Poems on "The Great War": sadness, anger, repression, healing/"Buyuk Savas" uzerine siirler: uzuntu, ofke, duygularin bastirilmasi, iyilesme.
Keywords: war poetry, psychological analysis, Dr. W.H.R Rivers.
Introduction: Trenches & Soldiers
War poetry in general expresses a sense of disillusionment and hopelessness that reflects the psychological state of soldiers who participated in the Great War, The First World War. A brief examination of some of the poems that describe the conditions of soldiers on the front will help the reader understand why many soldiers became mental cases. This war, World War I, claimed millions of lives and introduced many poets who fought as soldiers and gave, as a result, an acute description of the trenches and the troops. One of these poets is Siegfried Sassoon, who wrote anti-war poetry and like many war poets protested against the needless prolongation of wars that claimed, and still claim, many lives.
In his poem "A Working Party", Sassoon laments the death of a young soldier who was married and had two children. We are told there of how he proudly showed his family photograph to all his mates. This anonymous soldier represents every soldier who went through war ordeals. Sassoon breaks the news of the death of the soldier, who "must be carried back, a jolting lump/Beyond all need of tenderness and care" (28-29 in Sanders 235). In one instance, while this soldier was on duty, and yearning to rest since he, like all his mates, was extremely exhausted, dozing off a bit, he drooped his head--when suddenly "a flare/Gave one glimpse of No Man's Land and wire/[...] the instant split his startled life with lead, and all went out" (46-49). Perhaps Sassoon was anticipating his death for, ironically, he almost died in nearly the same way on the 13th of July of 1918.
Like Sassoon, Wilfred Owen was enlisted in the army and fought in WWI. R.N. Currery, in a work on poets of the Second World War, notes the failed program of Sassoon and Owen: "Sassoon and Owen had felt that if only people at home could be convinced that war was not glorious but wicked and futile, then it would never be allowed to happen again" (Currey 12). Sara Martin claims that Patricia Anthony, the novelist, discovered "the gore and injustice and anger of Owen" (296). Indeed, Owen, who was hospitalized for shellshock, describes the "gore" and horror of battle and expresses his outrage at the meaningless deaths of young soldiers. His "Anthem for Doomed Youth" is a protest against the meaningless killing of many soldiers who would not discuss, and instead repressed, the horrors of war because of their strong patriotic feelings. The very title of the poem suggests the inevitable death and the dehumanization of these soldiers who are slaughtered like "cattle" (1). The soldiers die meaninglessly and are not given proper funerals. The funeral they get is in sharp contrast to a funeral held properly in England. It is executed in a special ceremony in which "the monstrous anger of guns" (2) replaces the mournful sound of peeling bells, and the sound of the "stuttering rifles' rapid rattle" (3) replaces the ordinary sounds of priests murmuring the prayers for the deceased, which are supposed to put the departed souls to rest, and the typical choir sounds are replaced with sounds of "the shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells" (7 in Kermode 2053).
Arthur Graeme West gives an excellent description of dead soldiers who are left to rot. These soldiers, once one another's enemies on the field, sacrificed their lives to defend their countries, but are denied a proper burial. West conveys the bitterness inspired in him by such massacres in his Diary of a Dead Officer (1919):
[...] and everywhere the dead. Only the dead were always present--present As a vile sickly smell of rottenness. The resulting stubble and the early grass, The slimy pools--the dead men stank through all, Pungent and sharp ... Next was a bunch of half a dozen men All blown to bits, an archipelago Of corrupt fragments. [in Scott-Kilvert 423]
These lines graphically represent the horror of such massacres that inspired West with mixed emotions of anger, bitterness, and shock. The battlefield is crowded with dead soldiers who are always "present-present", as if they outnumber the living ones. One can almost smell the "vile sickly smell of rottenness" in which "the dead men stank, pungent and sharp" and can clearly imagine the "bunch of half a dozen men" that are "all blown to bits", amassed together as "an archipelago of corrupt fragments". West succeeds in getting us to imagine such a war, one that would make us feel sick, horrified, and outraged at such atrocities.
