When World War I started in 1914, it was presented as honourable and noble to fight for King and country. Many young men either joined up or were forced in to joining the army to fight against evil. However, as the war progressed, it became apparent that it was not so. Writers and poets began to describe to the horrors of the battlefields and by the end of the war in 1918, literature was extremely critical of the war and its many consequences.
At the start of the war, it was presented as chivalrous and honourable. This is shown in ‘Who’s for the Game?’ by Jessie Pope. Pope writes, ‘Who’s for the game, the biggest that’s played’. This gives the war a sense of being a huge gathering that you don’t want to miss out on being part of. She then writes, ‘who would much rather come back with a crutch than lie low and be out of the fun’. This presents the war as an adventure and something fun. It also suggests that the worst that could happen is that your leg will be broken. She says, ‘Who’ll grip and tackle the job unafraid?’ which presents the war in terms of a rugby or football match that is easy to win and something fun and worthwhile. In the latter part of the poem, she adopts an informal, gently chiding, almost motherly style saying, ‘come along, lads-but you’ll come on all right’. This is used to persuade young men who are reluctant to volunteer to do so. This poem, along with many others by Jessie Pope, was published in the Daily Mail at the time to encourage young men to sign up because of its presentation of the war as a sport and something fun, worthwhile and patriotic. Pope wrote many other poems and had three anthologies of her works published during the war. The name of her 1916 anthology, ‘Simple Rhymes for Stirring Times’, was (judging from the title) aimed at people who maybe couldn’t read so well, but who were patriotic and were inspired by the war.
Herbert Asquith also presents the war as chivalrous and honourable in his poem ‘The Volunteer’. The clerk in the poem, who was ‘Toiling at ledgers in a city grey’, is presented as being bored with his life as an accountant in the City, which is shown by the word ‘toiling’. However, ‘the gleaming eagles of the legions came, and horsemen, charging under phantom skies, went thundering past beneath the oriflamme’. The ‘gleaming eagles of the legions’ is the war and the opportunity to do something for your country and the idea of the oriflamme presents it as noble and chivalrous, like the Medieval Crusades, and gives the idea that soldiers who join up become noble knights. In the second half of the poem, the clerk dies: ‘his lance is broken; but he lies content with that high hour, in which he lived and died’. Unlike in Wilfred Owen’s ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ where Owen forces us to see him dying and paints horrific images of the battlefield, Asquith does none of this. He uses a euphemism for death, ‘falling’, to make it sound more glamorous.
The clerk’s death is almost glossed over and...