VOICES OF WORLD WAR I QUESTIONS

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Assigned: WWI Poetry. Voices of World War I Section: Sassoon (1960-64); Gurney (1965-66); Rosenberg (1966-70); Owen (1971-80); Cannan (1981-84); Graves (1984-87).

Of Interest: Author Images Sassoon | Gurney | Rosenberg | Owen | Cannan | Graves | Literary History | DMOZ Links | Best History Sites WWI Links | First World War.Com: History Site | WWI Lit Course Blog | Poetry of WWI | Wilfred Owen Multimedia Archive | Robert Graves Archive

SIEGFRIED SASSOON

"They"

1. How might this poem be a reflection on the contrast between experiencing something and talking about it? For example, how does the Bishop describe the change that has come over the men after their war experience? How do the men reply?

2. How is the poem a reflection on the concept of individual experience? Why do the men seem to speak as a chorus rather than as individuals?

3. Does the Bishop understand what the men say? What does his manner of processing their reply revel about his understanding?

"The Rear-Guard"

4. How does the speaker deal with the difficulty of comprehending his own experience even as it happens, down in the trenches, and then back in the light?

5. How does the speaker convey his experience to readers who have not gone through it? To what extent does he "simply describe," and to what extent does he resort to traditional literary language and devices?

6. How does the poem pit an individual's sensibilities against a situation proper to mechanized mass warfare?

"The General"

7. What figure does the General cut in this poem? How does the speaker, evidently an enlisted man, perceive him?

8. How would relations between officers and ordinary soldiers differ in modern warfare from the relations that held in pre-technological times? (Say, Caesar and his men, or Alexander the Great?)

"The Glory of Women"

9. What is the speaker's attitude towards the women -- mothers, sisters, lovers, etc. -- who he addresses? Does he accuse them of naivete or something worse?

"Everyone Sang"

10. What is the poem's situation? What traditional literary analogies does the speaker employ in describing it?

11. Is the poem suggesting a momentary victory of the spirit over gross material circumstance? How do the final two lines complicate this possibility?

"On Passing the New Menin Gate"

12. What is the basis for the speaker's condemnation of civilian attempts to memorialize those who die in war? How do the New Menin Gate's inscriptions lie?

13. If you have ever visited a war memorial -- Pearl Harbor, Arlington National Cemetery, the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C., etc. -- what did you see as the purpose of the place, of the words you read?

IVOR GURNEY

"To His Love"

14. Who is the speaker? In what sense does the poem deal harshly with generic expectations for such writing?

"The Silent One"

15. How is this poem an exploration of "antiheroic" sentiment about the psychology of trench-and-barbed-wire warfare -- what's the cost here of survival?

ISAAC ROSENBERG

"Break of Day in the Trenches," "Louse Hunting," "Returning, We Hear the Larks"

16. In one or more of these poems, how does Rosenberg enlist the perspective of animals and the presence of nature to reflect on his own experience of war?

"Dead Man's Dump"

17. Rosenberg evidently chose to write this poem with rather "classical" syntax, with archaic inversions and so forth. What does this style bring home about the nature of the situation and experience he describes?

WILFRED OWEN

"Anthem for Doomed Youth"

18. The poem's title suggests that it is a poem appropriate in form to those it commemorates. What tone and conventions does it set forth as appropriate to the "doomed youth"? How does it ironize or undercut this conventionality?

"Apologia Pro Poemate Meo"

19. How does Owen adapt the conventional meaning of certain words and actions to suit his experience of war?

20. The last two stanzas address civilian readers: what is the speaker's final judgment on the possibility of conveying or representing his experience to others who have not been through similar ones?

21. Is the problem simply one of language -- i.e. there are no proper words to deal with war's violence and terror -- or does the problem lie elsewhere? Explain.

"Miners"

22. How does this poem's analogy between miners' work and soldiering undercut nineteenth-century narratives about the inevitability of progress, the triumph of civilization over material obstacles, of the human spirit over what Tennyson calls in In Memoriam A.H.H. "the ape and tiger {in us}"?

23. How, according to the poem by implication, is "forgetting" integral to the process of civilization?

"Dulce et Decorum Est"

24. It is sometimes said that language cannot describe extreme violence or suffering. To what extent does this poem attempt to do so? What is the strategy of representation?

MAY WEDDERBURN CANNAN

25. In "Rouen" and the excerpt from Grey Ghosts and Voices, what view does Cannan set forth in opposition to the sort of criticism we find in Sassoon and some other WWI poets? Does it seem convincing as one possible way to make sense of how many people "processed" the Great War, or too limited in perspective to be convincing?

ROBERT GRAVES

From Goodbye to All That

26. Graves recounts his wounding during the Battle of the Somme in mid-1916. What attitude does he describe himself as having taken towards this episode when it happened? How does the excerpt testify both to the confusion that besets any wartime event and to a certain determination to achieve clarity about what has happened?

"The Dead Fox Hunter"

27. How does this poem reconfigure "heaven" for the sake of the Major's battlefield bravery and the kind of life he led? How does its tone resemble "Georgian" poetry like that of Rupert Brooke, while yet taking on a harder edge in its representation of death and violence?

"Recalling War"

28. In this poem, looking back at the "Great War" and revised during the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War that preceded the outbreak of yet another World War in 1939 (Hitler's forces invaded Poland on Sept. 1 of that year), Graves reflects on how the passage of time affects people's understanding of wartime violence and pain. Discuss some of those reflections -- which seem most valuable, and why? In addition, how do you interpret the poem's final four lines?

Edition: Greenblatt, Stephen et al, eds. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 8th ed. Vol. E. New York: Norton, 2006. ISBN Package 2 (Vols. DEF) 0-393-92834-9.