In his poem "Six Young Men", Ted Hughes recalls the murder of six young soldiers who died six months after a picture of them was taken and framed. The persona looks at the framed photograph symbolising the immortality of art through which the human race compensates for its mortality. The persona recalls how each soldier was killed. One was killed as he was attempting to save his badly injured friend (20-21). Another was killed the minute he was warned about shooting at tin-cans in this treacherous "no man's land" (23 in Schmidt 170), because the can, as it seems, was booby trapped and thus, either it exploded or his target practice had given away his position and consequently he was killed by a sniper. The remaining soldiers were killed in an unknown way, but the one thing the persona is sure of is that they died horribly.
Hughes deals with the confusing reality in which people live. The juxtaposition between life-in-death and death-in-life makes the poem more relevant to the condition of modern man. The living people are "not more alive" (37) than the dead six soldiers. Their memory in the mind of the persona is so vivid--a matter that makes them so alive, although they are as dead as the "fabulous" or the "prehistoric beast" is (40). The memory of how these soldiers were massacred is blazing in the mind of the persona. Their "smoking blood" (41) makes them "permanent horrors" (43 in Schmidt 171). War is a persistent predator; it hunts relentlessly until it eventually consumes everything and everyone. People are hollowed out and spiritually dead. This poem passionately expresses the hatred of war and its disastrous effect upon people and nature.
Keith Douglas emphasises the humanity of the soldiers regardless of their nationality. The title of the poem "Vergissmeinnicht", which means "forget me not", portrays the need for love. The persona sees a dead German soldier with the picture of his beloved, Steffi, beside him and feels the human need for love and bonds with the German soldier. Douglas served in the war as a tank-man, and the reference to the missile that "hit [his] tank with one like the entry of a demon" (7-8) suggests that the German soldier attacked the persona's (or maybe Douglas') tank. This battle "nightmare" (2) ended three weeks ago as explained by the line "Three weeks gone and the combatants gone" (1). Consequently, the persona had to kill this German soldier. When he returns to the battlefield, he finds the soldier he killed almost decomposed, "abased" (14) and "decayed" (16). His stomach burst "like a cave" (20), the "flies" (18) all over his decaying body, and the "dust upon the paper eye" (19), whereas his gun remains "hard and good" (15-16). It is ironic that the machines humans make for their destruction outlive them. By referring to the "lover and killer who had one body and one heart" (21-22 in Gardner 108), Douglas shrewdly emphasises the dialectic of the human aspects of war--of this surviving soldier who has a dark side: the soldier who unplugs his feelings and becomes a brutal inhuman killing machine; and then the bright one who dies, a beloved's lover, who represents those who live or once truly lived. War kills the soldier, but in killing him, it also kills the lover.
In exploring the genre of poetry of war, we must focus on "mental cases", when available and where applicable, so that we may learn to appreciate, via the route of literature, the way war memories haunted the minds of soldiers and marred their lives permanently. I will refer to some mental cases that were treated in Craiglockhart War Hospital by Captain W. H. R. Rivers, M.D., to highlight the similarity of these cases to the ones presented in the poems under discussion.
Repression of War Experience
On December 4, 1917, Dr. Rivers gave an address on the repression of the war experience in which he describes some cases he treated and which he published in 1918 in The Lancet. (1) He uses repression to refer to the "active or voluntary process by which it is attempted to remove some part of the mental content out of the field of attention". This process aims to make the undesirable content "inaccessible to memory and [produces] the state of suppression". The best example to embody and explain this definition is Siegfried Sassoon's "Repression of War Experience". As can be deduced from its title, this poem shows most strikingly the effect that war leaves on the mentality and sanity of soldiers.
Sassoon's soldier is anonymous and, hence, representative of all soldiers. The soldier tries to shift his focus away from a traumatic war memory. According to Dr. Rivers, it is natural to try to "banish" from memory one's horrible or "distressing memories". He explains that "[i]t is not repression in itself, which is harmful, but repression under conditions in which it fails to adapt the individual to his environment", and this is quite evident "in those whose powers of resistance have been lowered by the long-continued strains of trench-life, the shock of shell-explosion, or other catastrophes of war". He maintains that a soldier's "training should be such that the energy arising out of these emotions is partly damped by familiarity, partly diverted into other channels". However, the training in repression of WWI soldiers was carried out in insufficient short spaces of time because of the pressing need for soldiers to replace the vast numbers of those who died daily on the front. Many soldiers were "incompletely trained" and this made them "face strains" that led to "war neurosis". He claims that "[n]othing annoys a nervous patient more than the continual inquiries of his relatives and friends about his experiences of the front" because "it awakens painful memories" and "because of the obvious futility of most of the questions and the hopelessness of bringing the realities home to his hearers". The tragic situation of the soldier represents Sassoon's personal suffering and mental disorders as a result of shellshock.
