in Essays

In War, Somebody Always Loses

War is no laughing matter. War usually leads to an outcome of a country winning or losing; yet, in the end, everyone loses something as a direct result of war.

World War One poems changed the purpose of a writer and their style. They had particularly glooming ways of exploring the nature of war and nations compared to those seen in Romantic or Victorian poetic styles and intentions, such as Rupert Brooke’s The Soldier and Alfred Tennyson’s Ulysses.

In Rupert Brooke’s The Soldier, England is personified as a tender mother, stating that “Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day” (12). He uses specific maternal language to show the soldier’s role in living in England, “A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware, Gave once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam” (5). While there is almost a nostalgic, reminiscent feeling of this soldier’s view of England, the very first line of the poem dilutes the soldier into a faceless being, a being that, “If I should die,” strives to live “In hearts at peace, under an English heaven” (1, 14). The person that this soldier addresses can only be comforted in the fact that if the soldier were to pass away, the soldier would be living in his described version of heaven.

However, the poem says nothing about how England actually is, and is merely idealizing the beauty of England as a nation as a way to comfort the person he is addressing (likely a loved one). Thus, this particular poem is a depressing view of how the soldier’s love and need for England’s “motherly affections” is outright neglected, seen only as dust in England’s eyes. Brooke’s poem is cynical of war and the nations that these soldiers fight and die for. In Tennyson’s Ulysses poem, war is seen as an exciting, thrilling activity compared to boring civilian life.

In Ulysses, the old man is someone who “cannot rest from travel,” bored from doling out “Unequal [rewards/punishments] unto a savage race” (4-6). He is nostalgic of doing “battle with my peers” (17). The narrator longs to adventure without settling down in one place. He wants to pursue something else in the hopes of satisfying his main desire in life, and ruling has made him restless. As a Romantic work, Ulysses is more emotionally optimistic about the role of soldiers and how they receive glory through war. The “nation” for the old man are his battle units that he most identify, connects with, and relates to. Additionally, Ulysses does not see soldiers as faceless dust like Brooke’s poem, but as peers that bond through camaraderie, a human quality that can never be forgotten. It is blunt about the nature of society, and does not seek to idealize their beauty in any way.

War affects different people in different ways, either emotionally, physically, or mentally. One could also say that the more removed a person is away from the frontlines, the more that nuanced perspectives exist on the nature, necessity, and brutality of war, and how soldiers are viewed back in civilian society. The WWI poems are cynical about the very concepts of war and the relationship it has to a nation. The Romantic poems in turn see war as a means to an end, and the concept of a nation as a backdrop that serves no purpose to the soldiers save for establishing an identity they can connect to.

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