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Module Six

Question 1a

Basing your answer on The Drum (Scott) and The Send-Off (Owen), you should:
- write a comparison of the ways the writers present ideas about slaughter and sacrifice
- say how far you agree with the view that Scott's poem is more effective than Owen's in communicating its message.

Scott's poem employs a nearly-relentless rhythm akin to that of a drum-beat, emphasizing the military sound which calls young men to war. The repetition of the first two lines in both stanzas also stresses this relentlessness, while the break in rhythm in the final line of each stanza, adding an extra beat, gives added strength, particularly to the "and fall" in the first verse.

The poet presents the pleasure yielded by the call to war in very superficial terms: the lace, the "glittering arms", reminding us of the glamour of military uniforms. But the lace is 'tawdry', ie cheap, and with overtones of sordidness; the arms are glittering but not valuable.

Only the "and fall" in the first verse hints at the disaster in store for such recruits, but the second stanza goes on to list them. Words like 'ravaged', ruined', 'mangled' all demonstrate the actual outcome and the real reward for those who follow the drum. Ambition is contrasted with Misery: the first is what motivates and drives War, the second is what results from it.

Scott presents what in his time was not the usual stance on war, which was generally celebrated in more heroic terms. He belittles the impulses which lead men to join armies—they are 'thoughtless' and drawn by things which do not matter. There is no sense of honourable duty or a willingly-accepted sacrifice, only the foolishness of youth lured by false and superficial promises.

Owen's poem is much more subtle in its approach. The rhymes suggest three five-line stanzas, but these are deliberately broken, and the lines vary in length and metre. Nonetheless there is distinct form, it is not an 'imagist' style of poetry: Fussell observed that one of the reasons why the First World War poets could treat their subject matter in such a blunt and shocking way was that they used traditional poetic forms, making the contrast all the greater. Owen is being somewhat experimental with form (as he is in other poems, notably 'Strange Meeting' with its use of half-rhyme), but maintains the rhyme and rhythm in an orderly way.

The poem is full of suggestive contrasts. The troops sing in the 'darkening' lanes—usually the image is of soldiers singing as they march in bright sunshine. Their faces are 'grimly gay', giving implications of their determination, of their knowledge of what lies ahead of them. These are not the 'thoughtless youth' Scott is addressing. They wear flowers on their chests—and Owen brings in at once the funeral imagery when he brings the verse to a stop with the isolated word 'dead'.

There is some anthropomorphisation of the machinery which is sending these men to war. 'Unmoved, signals nodded', a direct contradiction which points up the indifference with which the men are sent along. The lamp 'winked', rather grotesque with its suggestion of amusement, and the hint that these tools are conniving at what happens. That it is the machinery which brings in these images emphasizes the inhumanity of what is happening in this war.

Although the men have been given flowers, they depart secretly, 'like wrongs hushed-up'. It is a shameful matter that they are being dispatched to war. The men are not even given identities, they are anonymous pawns, but they could be anyone. The idea of the 'wrongs hushed-up' is continued in the anticipation of these men's return: they will not come home in lively celebration, but will 'creep back, silent', with implications of shame and stealth. There will not be enough of them for a military parade, or for a grand civilian reception.

Is the Scott poem more effective than Owen's at communicating its message? It is certainly easier to understand, as the message is perfectly explicit. The poet shows contempt for the easy lure of war, and explains the actual consequences in human misery, in very plain terms.

However, Scott does not encompass all the reasons why men may choose to be soldiers—in giving their motives only superficiality, he may perhaps fail to gain the understanding of those who have what seem to be nobler motives for going to war: honour, a righteous cause, even the joy of battle. All these have been felt and declared by soldiers and poets, and by trivialising the reasons why men fight, Scott loses some of his grounds for persuading them not to do so. As a Quaker, he plainly did not feel that war might be a desirable thing, but others would disagree.

In addition, the second stanza lists the many certain results of war—'ruined swains', 'widows' tears' and so forth—but baldly and without the personalising detail which could bring home their full horror. The pictures pained of war's terrible effects on men are far more vivid in the poetry of the First World War, or even in Southey's "Blenheim", in which a child picks up a skull from a long-ago battlefield. By choosing to generalise, Scott makes his message easy to understand, but perhaps not as effective as it might be.

Owen's poem is more precise in detail—even though it lacks the explicit horror he expresses in many other poems. It is deceptively straightforward, for there are allusions of all kinds within the lines, and it requires a more active reading than Scott's poem does: the reader must work a little harder, and this effort makes the poem more effective. It was also written in 1918, by which time many other poems laying bare the horrors of war had already been written, so that its understatedness nonetheless refers to more explicitly terrible things.

Scott's poem, in addition, treats the young men who go to war as innocent (and rather stupid): the slaughter that overtakes them also brings grief to their loved ones. It is a non-combatant's view, broader than Owen's but less carefully detailed. Owen, himself a soldier, concentrates more closely on the fate of the soldiers, but grants them a certain self-awareness, in those 'faces grimly gay'. These are men dressed for the sacrifice before they go.

On the whole, I would disagree with the view that Scott's poem is more effective, although this would of course depend on the reader and context. Scott makes a general statement which is easy to understand and agree with, but, by avoiding subtle and specific detail and concentrating on a broad picture, he lacks the pointedness and heart-catching emotion of Owen's poem. An occasional reader of poetry might not find Owen's poem particularly interesting, but with a knowledge of the Great War and some of its poems, 'The Send-Off' becomes the more telling and effective of the two.


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