The soldier in the poem sits in the dark and decides to light two candles (1). In the candlelight, he sees a moth and decides that moths are like "silly beggars" who "blunder in/And scorch their wings with glory, liquid flame" (2-3 in Sanders 240). People are dehumanised by referring to them as moths. They are "silly beggars" since they seek glory in war. Those who condone and/or eagerly participate in war are stupid, blind, and are blundering. The flame of the candles is nothing but a miniature of the cauldron of war, attracting people to their doom like the fatal candlelight draws moths into its flame.
The soldier struggles to suppress his traumatic memories. His confusion and psychological agony is embodied in the following lines:
No, no, not that,--it's bad to think of war, When thoughts you've gagged all day come back to scare you; And it's been proved that soldiers don't go mad Unless they lose control of ugly thoughts That drive them out to jabber among the trees. (4-8 in Sanders 240)
To the soldier, moths remind him of war. The soldier is traumatised by war memories which he tries to suppress but fails to control. Sassoon claims that restraint preserves the sanity of those who are subjected to such traumatic experiences. The line "[t]hese we can hold in check" suggests restraint which, consequently, causes repression that leads to war neurosis.
Dr. Rivers explains that such "painful thoughts were pushed into hidden recesses of his [the patient's] mind only to accumulate such force there as to make them well up and produce attacks of depression so severe as to put his life in danger from suicide". Naturally, if a person represses unpleasant thoughts during the day, they will surface when the control of the conscious is weakening prior to sleep. In addition, Dr. Rivers believes "the thoughts repressed by day assume a painful quality when they come to the surface at night", and they become "far more intense than is ever attained if they are allowed to occupy the attention during the day". Sassoon's soldier is suffering from painful memories that, as can be inferred from the last line in the poem ("That drive them out to jabber among the trees"), might cause him to commit suicide. The soldier is afraid of losing his sanity like the many other soldiers who failed to control such "ugly thoughts" that "come back to scare" them and made them babble or "jabber among the trees".
The soldier, as we read on, tries to shift his focus from his very own "ugly thoughts" by telling himself to light his pipe. The soldier is tense and his hands are shaking. However, the persona-soldier describes his hand as "steady" (9) to encourage himself. In addition, he asks himself to "draw a deep breath", "stop thinking", and "count to fifteen" (10) and then he will be "as right as rain" (11). The soldier struggles to suppress war memories to prevent them from surfacing. One could assume that the soldier is having a panic attack and that is why he asks himself to take a deep breath.
The soldier, then, thinks about rain to avoid thinking about war. He wishes the sky to rain so hard to wash away the darkness and to make the roses hang their dripping heads. In his essay "Sassoon's Repression of War Experience", Konnie Leffler suggests that the rain is symbolic of "a great weeping and might provide a release from the tension he [the soldier] is enduring", and that the soldier's need for roses with dripping heads is "a characteristic of a person who has experienced a tragedy. What right have the roses to be so beautiful and normal when life is so changed. Let the roses mourn, too" (46). This interpretation is quite valid, but I think that the rain is a purifying element that will wipe clean the dark perspective through which the soldier sees his world so that he can appreciate life and beauty once more. The roses and the rainwater are archetypal images of the female womb and here, I believe, suggest the desire to return to the womb, a desire, in turn, suggestive of death and rebirth. The soldier wishes to go back to a state of innocence and to erase his horrible experience from his memory.
Next, the soldier thinks of books as good company; he also admires their quietness, colours, and patience as they wait on their shelves for someone to read them. He tries then to bring himself to read a book, imploring himself: "Come on; O do read something" (emphasis original) (20). We should note the emphatic, coaxing "do". The soldier attempts to lure himself into reading a book since "all the wisdom of the world" (21) is waiting for him on the shelves, instead of sitting gnawing his nails, letting his pipe go out, and listening to silence. Clearly, the panic attack is overwhelming the soldier as he listens to the sound of silence, as if expecting some terrible thing to break the surrounding silence and attack him.
