The first World War affected the lives of many young men. Many poets and authors who were part of the war shared their stories in their writings. Poets gave people a look at the reality of war with their vivid and sometimes grotesque depictions of life as a soldier or a citizen. Two of the greatest war poets from this era are Charles Sorley (1895-1915) and Wilfred Owen (1893-1918). Charles Sorley was born in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1895. He attended Marlborough College from 1908 until 1913. He then moved to Germany until the start of the war, when he moved back to England to enlist in the military. Sorley was killed in the Battle of Loos on October 13, 1915. (“Charles Sorley”) After his death, his poetry was published in a book entitled Marlborough and Other Poems. (“Prose and Poetry- Charles Hamilton Sorley”) Wilfred Owen was born in Oswestry, Shropshire in 1893. He attended what is now the Wakeman School until 1911. He enlisted in October 1915 with the Artists’ Rifles and was killed a week before the end of the war in November 1918 (Wilfred Owen). Both poets’ works primarily consisted of descriptions of their first hand experiences during the war.
Perhaps one of Sorley’s most influential poems was the one written just before his death; When You See Millions of the Mouthless Dead. In this poem he talks about how it won’t help to praise the dead soldiers or to cry for them because they can’t hear or see you. He says in line 8 of the poem that “it is easy to be dead”. This shows how the war hardened the emotions of some soldiers. It also suggests that death was so common that it has little to no affect on him (Prose and Poetry- Charles Hamilton Sorley). Also in his Poem Barbury Camp, he speaks of how war can be a soldier’s heaven or hell. He writes about fighting in the wind and I the rain. He also writes about the soldiers talking to God after they die and basically having to answer to him about their actions (Barbury Camp). Some of this same raw emotion and descriptiveness is seen in Owen’s poetry.
Owen’s poem Dulce et Decorum Est was written during a time in the war when gas attacks were common. Owen speaks of how the gas has them fumbling, coughing and choking. He writes about how they have to throw soldiers on wagons and listen to them “gargling from froth corrupted lungs” (Kennedy and Gioia, 689) in line 22. This poem shows how the specific tools and tactics of the war affected the soldiers. In another poem entitled Disabled, Owen writes about a wounded soldier who sits in a wheelchair reflecting on how the war has changed his town. “About this time town used to swing so gay” he writes in line 7. He reflects on how happy people there used to be watching the children play in the streets. He also writes about how the war has affected the soldier personally. In lines 10-12 he speaks of the time “before he threw away his knees” (Poetry of Wilfred Owen-Disabled). This poem gave clear insight into how the world changed during the war.
Both poets were similar in the way that they used their own traumatic experiences during the war to bring forth the emotions portrayed in their poetry. They both were on the frontlines of war which heavily influenced the subject matter in their poems.
The poets were also different in that Sorley wrote all of his war poems while actually fighting in the war while, Owen on the other hand, wrote a great deal of his poetry while being treated for shell shock at Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh (Wilfred Owen). This perhaps explains why some of Owen’s poetry was so much more descriptive. While Sorley was writing about his experiences in the moment, Owen had time to reflect, and possibly have flashbacks of all that he had seen in the war up to that point.
The writings of both poets mainly consisted of their experiences in the war. They basically gave us a glimpse into their own minds as they were fighting in the trenches themselves. Their works equally made us aware and conscious of the terrors and the trials that were the war. Owen’s writings gave us his view on how drastically the war had changed the worlds of men from before the war until days before his demise. Sorley made us aware of the many men in the war were hardened to the point where they would never be the same. The insights these men gave are the same during today’s war just as they were then.
“Barbury Camp.” Poemhunter.com. 22 Oct. 2008
“Charles Sorley.” Wikipedia. 19 Sept. 2008. 22 Oct. 2008
Gioia, Dana, and Joe X. Kennedy. Literature : An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. 10th ed. New York: Longman, 2006. 689-99.
“Poetry of Wilfred Owen-Disabled.” Everypoet.com. 22 Oct. 2008
“Prose and Poetry- Charles Hamilton Sorley.” Prose and Poetry. 11 Aug. 2001. 22 Oct. 2008
“Wilfred Owen.” Wikipedia. 21 Oct. 2008. 22 Oct. 2008