II. Wars of Destruction and the Myth of the Hero
In 1914, it began the First World War, which ended in 1918. The conflict that involved virtually the entire world generated enormous discontent and skepticism about political, social and philosophical force until then. The man, who lived the war, starts to question the values of his time. The period of security, confidence in the future andeuphoria had ended. Hundreds of young men in uniform took to writing poetry as a way of striving to express extreme emotion at the very edge of experience. War poetry is not necessarily ‘anti-war’. It is, however, about the very large questions of life: identity, innocence, guilt, loyalty, courage, compassion, humanity, duty, desire, death.
Like most of the population of the countries thatinitiated the hostilities in 1914, much of the British poets faced with enthusiasm the possibility of participating in the "war to end all wars." We can see this in “The Soldier”, one of the poems of Rupert Brooke, who in the beginning of the war already had a good reputation as a poet in England.
“If I should die, think only this of me
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for everEngland. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware, (…)
But the excitement was short lived, as the poets caught in touch with the day-to-day front. Charles Sorley, who died in combat with only 20, was just five months on the combat - long enough to observe that most of people didn’t agree or wanted to be there. “When yousee millions of the mouthless dead Across your dreams in pale battalions go,Say not soft things as other men have said, That you'll remember. For you need not so”. The disappointment, frustration and fear of the war can also be seen in a poem from William Noel Hodgson. “Before Action”, is kinda prophetical, his own memorial, as it was written just two days before he was killed in a battle.
“By all theglories of the day
And the cool evening’s benison: (...)
By all the days that I have lived,
Make me a soldier, Lord. (...)
By all of all men’s hopes and fears, (...)
By all his mad catastrophes,
Make me a man, O Lord. (...)
Must say good-bye to all of this: -
By all delights that I shall miss,
Help me to die, O Lord.”
After watching their friends dying, the soldiers started questioning thevalidity of the war. They realized that the heroes of this war was them, the ones that were fighting, giving their lives for a unknown cause, and not their generals, that most of the time were careless about their troop. Those generals weren’t usually in the front, fighting, with the soldier and had no idea or care of what was happening. The soldiers were becoming aware that because of theincompetence of those who were in charge many of them were losing their lives. We can see this is the poem “The general”, form Siegfried Sassoon:
‘Good-morning; good-morning!’ the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ’em dead,
And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
‘He’s a cheery old card,’ grunted Harry to Jack
Asthey slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.
But he did for them both by his plan of attack.”
The WWI ended up becoming the precursor of a period marked by genocides and increasingly bloody conflict. Between 1914 and 1918, nothing was more symbolic of what was to come than inhuman "trench warfare", where the hosts dug holes in the ground to hide from the enemy during very long periods. And itwas there, in this environment, living inside those trench, surrounded by dead bodies, that the war poetries were writing, as we can see in this poem “Dreamers”, from Siegfried Sassoon:
“(…)Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin
They think of firelit homes, clean beds, and wives.
I see them in foul dugouts, gnawed by rats,
And in the ruined trenches, lashed with rain,