The soldier, then, sees a moth on the ceiling and describes it as "one big, dizzy moth that bumps and flutters" (25). The moth's movements project the soldier's emotionally chaotic internal storm caused by his fear of some lurking danger that awaits him outside his house where the air is "breathless" (26) and "the garden waits for something that delays" (27). This "something" is probably his death and burial. The reference to the scary ghosts of old people, "who died/Slow natural deaths,--old men with ugly souls,/Who wore their bodies out with nasty sins" (30-32), contrasts sharply to the quick unnatural deaths of young men who die in the battlefield.
Involuntarily, the "ugly thoughts" (7) sweep the mind of the soldier as he desperately tries to convince himself that he is "quiet and peaceful summering safe at home" (33), and there isn't "a bloody war on" (34). Nevertheless, he hears the guns:
Hark! Thud, thud, thud,--quite soft ... they never cease-Those whispering guns- O Christ, I want to go out And screech at them to stop- I'm going crazy; I'm going stark, staring mad because of the guns. (36-39 in Sanders 241)
The thud of shells falling in distant places and the guns whispering in the distance suggest that the war that continually storms on in the hidden recesses of the soldier's mind is driving him madder and madder.
Let us compare the case of Sassoon's soldier with that of a soldier who suffered from Anxiety Neurosis. Dr. Rivers describes the case of a young officer who was wounded "as he was extricating himself from a mass of earth in which he was buried". The soldier "suffers from disturbed sleep and loss of appetite". After his wound healed, he was sent home. However, Rivers noted in his report log that "he continues to sleep badly, with disturbing dreams of warfare, and becomes very anxious about himself and his prospects of recovery". We are reminded of Sassoon's soldier who was anxious about his sanity. According to Rivers, the soldier admitted suffering from insomnia, and when he eventually slept, "he has vivid dreams of warfare. He can not sleep without a light in his room because in the dark his attention is attracted by every sound". Everyone advised the soldier not to think about war. Thus, he would keep himself busy all day so as not to think about it; "but as soon as he goes to bed they [war memories] would crowd upon him and race through his mind hour after hour, so that every night he dreaded to go to bed". These lines invoke Sassoon's line of "[w]hen thoughts you've gagged all day come back to scare you" (5). This case is extremely similar to that of Sassoon's soldier; for we cannot help but notice the similar attitude of the soldiers towards warfare, and notice the similar debilitating symptoms.
Dr. Rivers labeled this case "anxiety neurosis" and maintained that the patient's condition did not improve when "the patient tried to keep out of his mind the painful memories and anxieties" of war. Such soldiers lose their sanity as a result of war hallucinations, a fact that makes them unable to distinguish between reality and imagination and consequently, develop war neurosis.
However, when the patient "faced them boldly and allowed his mind to dwell on them in the day, they no longer raced through his thoughts at night and disturbed his sleep by terrifying dreams of warfare". Accordingly, Sassoon could be expressing the ordeal he himself went through as a result of shellshock as well as that of every soldier who suffered during and after the war. It is therefore extremely important to note that the writing down in poems the memories of the horror of war was a way of healing oneself, for war poems by war soldier poets helped them to boldly face anxieties and thoughts that racked their spirit at night and in their sleep.
Wilfred Owen's "Mental Cases" similarly focuses on hallucinations that torment soldiers and the posttraumatic disorder they cause. This nightmarish poem is divided into three parts in which the speaker apparently traveled to Hell, or to his unconscious recesses, where he inquires about the people he observes there. He receives answers from an unidentified source. Mark Sinfield, in "Wilfred Owen's 'Mental Cases': Source and Structure", claims that Owen was influenced by Dante, and that the structure of the poem is Danteesque. He argues that the poem "invites us to reflect on the complex relationship between the suffering soldiers and the heavenly army." To him, "Owen seems to be suggesting that these are the true Christian martyrs who have sacrificed themselves for the world" (340). Indeed, the poem is similar to Dante's Inferno. Sinfield, however, did not mention whether the journey Owen's persona takes is an internal one infected with psychosis. Is the mind of Owen's soldier hallucinating like that of Sassoon's? Are the visions of the "hellish" (9) and the "purgatorial shadows" (2) mere hallucinations that the soldier sees when he is dreaming or daydreaming?
