THE

HOW

PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS

GLADNESS TURNED INTO BITTERNESS

The impact of the Great War marked the end of Georgian Poetry that was very much in vogue during the early years of the reign of King George V.

Georgian Poetry refers to the work of a school that was sandwiched between the Victorian era,
with its strict classicism and Modernism, with its strict rejection of pure aestheticism. These works represent an attempt to wall against the disruptive forces of modern civilization. Their common features are romanticism, sentimentalism and hedonism. The term Georgian Poetry was first used of poets when Edward Marsh published the first of a series of five anthologies called Georgian

Poetry in 1912.
In an innocent world that still associated warfare with glorious cavalry charges and the noble pursuit of heroic ideals the prolonged horrors of the trench warfare were long kept from the knowledge of the civilians at home, who continued to use the old patriotic slogans and write in old-fashioned romantic terms of the glories of war. John Frederick Freeman (1880 – 1929) started working at an insurance company and began to write poetry when he was eighteen. He published his first volume of poetry Twenty Poems, in 1909 and Fifty Poems in 1911, but his reputation was made with Stone Trees in 1916. He was part of a circle of Georgian poets. One of the poems in the volume Stone Trees blatantly reflects the writer's patriotic, romantic view of war, Happy is England now, which alludes to John Keats' Happy is England (1817).

Hap py is E ngland no w

There is not anything more wonderful
Than a great people moving towards the deep Of an unguessed and unfeared future; nor Is aught so dear of all held dear before As the new passion stirring in their veins When the destroying Dragon wakes from sleep. Happy is England now, as never yet!

And though the sorrows of the slow days fret Her faithfullest children, grief itself is proud. Ev’n the warm beauty of this spring and summer That turns to bitterness turns then to gladness Since for this England the beloved ones died.

Happy is England in the brave that die For wrongs not hers and wrongs so sternly hers; Happy in those that give, give, and endure The pain that never the new years may cure; Happy in all her dark woods, green fields, towns, Her hills and rivers and her chafing sea.

Whate’er was dear before is dearer now. There’s not a bird singing upon his bough But sings the sweeter in our English ears: There’s not a nobleness of heart, hand, brain But shines the purer; happiest is England now In those that fight, and watch with pride and tears.

Freeman uses free verse in this patriotic poem to revere England's 'faithfullest children', the brave soldiers who defy death for 'a wrong not hers and wrongs so sternly hers'. The poem consists of four six-line stanzas in which the words dear and happy are repetitiously used, which highlight the writer's opinion of England's moral obligation to enter World War I. In the first stanza Freeman states that although uncertain of the outcome of this conflict the people of England are stirred by an innate passion for war when England's forces are summoned. He uses the metaphor of the 'destroying Dragon' which is reputedly a symbol of (Anglo-Saxon) England to refer to its glorious and proud history, completely in line with Georgian tradition. Stanza 2 takes nationalism even further posing that although 'beloved ones died' 'grief itself is proud'. This stanza is sublimely patriotic because the writer justifies the deaths of the soldiers using the fact that they died for their country.

Freeman uses parallelism in line 5 to express this justification, 'That turns to bitterness turns then to gladness'. One should rejoice at the fact that they died for 'this England'. The third stanza is the most interesting one. It explicitly explains England's motif for entering this war. In line two parallelism is again used for a justification, 'For wrongs not hers and wrongs so sternly hers..' The attention is drawn to the word wrong. Wrong was Germany when they supported Austria who had murdered Archduke Ferdinand of Austria in Serbia as a reason for declaring war on Serbia. Wronged was Belgium when it was attacked by Germany although all the powers had guaranteed Belgian neutrality. It was this attack that brought Britain into this conflict. In the last line of this stanza he cleverly inserts 'chafing sea' implying the historical vulnerability of the English shores. Finally, in the fourth stanza Freeman romantically turns to England's chivalrous past and meditative countryside. Again he unambiguously states that England is best served by fighting for a noble cause, 'with pride and tears'. What distinguishes Freeman from the next poet herein discussed is their status as witness, combatants. John Freeman, a noncombatant, expressed his view, Wilfred Owen, what he had witnessed.
“Hideous landscapes, vile noises, foul language and nothing but foul, even from one's own mouth (for all are devil ridden); everything unnatural, broken, blasted; the distortion of the dead, whose unburiable bodies sit outside the dug-outs all day, all night, the most execrable sights on earth. In poetry we call them the most glorious. But we sit with them all day, all night... and a week later to come back and find them still sitting there, in motionless groups. THAT is what saps the 'soldiery spirit'.” From Owen, Collected Letters

