“Once and for all the idea of glorious victories won by the glorious army must be wiped out. Neither side is glorious. On either side they’re just frightened men messing their pants and they all want the same thing – not to lie under the earth, but to walk upon it. ” Peter Weiss. S This famous anti war quotation by the German writer Peter Weiss clearly shows the attitude that Rilke, Whitman and Southey had to war whilst writing their poems. Each of the three poems that will be discussed in this essay leads the reader to think that war is pointless but takes a different approach to do this.
Rilke talks about the feelings of the loved ones who are left behind when the men go off to war and the feeling of desperation as they can do nothing to stop them. Similarly Whitman talks about the feelings of the loved ones at home when someone they are close to gets injured or dies, and they get the dreaded letter that is sent home from the frontline when all they can do is sit at home thinking that somewhere someone they love is suffering for their wellbeing and they can’t help them.
Whereas in Southey’s poem has a much more hidden message. In his poem he puts the message across that war is pointless by giving two opinions in the poem but overall the opinion against the war overcomes the opinion that glory should be given to those who lay under the ground rather than to those who walk above the ground. The first poem is called “Before Waterloo, The last night”, written by German Rainer Maria Rilke in 1815.
At the beginning of the poem Rilke sets the scene by comparing the “muffled creaking” of the artillery wheels to the slowness and eeriness of what is happening. Also the wheels could be a symbol that the men have not got much time left and that in a short period of time they will be fighting for their lives emotionally and physically. As the men leave in despair and hope for their lives there is a very strong sense of helplessness and everyone is in an incredibly depressed mood shown in the poem by the slow tempo and the eeriness of the setting.
The man playing the harpsichord brings in a very slow beautiful and loving tone which adds more despair to the wives staying at home as they are being separated from their cherished husbands and they can do nothing about it. After the playing of the harpsichord finishes there is total silence, the almost ghostly silence is then intruded by the great rush of the fine-looking ladies heart. The immense thumping of the woman’ heart only greatens the feeling of sorrow and loneliness and how much of a struggle the wives lives will be after the men have unwontedly deserted them.
The last image that is created by the fresh morning wind, this breeze adds to the ghost like setting and could also represent the soldier’s souls that they have left behind leaving the village, and now that every part of the men has left and all that is left is the man’s black shako to remind people he was alive, this is his legacy. The title of the poem sets a very slow scene straight away.
The comma in the middle of this title makes you pause and think for a second then the last three words “The Last Night” makes you think ahead and gives you an idea that the poem is going to be about people separating and allows the reader to make his own opinion about the poem. Also the way in which this poem is written adds to the melancholy created, the fact that there is no rhyming makes the reader slow down whilst reading it. The Poem is a form of elegy, which is a poem written about some ones individual mourning in this poem it is the mourning of the beautiful woman standing in the window by a mirror table.
Finally the poem is written almost like a sonnet as it has only fourteen lines most of which consist of ten syllables. However it does not rhyme like many sonnets do. Overall the reader gets the impressions that Rilke is very against war, he thinks that it just causes depression sorrow and many more emotions. This is put forward by the representations of the wheels on the artillery, the playing of the harpsichord and the thumping of the woman’s heart. The Second poem “Come up from the fields Father” written by Walt Whitman about the American Civil War.
Whitman himself was a military nurse and saw firsthand the horrific effect both upon the soldiers and the population as a whole. In this poem he writes inventively about the effects of war upon a farming family from Ohio, one of the northern states. A letter from the front line tells the family bad news about their son Pete. In the first stanza Whitman starts off by going straight into the poem, he doesn’t set the scene first, giving the reader a sense of urgency unlike Rilke whose poem starts slowly. Come up from the fields, Father, here’s a letter from our Pete,” this quote adds to the sense of urgency as the family haven’t heard from their son Pete in a long time. The daughter of the family receives the letter and then shouts to the father who is out working in the fields and to the mother who is most probably in the kitchen. This is the first perspective of the poem, the daughter gives the reader the perspective from a young mind. Later on in the poem Whitman uses her perspective again because he considers it a strong view.
When Whitman refers to the son as “Our Pete” he adds a much more personal note to the poem. On the other hand in the second stanza Whitman slows the pace of the poem down, he starts to set the scene and speaks about the “leaves fluttering in the moderate wind” this calms the reader down and puts the reader into a false sense of security, as the bad news of the letter is still to come. Also in this stanza Whitman makes use of all the senses, for example he describes the smell of the grapes.