The poem begins with questions about the "purgatorial shadows" that the soldier encounters in a "twilight" (1) zone in which these shadows roam. The persona wonders why they are swinging their drooping tongues from their jaws in a relishing manner and are exposing their teeth in a wicked manner. From the palms of these shadows "[m]isery swelters" (8) forever, because they were subjected to "[s]troke on stroke of pain" (5). After seeing these zombie-like creatures, the soldier thinks that he has "perished/Sleeping, and walk[s] hell" (8-9). The soldier then is informed by an unknown source that "[t]hese are men whose minds the Dead have ravished" (10). These men have seen "[m]ultitudinous murders" (11) and are doomed to continually "see these things and hear them" (14). Like Sassoon's soldier who keeps hearing the thud sounds, these men will hear the "[b]atter of guns" and the "shatter of flying muscles" (15). They will always witness "[c]arnage incomparable, and human squander/Rucked too thick for these men's extrication" (17-18 in Sanders 286-7). I would suggest that the hellish forms are not only those of the soldiers who suffered and witnessed the great massacres of WWI but also among them are the hellish forms of the un-uniformed soldiers, so to speak--namely, the politicians who perpetrated and perpetuated war. The vast number of people killed during WWI and WWII is, indeed, a "[c]arnage incomparable" and a great loss of lives.
The remainder of the poem is devoted to describing the effect of the traumatic experience of war upon these dead souls. The eyeballs of the purgatorial shadows still shrink back into their brains in torment because they imagine that "[s]unlight seems a blood-smear: night comes blood black:/Dawn breaks open like a wound that bleeds afresh" (21-22). Their outlook, if we can call it that, or their perspective, let's say, is tinged with the colour of blood. They fake a smile like the one on the "set-smiling corpses" (24) in an attempt to forget their punishment for participating in the war and snatch and paw at "us who dealt them war and madness" (28). These denizens of Owen's Hell, who sacrificed their sanity and their lives, are enraged and maddened and wish to avenge themselves on "us" who are responsible for their deplorable state. Apparently, Owen suffered from similar visions of soldiers who died in battle and are doomed to remain in a limbo in the minds of the survivors; soldier and politician. The protest against the needless killings and the vast massacres is also emphasised in the poem.
The idea of the visions of the carnage that haunt the memory of those who survive war is significant as it shows the difference between physical and psychological survival. These soldiers have to endure the living hell in which they keep seeing the horrific images of the murders they witnessed and committed. Owen used images similar to the ones presented here in his poem "Dulce et Decorum Est". Robert Morgan describes "Dulce et Decorum Est" as "a true poem of war" that "portrays only a partial picture of war" (151). To him, "Owen's poetry has a narrow, bitter intensity" (151). Owen describes with "bitter intensity" the way a soldier died of suffocation from poisonous gas:
In all my dreams before my helpless sight He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace [...] If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs Bitter as the cud Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori. (15-28 in Sanders 285)
These lines also reveal a soldier's traumatisation by horrible memories that occupy his dreams. Indeed, as Lorrie Goldensohn claims, Owen "transforms anguish, pain, and suffering into a nobility of heroic endurance" (76). Heroically, some of the soldiers sacrificed for their country their sanity, as some of them sacrificed their lives.