Wilfred Owen (1893 - 1918) came from a devout Christian background and began working as a lay assistant to a country vicar. He enlisted 1917 and fought in the Battle of Somme. Owen invalided out of the Front Line with shell shock, of which horrendous nightmares are symptomatic, but after recovery returned to the Front. He was killed in action a week before the war ended. Owen's lyric Insensibility describes what it takes, or rather costs to be the faithfullest child and critizes those back home who are in support of England's involvement in the war. He raises his voice against the ignorance of 'certain poets' and the civilians they falsely hearten.
Insensi bility I

Happy are men who yet before they are killed Can let their veins run cold. Whom no compassion fleers Or makes their feet Sore on the alleys cobbled with their brothers. The front line withers, But they are troops who fade, not flowers For poets' tearful fooling: Men, gaps for filling Losses who might have fought Longer; but no one bothers. II And some cease feeling Even themselves or for themselves. Dullness best solves The tease and doubt of shelling, And Chance's strange arithmetic Comes simpler than the reckoning of their shilling. They keep no check on Armies' decimation. III Happy are these who lose imagination: They have enough to carry with ammunition. Their spirit drags no pack. Their old wounds save with cold can not more ache. Having seen all things red, Their eyes are rid Of the hurt of the colour of blood for ever. And terror's first constriction over, Their hearts remain small drawn. Their senses in some scorching cautery of battle Now long since ironed, Can laugh among the dying, unconcerned.

IV Happy the soldier home, with not a notion How somewhere, every dawn, some men attack, And many sighs are drained. Happy the lad whose mind was never trained: His days are worth forgetting more than not. He sings along the march

Which we march taciturn, because of dusk, The long, forlorn, relentless trend From larger day to huger night. V We wise, who with a thought besmirch Blood over all our soul, How should we see our task But through his blunt and lashless eyes? Alive, he is not vital overmuch; Dying, not mortal overmuch; Nor sad, nor proud, Nor curious at all. He cannot tell Old men's placidity from his. VI But cursed are dullards whom no cannon stuns, That they should be as stones. Wretched are they, and mean With paucity that never was simplicity. By choice they made themselves immune To pity and whatever mourns in man Before the last sea and the hapless stars; Whatever mourns when many leave these shores; Whatever shares The eternal reciprocity of tears.

Insensibility is written in free verse and consists of six stanza of unequal length. Owen opens with the use of metonymies in the first stanza, “Men, gaps for filling/Losses …” dramatizing the alienation from society once the young men enlisted. Owen, master of alliteration, onomatopoeia, assonance, half-rhyme, also pioneered pararhyme.

This last, the rhyming of two words with identical or similar consonant but different, stressed vowels, is displayed in almost every stanza of Insensibility : brothers/bothers, shelling/shilling, red/rid, drained/trained, shores/shares and it produces effects of dissonance and failure that subtly reinforces his theme of futility and callousness. In the first stanza Owen sarcastically opens with the words, “Happy are men who yet before they are killed/Can let their veins run cold.” drawing the awareness to the discrepancy between

illusion and reality. After which he immediately charges 'certain poets, “But they are troops who fade, not flowers/For poets' tearful fooling” and knives them down. In stanzas two and three he laments the impact that war has on 'them', it dulls their souls, makes them unconcerned and indifferent, ironically even to war's financial rewards. Owen scolds the pro-war civilians at home, ignorant, arrogant and unaware of the terror and atrocities their soldiers have to face 'But through his blunt and lashless eyes' in stanzas four and five. Owen compares old men's placidity to the state these soldiers are in, “Nor sad, nor proud/Nor curious at all. Surprisingly, in the last stanza he fiercely – cursed, wretched, mean - condemns those soldiers who chose to enlist for the want of killing. Owen's last line serves as a warning because nothing good can ever come out of war, tears beget tears.

Anna Spoor, December 2008

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