Sean’s Bridge to the Blog

In class today we focused on Owen, specifically his use of the religious in “The Parable of the Old Man and the Young” and some of the formal elements in “Dulce et Decorum Est.” One thing that I wish we touched more on was Owen’s portrayal not only of war, but nationalism/the nation as an idea or concept.

I bring up this topic because in the famous final lines of “Dulce et Decorum Est,” Owen does not make a statement about dying for your country in WWI specifically. Rather, his statement is more general, saying (translated) “It is sweet and honorable to die for one’s country.” If he wanted to, he could have expressed his frustration about WWI itself and the reasons why he saw this particular war as egregious (as he did in the “The Parable of the Old Man and the Young”). However, by choosing not to do so, we can assume that Owen thinks it is never “sweet and honorable to die for one’s country,” no matter the circumstance. This, of course, goes against the prevailing narrative that dying in service of one’s country is the most honorable thing one can do (e.g. “The Charge of the Light Brigade”). If we assume that this is what Owen intended (and not that he used the lines just so that he could directly invoke Horace), the most obvious question is – why? If it was not because WWI was uniquely horrific, why does Owen have such a distaste for ever dying for one’s country? Or, as is certainly possible, am I reading too much into this? Is Owen’s reasoning tied only to the nature of WWI itself? Does he spend the majority of the poem describing, in nauseatingly vivid detail, the experience of a WWI soldier in the trenches because his opinion is only meant to be read as a response to WWI? Or, does he do so because he believes it to be the most way to get his message across?

I think a potential answer to these questions can be found in an Owen poem that we did not talk about in class today, “Smile, Smile, Smile.” To commit the heresy of paraphrase, the poem is about a group of soldiers reading an issue of an English newspaper and lamenting about all of the propaganda that it is spreading. One such piece of propaganda comes at the end of the quoted article, saying “‘The greatest glory will be theirs who fought, / Who kept this nation in integrity.'” (16-17). Immediately following this we read,

“Nation? – The half-limbed readers did not chafe / But smiled at one another curiously / Like secret men who know their secret safe. / (This is the thing they know and never speak, / That England one by one had fled to France, Not many elsewhere now, save under France.)” (18-23).

Here, it seems to me that Owen is suggesting that they (the soldiers) are England itself and that those at home have no right to speak of the “nation” of England because they are no longer a part of it. In some ways this seems compatible with sentiments such as Rupert Brooke’s “If I should die, think only this of me: That there is some corner of a foreign field / that is for ever England” (From “The Soldier,” 1-3). Yet, Owen’s sentiment is also vastly different. For Owen, the soldiers are not an extension of England, or fighting for England, they are England. Or, perhaps, there is no longer any England at all. Maybe England can only exist under the confines of France, because that is where the war is. To be honest, I’m not sure. The more I think about these lines the more interpretations I come up with. All of this is to say that Owen’s idea of the nation, especially when it is at war, is far from the convention at the time. And I think this view of the nation (whatever it is) can be used in order to read the ending of “Dulce et Decorum Est.” Perhaps Owen is so against dying for one’s country because his view of what a nation actually is has tainted his view of patriotism/nationalism. Does any of this make sense? What other readings can you come up with for these poems and their relation (or lack thereof) to each other? Did I miss Owen talking about nation in a different poem? Are there any other Owen poems that can be used in order to explain his supposed general distaste for dying for one’s country? Have his experiences in WWI changed his opinion on what it means to be a nation? Have I been thinking too much about the artificiality of the nation because of my postcolonial literature class? Hopefully some answers come as we stumble across this semester’s bleak ending.

Word Count: 800

Abstractions

I think (just generally) we look at war as this abstract thing that happens when in reality I don’t think it is. People send other people into war.

In class today, we repeated the question, “Is this enough?” Was it enough to offer up the coffee? Was it enough for the narrator to lie to the blind man? What is enough?

Focusing in so much on this question really got me thinking about the juxtaposition presented in the text that we all seemed to be missing. Yes, the narrator may have been offering some form of salvation to the man, but at the same time, the very nature of her job is to bandage the wounded and send them back into war. Fix them and send them to die. We’re faced with this huge dichotomy. How can we choose to see something as a sign of warmth and salvation, and shield ourselves from the inherent coldness presented?

Is the nurse’s actions a sign of humanity? Or does it just function as a way to even the playing field?

Further (and to relate this question to some of the other texts we’ve read this semester), it seems as though war literature forces us, as consumers of their messages, to view war un-abstractly. We saw this  in All Quiet with the suggestion of getting only the people in power to fight as well as in some of the other books we’ve read.

I guess my question is, were the nurses actions meant to restore this faith in humanity or was it intended as sarcasm? Are we meant to view war abstractly as an entity that just happens? Or not? Are we supposed to see war as inevitable? Or as something we have a hand in continuing? How much of a hand do we actually have in continuing war?

Olivia’s Bridge to the Blog

So in class today we talked about a lot of interesting ideas and themes from the stories and poems we read. One area that interested me was our discussion was the Aldington story. I think we all found this story to be captivating, with the gothic elements Dr. Scanlon brought up, but also in the way it explores what we have all discussed wanting to see. We didn’t get to see Paul go home, or Nellie either. We leave them to their own ends. We don’t know if Paul would have become an anti-war activist, or if Nellie could have worked to recover from the shell the war condemned her to. In the Aldington piece we get to experience what it’s like for a soldier reintegrating into society. Hard, haunting work. Lieutenant Hall doesn’t get killed in battle, but the lack of post-war resources, the absolute misunderstanding of him and fellow soldiers by those back home, these are all effects of the war. We get our glimpse of a soldier returning home, but he is not quite able to escape the trauma and aftershocks the war. The war kills him just at killed Paul, and I can’t help but think at least Paul went in peace. Would Paul have experienced something similar to Hall if he had gone home? Would he have been able to reintegrate? Clearly some soldiers managed it despite the odds stacked heavily in their favor. Should reintegration even be the goal, if it will lead to more cases like Lieutenant Hall?

Another topic I wanted to bring up was one of the poems we read for last class but didn’t get to, “They”. I think it tied together well with our discussion of religion and religious critique evident through several of the works we’ve read, including Sassoon’s poetry. Reading this poem along with “The Redeemer” makes clear Sassoon’s critique of the use of religion and faith towards war propaganda. We have some truly fantastic, sarcastic lines in these poems that make that goal clear. We have the Bishop’s assurance, “their comrades’ blood has bought/ New right to breed an honourable race” ( Sassoon 4-5). After this assertion Sassoon goes on to say how one soldier has “lost his legs” another has “gone syphilitic” or “shot through the lungs” in the second stanza. This is hardly the heroic brave deaths soldiers were promised in the War Propaganda is they enlisted. What does Sassoon’s negation of the religious, patriotic war narrative do here? I think it attempts to embarrass folks like the Bishop, who explain away horrors with the simple, unsatisfying and rather patronizing line “‘The ways of God are strange!'” It also shows how Sassoon holds similar ideals to later modernists, as he questioned religious hegemony and absolute as they often did.

“They” was my favorite poem we read for this class so far, and I wonder if you guys agree with me, that it absolutely shredded the popular religious dogma and ideology at the time, the ideas we talked about today of divine right, and God being on the side of the British. If this poem was published during war time I would be shocked, it’s outright blasphemous…