The case of the soldiers in Owen's two poems is similar to that of a soldier treated by Dr. Rivers. Rivers' soldier was buried as a result of "a shell explosion" and thus suffered from "symptoms pointing to some degree of cerebral concussion." Though he suffered from "severe headache, vomiting, and disorder of micturition, he remained on duty for more than two months." However, this officer "collapsed altogether" when he went to look for his friend and "found his body blown into pieces, with head and limbs lying separated from the trunk." This vision "haunted" him. Dr. Rivers' logs explain that this officer was tormented by "nightmares in which his friend appeared, sometimes as he had seen him mangled on the field, sometimes in the still more terrifying aspect of one whose limbs and features had been eaten away by leprosy." The vision of the dead friend "would come nearer and nearer until the patient suddenly awoke pouring with sweat and in a state of the utmost terror". The poor officer "dreaded to go to sleep, and spent each day looking forward in painful anticipation of the night". Although he was told not to think about war, still and because of the recurrence of the dream, the poor soldier couldn't help but be obsessed by the vision and to dwell on it. Dr. Rivers maintains that the officer "was striving by day to dispel memories only to bring them upon him with redoubled force and horror when he slept". The case of this officer is similar to that one in "Dulce et Decorum Est". "In all my dreams before my helpless sight/He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning" (15-16). In fact, after being treated by Dr. Rivers, the officer saw a dream like the one Owen describes in "Mental Cases". The officer dreamt he was in "a No Man's Land" looking for his friend "and saw his mangled body just as in other dreams, but without the horror which had always previously been present". To Dr. Rivers, the officer's case reveals the improvement after "cessation of repression". This dream is like the one in mental cases in which the speaker in the poem travels to inferno, a No Man's Land, and sees the mutilated bodies of the dead soldiers.
Sassoon's and Owen's descriptions and images are of haunting war memories. Their imagery and allusions find an outlet through a poetry whose function in such a case is catharsis as well as a plea for the shadows of their comrades to forgive them for remaining alive. Dr. Rivers explains: "[I]n cases of war neurosis [...] the sufferers do not repress their painful thoughts, but brood over them constantly until their experience assumes vastly exaggerated and often distorted importance". He claims that "the mere communication of these troubles to another" would result in great "relief" as a "form of catharsis". Communication is exactly what war poets were trying to do through their poetry. They were trying to relieve themselves by brooding over war thoughts and describing them in poetry and thereby achieve catharsis.
An Irish poet who was deeply affected by WWI was Robert Graves. In his poem "Recalling War", he highlights the difference between psychological and physical survival, emphasising the absurdity of our existence and the indifference of God to the human condition. His poem is similar to Owen's and Sassoon's. Graves was severely wounded during the war in 1916, and his personal life was complicated because of the posttraumatic experience that haunted his memory. In "Recalling War", Graves discusses the effect of war upon the soldiers. The soldiers in the first stanza lost limbs in battle. They all live to suffer the nightmare of being on the front although twenty years have passed. It is as if the borders between reality and dream are blurred. The soldiers escaped war physically, but, psychologically, war continues to haunt their minds.
The war is described as an "infection" (11) affecting the sky (12). It becomes an outbreak, and death becomes "young again" (18), meaning strong enough to take the lives of so many more soldiers. Only the patron dies naturally because of "fate-spasm" (19 in Kermode 2079). Ironically, Graves makes the patron die a "healthy" (18) death while the soldiers die young, thereby showing that it is only the masses who suffer because of the madness of their leaders. He seems to be blaming God for not interfering to put an end to this plague that the sky (or God) seems to participate in spreading. He protests indirectly at the passive and indifferent role of God in this universe by having Him remembered only when someone needs to curse for "lack of meat, wine, fire" (29), or when someone is "in ache of wounds beyond all surgeoning" (30).
The soldiers live in a transient world, which will be shattered by a shell. They discover the "transitoriness" of life (21), which makes them renounce the mind (reason and spirituality) and celebrate the body and its desires. Graves concludes his presentation of war folly by describing it as kind of a childish game in which the soldiers killed are "tin-soldiers" (43), the machine-guns rattling in a "toy-like" (42) manner, and the "merry ways of guns" (38) are "nibbling the walls of factory and church" (39 in Kermode 2080). The association between the childish games and the adults' war games implies that humans innately carry their seeds of perdition: children's games are an early practice of actual war activities. It also implies that countries would not hesitate to engage in wars as if wars are games. Guns attack factory and church alike. War does not differentiate between them, God does not defend the church, and the church (religion) is a commodity mobilized to promote war since it is associated with the business of the factory.
Graves' soldiers are trapped in the past since they left the front only physically but their souls remained there. Each one of them is a body without a soul living a death-in-life. The soldiers seem incapable of living any more in this mind confusing state, whether it is religious, logical, or emotional. Consequently, their mentality is shattered by "an inward scream" (37), which gave the order "to run mad" (37). The soldiers are tormented by their need to feel human and by the need to kill. One has to kill humanity inside himself before he kills it in another. In effect, the soldiers might survive physically but at the expense of their sanity.
