It is very difficult to communicate emotional aspects of historical truth. Literature takes on that challenge, portraying that powerful layer underneath the sequence of events. The following poets put their audience in the dangerous position of World War 1 soldiers, giving them the opportunity to learn about the war from a very real perspective.
“How to Die” by Siegfried Sasson
The title of the poem completely captures its purpose. Siegfried Sasson shows the way that soldiers deal with death, implying that this was intentionally the way that they were taught to handle it and their only option to be able to stay strong enough to fight. Death was an unavoidable aspect of the war. The only way that the soldiers were able to carry on was to accept it and to view it as a contribution to a greater cause. This point is demonstrated from both the perspective of a victim of the battlefield and the reaction of his fellow soldiers. Sasson walks his audience through a victim of death’s final moments. Instead of being resistant to death, the soldier is absolutely willing to die out of pride. The individual has prioritized his legacy over his security. Through this character, Sasson has shown this idea of universal acceptance of death among soldiers. Sasson shows that while the customary members of our society cherish life, soldiers have developed a mindset that recognizes something bigger than that. The sacrifice that the soldiers make brings a glory that has a benefit much greater than their loss. Sasson’s purpose in showing this is to suggest that soldiers demonstrate to the rest of us the correct way to die. Instead of viewing death as a depressing end to our lives, we must put ourselves in the position to proudly die in the face of glory. We need to appreciate and admire soldiers who have the strength to carry out their lives with these principles. Sasson also communicates his point through the eyes of the soldiers who stay alive to witness the passing of their war mates. Soldiers have been trained to be epitomes of strength. The soldiers chose to use the soldier in this poem as motivation, rather than an excuse to slow them down. With every reason to accept this as an unavoidable setback, the soldiers make the decision to not let it affect them. This serves as a model to non-soldiers who are simply struggling to fight the struggles that life can bring. If soldiers can find a way to deal with as difficult an obstacle as death in a healthy way, there’s nothing that should distract us from overcoming struggles in our own lives.
“The Happy Warrior” by Herbert Read
In this piece, Herbert Read shows his admiration for the ability that soldiers have to keep a positive attitude while dealing with life in combat that is far from easy. The ability that soldiers have to maintain great attitudes in the midst of great struggle is incredible. Read is not hyping up reality whatsoever in his piece. The simplistic way that he communicates the soldiers’ struggle in a condensed fashion is very effective. The fact that it is not fabricated at all puts Read in the role of merely a distributor of truth instead of exaggerating the soldiers’ struggle. Read demonstrates his purpose really implicitly, which makes for such an interesting piece as well. Read centers the majority of his piece on the pain that a soldier experiences in various parts of the human body, which makes it easy for any human to relate to. Humanizing the soldiers makes the pain that they experience seem so much more real to the audience and calls for no need to embellish it. The audience imagines themselves in the soldier’s position and feels that pain. Then, as the audience understands that soldiers are able to maintain a positive mentality through it all, they appreciate the soldiers even more.
“Before Action” by W.N. Hodgson
Hodgson’s poem communicates a soldier’s mentality from a very realistic perspective. The narrator of this poem experiences an intense inner struggle. The soldier has a huge desire to be able to be strong and put his fears aside. In the first part of the poem, as he watches the sunset, he’s trying to view the war from the perspective of a soldier by appreciating the war as a beauty and blessing. In the following section, the audience see’s that this man is only a human. As much as he wishes he could be strong through it all, there is this immense amount of emotion that overcomes him. Sacrificing himself up for war brings a lot of fear as the field of combat is truly so unpredictable. This fear is truly unavoidable. The final section shows the man’s confusion in developing a way to accept death that can come any day. The man seems quite helpless. It’s difficult for him to accept himself as being another one of those sacrifices that die everyday. I’m glad that Hodgson wrote a piece explaining this struggle that soldiers go through. Even though it seems that soldiers have fully developed this admiration for the war, many definitely still see it as really scary. Sometimes there is no way of escaping humanistic qualities that worry us and make us scared. It’s comforting for Hodgson’s audience to know that even those who are portrayed as the strongest members of our society struggle with this too.