Also he describes the beautiful autumn weather and how he can feel the “moderate wind”, how he can smell the “Buckwheat where the bees where lately buzzing” and how he can see the Forest’s different colours contrasting against one another. This makes the reader think of peacefulness and adds a feeling of prosperity that all is well. The Third stanza takes you back to the family setting. It says how all is well, down in the fields however when the daughter is brought back into the poem it all starts to speed up again.
The daughter in this poem is therefore seen by the reader as the bringer of bad news and urgency as she destroys the peacefulness of the moderate autumn wind from the last stanza. Whitman describes how the mother’s steps are hurried and how she is trembling because of a letter from Pete. “She does not tarry to smooth her hair” this reinforces the incredibly rushed feeling, by creating the image of the mother almost running from one side of the house to the front door. In the fourth stanza the key idea and the key emotions start to become clear.
The first line “open the envelope quickly” carries on the rushed mood. Then the line “O this is not our sons writing” introduces the Families worst fears that their son may well be dead, and that they can do nothing about it, in a similar way to the helplessness of the woman in Rilke’s Poem. The fourth line “O a strange hand writes for our dear son,” adds a sense of confusion to the poem. Towards the end of this stanza the mother reads out the main words letter and even though there are only a few words this creates a bigger image in the readers mind.
In the fifth stanza Whitman creates another contrast by going back to where the family are set, where all is well and there are few troubles it says “Amid all teeming and wealthy Ohio”. In the sixth stanza the daughter comes back into the scene she starts to try and reassure the mother and even though they know by the wording used in the letter that it is most probably not true she points out to the mother that it says “Pete will be soon better” this adds to the desperation and helplessness of the family again similar to that of the woman in Rilke’s poem and how the family and the woman are both emotionally suffering for their loved ones.
The Last two stanzas come from the poet’s perspective. Whitman uses this monologue to give the idea that the mother, now she knows her son is dead, wishes to join him she no longer wishes to be alive. He shows this by saying, “In the midnight waking, weeping, longing with one deep longing, O that she might with draw unnoticed, silent from life escape and withdraw, to follow, to seek, to be with her dead dear son. ”
Overall the reader gets the impression that Whitman like Rilke is against war because he talks about the emotional suffering of the family after the soldiers have left and shows that the family live in fear of receiving a letter, as for all they know it may well be a letter from the front line, and from their dear son Pete. The third and final poem “The Battle of Blenheim” was written by Robert Southey in 1798. Southey wrote this poem looking back on the Spanish succession ninety four years earlier.
The most prominent idea of the poem is the discrepancy of the official view of the battle being a “great victory”, and the reality that actually thousands of men had died for no great reason. In stanza one, Southey starts off by setting the scene, unlike Whitman, “It was a summer evening, Old Kaspar’s work was done”. This quote paints a very light and carefree image in the reader’s head, unlike the sound of the title. The title makes the reader think that the poem will be about a great battle and therefore include violence and death, but actually it’s a very peaceful setting.
Also the first stanza is used to introduce the characters, Old Kaspar and Wilhelmine. The rhyme scheme of the first stanza being ABCBDD adds a very joyful atmosphere to the reader’s image. In the second stanza the rhyme scheme changes slightly to a much more repetitive and bouncy, ABCBBB pattern which combined with the frequent repartition of large, round and found creates a child-like and playful atmosphere which is in contrast to both Rilke and Whitman’s poems which are both very sombre. Also a second Grandchild, Peterkin, is introduced adding to the childish feel of the poem.
Old Kasper goes on in the poem talking about the Battle of Blenheim and frequently says “’twas a famous victory” however the children in the poem are persistently questioning Old Kasper’s view as they can not quite see how a battle with so many lives lost can be a success. The last two stanzas of this poem are somewhat surprising because it is the children despite their innocence who pass the final judgement, “twas a wicked thing” directly contradicting the opinion stated by the grandfather although he is not sure he really believes it is the right opinion.
By using the young characters in this way to pronounce the final judgement, Southey expresses his beliefs through young people and he shows that he believes they have a deep insight into life which is lost over age as shown by the grandfather accepting the general view. The reader is lead by the poet from the state of being innocently ignorant of war, to openly condemning it as “a very wicked thing” towards the end. Southey has written this poem in the form of a ballad, the poem has a simple message and is written similar to a story.
The simplicity of a ballad suits the simple message that Southey is trying to get across. Also ballads will usually include a repeated word or phrase in this case at the end of most stanzas “Famous victory” is repeated. Southey’s poem is different to Rilke’s and Whitman’s poems as Southey was writing against the official view of the public. However all three poets views on war are the same because they all thought that it was a stupid waste of life and that there was no point in fighting the war they write about.