In this essay I will be comparing two poems; ‘The Soldier’ and ‘The Hero’. ‘The Hero’ is about an officer who delivers a consolatory letter to a grieving mother concerning the death of her soldier son, Jack. She is proud of her son’s glorious sacrifice but, on leaving, the officer reflects on Jack’s cowardice and incompetence in the line. The poem, ‘The Soldier’, is about the honour men receive when fighting for their beloved nation, England. It expresses patriotic views of war and the idea that England is its on heaven. The different effects the writers use along with their difference in opinions will be explored in this essay.
In the poem, ‘The Hero’ the title itself helps to emphasise the poems purpose. The ‘hero’ of the poem is, of course, ironically termed. Jack is the kind of malingering coward who earned the contempt of his comrades on the battlefield, especially in a well-disciplined regiment like the Royal Welch, in which Sassoon served. The writer has chosen this phrase to clearly emphasise the types of dehumanising effects war had on soldiers in the front line. From this point, I can tell that, Sassoon had a negative perspective on war and its effects.
In the poem, “The soldier” the writer expresses his feelings for his nation in a dependable way. It says in the text, “There is some corner of a foreign field that is forever England”. This image is used by the writer to give the impression that British people were patriotic. Here the writer has successfully delivered the theme of patriotism. The idea of an unnamed “corner of a foreign field” where the soldier will be buried speaks of the anonymous nature of death in war. Yet the notion that this small space will “forever” be part of England elevates the sacrifice the soldier makes— as if he has in a small way conquered this land. The alliteration here lends these opening lines a subdued tone. This is used by the writer to emphasise on the point and make the reader reflect further on it.
Returning back to the poem, ‘The Hero’, the writer has in many occasions written about the soldiers’ families and their reaction to the absence of their siblings. For example it says in the text, “Jack fell as he would have wished” (said by the mother): the stock figure of the grieving mother opens this poem: a familiar, emotive image of loss in war. Here, the mother uses an everyday euphemism for dying in war— “Jack fell”— that implies an honourable soldier’s death, falling in action which contradicts the fact that Jack was a coward. This point makes the statement used highly ironic as we are encountered with the fact that Jack wanted to return home several times. “‘We mothers are so proud – Of our dead soldiers”.
The mother speaks as if for all British soldiers: perhaps the consolation that she finds in doing so is in subsuming herself in the collective loss of all the mothers of the nation. At any rate, these words do seem more sentimental than authentic: their clichéd expression helping to repress the great grief of the woman. Also, I can tell from this that even if the mother expresses her positive thoughts, she still has regrets. This is evident in “Then her face bowed”. The word bowed shows her almost hesitant way of thinking. The writer has used this aspect to show the contrast of families’ ideologies from the start of the war to near its inception.
“Brimmed with joy, because he’d been so brave, her glorious boy”. The alliteration in these lines, expressing the devastation of the mother, is used very effectively by the writer. The effect of the repeated ‘b’s is to convey her restrained tears and give a suggestion of tremulously spoken words— of repressing the need to cry. This then contradicts the line she had said before, “We mothers are so proud”.
Sever times in ‘The Soldier’, the word England is repeated. The writer says, “breathing English air…washed…blest…home”: England is again mentioned. By repetition of the name, this poem gains patriotic intensity. Here the pleasant experience of everyday life is described as an English experience. The final mention of “home” brings us back to the tragic scene described in the first line. This part of the poem is used by the writer to not only to express his feelings for fighting for your homeland but also gives a false visualisation of how ALL the soldiers felt when fighting.
Returning to the poem, ‘The Hero’, the writer shows the negative impacts of war which mainly consists of physical harm, and more importantly, death. He mentions, “And how, at last, he died, Blown to small bits”. The contrast of the soldier’s death to the heroism supposed in the poem’s title is clear. ‘Jack’ is “blown to bits” by a shell or a mine: the plosive sound, ‘b’ echoing the sound of the explosive and its effect on the unfortunate soldier. The halting rhythm of the line, with pauses following each stressed word (“how”, “last”, “died”), lends a sense of inevitability to Jack’s death. The writer has used this to gives us as readers the idea that death was almost a horrific experience for the people involved.
In conclusion, it is clear that the two poems show great deal of contrast in the writers’ thoughts and ideas. From this, I can tell that the two writers had completely different feelings about war. In ‘The soldier’, Rupert Brooke uses sophisticated patriotic responses to the First World War to show his intense positive feelings for his nation. This gives me the impression that he thought that dying for your country was an honour. He resembles this level of honour by implying that a ‘British heaven’ would emerge in the foreign land. However Sassoon has an almost completely different opinion on war. He expresses his thoughts through the dehumanising effects of war and the downgrading of the soldiers’ emotional status. Even though many, including myself will agree with Sassoon’s thoughts, we still have to be aware that both poems give a biased opinion of war as they do not explore both sides of the argument. Therefore I can tell ideas on war can change from person to person and that these ideas have changed form the past century. It is clear to me that Sassoons ideologies have developed along the years to a point where most people will agree with him. Sassoon shows the emotions families go through once they hear the painful truth of death. In my opinion, both poems are successful in delivering their message across to the reader. Many of these poems at that time where used to either motivate men (in the case of ‘The Soldier’) or discourage men from fighting as the true identity of war is revealed to them (in the case of ‘The Hero’.