of good-byes’ This highlights the inhumane conditions that the dead experience and the lack ofrespect that is shown to these fallen soldiers. The final image is that ofblinds being drawn in respect of the dead.
This is yet another tradition tomark the loss of those who have passed on; curtains and shutters are closed tocreate a dark interior and to signal to the community at large that the deadare acknowledged. On the battlefield there are no such marks of respect, only the natural fading of thelight as another day ends. Evident from these poems, theattitudes towards war were extremely varied and ranged from the extremelypatriotically to the complete anti-war.
The agenda of the poets thus varied aswe can see, from poets such as Freeman and Hodgson writing about the virtues ofbeing able to perform the ultimate sacrifice for one’s country to poets such asSassoon and Owen who believe that war is completely evil, and the loss faroutweighs the result. And this is what produced the stark difference betweenthese poems. However, to say that only those who had not seen war wrotepatriotic poetry is incorrect as Hodgson fought in the war and died on thefirst day of the Somme, however he wrote poetry that was just as patriotic andhis fellow poets. The viewpoint that these poets held was not as simple as towhether they had seen war or not but instead about whether they truly believedthat the cause they were fighting for was worth giving their lives for.