Edwin Muir also writes about such haunting memories that cannot be erased. He depicts a nightmarish vision of reality, which is to him a labyrinth with no exit. Muir's "The Usurpers" depicts the plight of the modern man, and it shocks us with the painful truth of the futility of our existence. "The Usurpers" is about the relationship between light and darkness, and, consequently, the relationship between dreams and daydreams. Like every soldier who is tormented by horrible war memories, the persona is disturbed by "the ghosts that frightened frightened men" (33) in "fluttering dreams" (31). Although these are ghosts of a past that happened in a "pale territory" (34), they are still strong and vividly remembered by the persona who "can hold [them] in check, but not forget" (35). He also hears their voices in his dreams (37). These ghosts and visions will always "trouble" (40) the persona and mess with his perception since "[t]he day itself sometimes works spells upon us" (41 in Sanders 260). These ghosts arise from the dark recesses of the unconscious whether at night or in day-light. The indelibility of these visions makes them a constant source of torture that eventually drives those who cannot control them to madness.
Ted Hughes, also, describes the way the haunting memories of the war affect the mentality of those who participate in it. In his poem "Out" he describes the effect of war upon the mentality of a father who witnessed WWI and was in active service, all depicted as if seen through the eyes of his child. Schmidt assumes that the child is Hughes himself whose father served in the army during the war (183). Hughes explains that he suffered from similar conditions to those his father went through, and, hence, he has the ability to describe what his father's visions were like. "The shrapnel that shattered my father's paybook/Gripped me, and all his dead/Gripped him to a time" (44-46 in Schmidt 176). These lines emphasise the strong hold of the memories of the traumatic experience. In fact, Calvin Bedient states that "[t]he theme of Hughes ... is, then, the dual horror of existence--that of monstrous rage for life and that of being small, left out, emptily included" (106). The soldiers are physically alive, but they are estranged, left out, and become as a result of their mental state "emptily included".
In the poem, Hughes describes the state of a soldier who is trapped within his memories of war as if he is dead like those who died before him in combat. He highlights the difference between physical and psychological survival by maintaining that the soldier's outer wounds healed remarkably, "[h]is outer perforations/Were valiantly healed" (5-6), but that he has not healed psychologically since the visions of war haunt him still. They "[m]ove into strong and stronger possession/Of minute after minute" (9-10). The war years that the soldier served will have an everlasting effect since they are "mortised" (13). The soldier's memories are "buried" (17) in his unconscious over which he has limited control. Moreover, the war memories are buried among "jawbones and blown-off boots, tree-stumps, shellcases and craters" (18-19) that shape the haunting visions. The growing power of the visions is also found in the reference to "the rain that goes on drumming its rods and thickening" (20 in Schmidt 175-6). These visions cannot be removed, according to Hughes, since they are an "immovable anchor" (17).
Again, we should notice how the repression of such memories makes one anxiously, actively, and painfully anticipate nighttime attacks, as is the case in all of our aforementioned cases. The soldier's memories gain more strength and become more vivid by repression, and this causes them to inflict severe attacks of depression and sadness upon themselves. Hughes' soldier is suffering from a traumatic near-death experience that has rendered him mentally unstable and he therefore suffers a psychosis. Consequently, the soldier becomes dead even though he is alive; he becomes the pieces of the man he used to be. His psyche is shattered. This case is similar to the experience of several of Dr. Rivers' patients on whom he kept very detailed notes. Dr. Rivers maintained that these soldiers, like the ones we have observed here, only made their haunting visions stronger at night by repressing them during the day. Thus, as in Hughes' poem where he addresses such trauma, we witness the case of mental shock caused by a traumatic experience whose visions become uncontrollable and make their victims prisoners of their own war past.
War poets expressed their outrage at, and refusal of, war and its needless prolongation. Most of these poets also protested against the blundering stupidity of those who make the decisions of sending soldiers to battle to be massacred like cattle. The human feelings of these soldiers are suspended or repressed so that they would endure the intolerable conditions of war. Love relationships are frustrated because of war. The poems explored here emphasise humanity regardless of nationality, and the feeling of the tragic waste of human life, especially that of young soldiers who are killed in battle. The poets call for an end to war's insanity that shatters everything, even basic human emotions. All these poets address the same mental case, the haunting memories that result from traumatic experiences and that lead to hallucination and psychosis.
