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“War is what happens when language fails” said Margaret Atwood. Throughout history and beyond, war has been contemplated differently form one nation to another, or even, one person to another. While some people believe in what war stands for, which is the “resolution” to all conflicts between countries or groups of people, others don’t understand the wasteful purpose of it. Young men who are sent off to war want to believe in their cause, they want to feel the value and worth of their lives, but sadly enough, they end up losing them. Yet, they still go to war not to die for their country, but hope the enemy does. In times of war, men leave their families behind to serve their country, but if these soldiers die, and the children back home die of poverty or sickness, who’s left? In fact, only 20% of the males born in the Soviet Union in 1923 survived the war. This paper does a comparison and contrast of the two poetry sets and how the poets in each set view war through tone and diction. Tone develops the mood the writer wants their audience to convey through their choice of words, or diction, to further deliver the main theme or message of the story.
Why would anyone go to war willingly or voluntarily? Maybe praise, honor, protection of loved ones, sacrifice, or anything in that manner. In the first poetry set, the general theme is the glorification of war. The environment, the atmosphere, the ongoing events, and even the poets’ backgrounds all influence their writing and attitude toward said topic or idea. The first poetry set takes place from the 1600s to the 1800s during the English Civil War and the Battle of Balaclava. The first poem, “To Lucasta, on Going to the Wars,” written by Richard Lovelace, is a lyrical poem that illustrates a playful and romantic tone. Lovelace’s background shaped his stance on war; his father died at arms and he himself served with the French Army during the English Civil War. However, his Royalist sympathies lost him his fortune and he died in poverty. He begins with the line “tell me not, sweet, I am unkind,” whose tone and use of words foreshadow bad news. When addressing Lucasta throughout the rest of the poem, he proclaims his feelings towards her through diction such as embrace, adore, sweet, dear, and honor. And other words like “nunnery” and “chaste breast.” His choice of words balances out the cruelty behind his actions and his love for his mistress. The deeper the reader tries to go into the meaning of the poem, the clearer he/she understands that Richard simply loves the honor that comes with being a soldier, the thrill that comes with facing “the first foe in the field,” and the sacrifice he makes for his loved ones.
The second poem to compare and contrast is “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, written by Lord Tennyson. In this poem the poet doesn’t necessarily appreciate the loss of war, but thinks it’s honorable to die for your country. Through the usage of repetition, alliteration, and diction, Tennyson emphasizes on honoring the fallen: “the noble six hundred,” “honor the charge they made,” “hero,” “boldly,” etc. He also believes in the soldiers’ unquestioning obedience to their commanders’ orders, “theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die.” His use of repetition quite often draws attention on his employment of terminology, like honor for example. It also highlights on the tone of speech, valor and bravery, it illustrates a time and a generation to be proud of. “When can their glory fade?” demonstrates the tone and feeling of sadness and despair towards the loss of the soldiers. Tennyson also makes use of expressions like “volleyed and thundered” to help the reader further visualize the scene of the battle. In the end, every soldier knows what they’re walking into: “Into the valley of death.”
In contrast, the second poetry set criticizes the idea of war and finds it disgusting and wasteful. “War with all its glorification of brute force is essentially a degrading thing,” claims Mahatma Gandhi. Both poems take place during the first World War, and since the ratio of innocent civilians killed in war has grown progressively since 1914, literature wasn’t exactly a fan of its consequences or grounds. In the first poem, “the Song of the Mud,” written by Mary Borden, the poet uses irony and imagery to transmit her perspective on war. Upon reading it, it sounds like a lyrical poem that contains one too many descriptions that might sound or appear to be nice and friendly, hence the name “song,” but is the exact opposite. The phrases used to put irony into effect, like “he has set a new style of clothing; he has a set new style of chic,” ironically describe the ways in which the mud covers everything in battle, including corpses, weapons, machinery, and warriors. The underlying meaning is that the mud covers the destruction of war, the same way governments do. The tone of Borden is ironic and sarcastic. She uses words like chic, ermine and satin to contrast words like putrid, monstrous, impertinent, and obscene. “Mud, the disguise of the war zone,” sums up her standpoint on war; death is inevitable.
Lastly, Wilfred Owen was once a British schoolboy who grew up believing poet Horace’s “Dulce et Decorum Est pro patria mori:” it is sweet and honorable to die for one’s country. When he left for war himself, he was soon sent back due to shell and shock, war wasn’t for him. In his poem, he uses words like fumbling, drowning, stumbling – which rhyme – to project a scene in battle that left him forever traumatized. The irony in this poem shows through the way it’s said, and what it really means. During the gas attack, he uses the phrase “An ecstasy of fumbling,” which sounds completely out of place, but actually isn’t. These are the examples of the irony he uses in his poem; he’s combining elevated language with chaos to throw it completely off proportion. He describes the war as obscene, cancer, and vile, in hopes of delivering his idea of war to anyone who’s been lied to. His tone is one to sympathize with. He and Lovelace share distinctly different viewpoints of honor. The only similarity between the two sets of poems is the fact that they both talk about war, and were written during times of war, because during those times, war was the only talk of town.
As can be concluded from this compare and contrast essay, both sets of poems use strong diction that helps develop the tone to strengthen their outlook on war, whether they fought, nursed, or lost any loved ones. The sets compete on whether it’s heroic and noble to die for one’s country, even if they don’t believe in the cause of war itself. Does war make one a hero? According to these poets, the answer can vary from one person to another.
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