Dying for One's Country in Asquith's The Volunteer and the Extract From Shakespeare's Henry V
How effectively do Asquith's Poem, 'The Volunteer,' and the Extract
From Shakespeare's 'Henry V' Promote the Idea That it is Heroic to
fight and Die For One's Country? What Alternative View, is Offered by
Wilfred Owen in 'Dulce et Decorum Est?'
The Volunteer is a Pro-War poem written by Herbert Asquith. Asquith
uses roman imagery to invoke a feeling of greatness and honour.
Asquith begins his poem by describing the miserable, mundane life of a
clerk, working in a 'city grey'. He opens with the words 'Here liesâ€¦'
that are normally used to begin writing on a gravestone. This
'epitaph' - style opening gives the idea that the clerk has now passed
away and the poem will concentrate on events beforehand. We are told
the clerk has spent 'â€¦half his lifeâ€¦' doing boring work ('..Toiling at
ledgers..'), his days drifting away. There is a distinct lack of
fulfilment in his life, '..With no lance broken in life's tournamentâ€¦'
('Lance' is roman imagery)
And yet he dreams of '..The gleaming eagles of the legions..' and
horsemen '..thundering past beneath the oriflamme..' (or battle flag.)
Asquith cleverly uses the expression '..The gleaming eagles of the
legions..' to conjure up ideas in the reader's mind of great gleaming
roman soldiers. This adds to the ideology that war is a glamorous and
In his second stanza, Asquith tells us that '..those waiting dreams
are satisfied..' Obviously, the clerk has joined the army. He talks of
'..waiting dreams..' giving the impression that the clerk has dreamt
of this for a very long time. He goes on to say '..From twilight to
the halls of dawn he went..' I think what he means is that the clerk
has gone from his dull city to a new, brighter beginning. And although
he died he is happy. '..His lance is broken but he lies content..'
Because in that 'high hour in which he lived and died' he achieved
something he had dreamt of forever. Asquith also mentions that the man
needs no reward for his actions ('..he wants no recompenseâ€¦'). In his
last two lines of the poem, Asquith writes:
'..nor need he any hearse to bear him hence, who goes to join the men
What he is saying is that he who fights for his country needs no other
honour in death for fighting is his reward.
This poem is very pro-war and is remarkably influential in using roman
imagery to sway the reader's judgement in his favour. Overall, it is
written quite effectively.
Another pro-war poem is Henry V. It is actually a speech from Henry V
by William Shakespeare. It is his interpretation of what Henry V would
have said to his men in an effort to inspire them before they fought
at Agincourt. The writer uses the idea that the men will be remembered