The soldiers depicted in these poems feel guilty for the slayings they committed, which, in turn, commit them to their death-in-life. They are trapped in the past as they lose control of the memories of war that haunt them seemingly forever. Examining the following lines from some of the poems discussed in this essay, we notice their shared theme:
These we can hold in check, but not forget, Not quite forget, they're so inconsequent. [Muir's "The Usurpers"] And it's been proved that soldiers don't go mad Unless they lose control of ugly thoughts That drive them out to jabber among the trees. [Sassoon's "Repression of War Experience"] Always they must see these things and hear them. Batter of guns and shatter of flying muscles. Carnage incomparable, and human squander Rucked too thick for these men's extrication. [Owen's "Mental Cases"] In all my dreams before my helpless sight He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. [Owen's "Dulce et Decorum Est"]
All of these lines focus on the impossibility of forgetting war's traumatic experience. Apparently, soldiers suffer from a guilt complex for killing others. These restless soldiers are beyond redemption; they survive war physically but not psychologically, and, thus, they cannot go on with their lives, but remain trapped in the past. They are destined to keep hearing the ceaseless sounds of war and to be slaves of these horrific images that forever will punish them for what they did and will deprive them of sleep. War poets were painfully honest since their experience was first-hand. They witnessed massacres and suffered from moral, religious, and psychological confusion.
(1) Since the online text is not paginated, the quoted references to Dr. Rivers' text do not have page numbers.
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Currey, R.N. Poets of The 1939-1945 War. London: Longman's, 1960.
Gardner, Brian. The Terrible Rain- The War Poets 1939-1945. Suffolk: Richard Clay, 1983.
Goldensohn, Lorrie. Dismantling Glory: Twentieth-Century Soldier Poetry. New York: Columbia UP, 2003
Kermode, Frank and Hollader, John. eds. The Oxford Anthology of English Literature. Vol. 2. London: Oxford UP, 1973.
Leffler, Konnie. "Sassoon's Repression of War Experience". The Explicator Vol. 45, No. 3, Spring 1987.
Martin, Sara. "The Spirit of World War I: Patricia Anthony's Flanders" War, Literature and the Arts (WLA), (2002): 293-311. 7 February 2007. <http://www.wlajournal.com/14_1-2/293-311martin.pdf>
Morgan, Robert. "Hemingway and the True Poetry of War" War, Literature and The Arts (WLA), (Spring/Summer 2000):151-156. 7 February 2007. <http://www.wlajournal.com/12_1 /Morgan.pdf>
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Scott-Kilvert, Ian. ed. British Writers VI. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1983.
Sinfield, Mark. "Wilfred Owen's 'Mental Cases': Source and Structure". Notes and Queries Vol. 227. No.4, August 1982.
Bu makale, savas deneyimine dair duygularin bastirilmasi ve savasin askerlerin psikolojilerine olan etkileri temalarini savas siiri turunun ornekleri olan on adet temsil uzerinden tartismaktadir. Savimiz, bir bakima, 1918'de The Lancet icinde yayimlanmis olan Dr. W.H.R River'in "The Repression of War Experience" siirlerinin psikolojik cozumlemelerine dayanmaktadir. Zihinsel durumlara iliskin siirler Dr. Rivers'in Craiglockhart Savas Hastanesi'ndeki hastalari olan askerlerin gercek deneyimleri ile karsilastirilmaktadir. Bahsi gecen siirler sunlardir: Siegfried Sassoon'nun "A Working Party" ve "Repression of War Experience"; Wilfred Owen'in "Anthem for Doomed Youth", "Mental Cases" ve "Dulce et Decorum Est"; Robert Graves'in "Recalling War"; Ted Hughes'un "Six Young Men" ve "Out"; Keith Douglas'in "Vergissmeinnicht"; ve Edwin Muir'in "The Usurpers" adli siirleri.
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|Title Annotation:||World War I|
|Author:||Abu Baker, Ahmad|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2007|
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