War Poets: Brooke, Sassoon, and Rosenberg
War has the unique ability to bring many disparaging types of poets into the forefront. World War I, called the Great War at the time, was an unimaginably brutal war, and poets emerged from the shadows to share their views on war. Rupert Brooke was Britain’s first war poet, a patriotic favorite of the nation. His poetry set the precedent for those who came after him. Siegfried Sassoon, Brooke’s radical opposite, offered a brutally realistic portrayal of war, and influenced future war writers such as Wilfred Owen to write raw verse. Isaac Rosenberg was a poet before the war, but World War I fueled him to speak on more powerful themes. This distinction sets him apart from past writers. Despite the drastic differences in the ways these poets approach war, they all have a common trend within their writings. Brooke, Sassoon, and Rosenberg all acknowledge the idea of God in their poetry, and their individual ideas about God affect their writing in various ways. Whether is it rejecting the idea of God outright or elevating other people or things to the level of gods, these three influential writers found ways to let their ideas about God show through in their writings.
Rupert Brooke is unequivocally the most patriotic writer of his time. He is best known for his poem “The Soldier”, a glorious depiction of England. In this poem, Brooke speaks of England itself as if it is tantamount to God, evoking the idea of Mother England— a sacred place where its’ children belong. England becomes elevated to the level of God, in that it is a protector and a guardian of its people. In the final line, Brooke states “In hearts at peace, under an English heaven” (Brooke, 2186). During a time of British colonialism, Brooke was putting forth the idea of heaven as a territory of England, a place where those loyal to the crown belonged. Another important things to note is that Brooke never actually experienced combat, the main distinction between him and other war poets. Because of this, his views are static and unaffected by the actual horrors of war. This is why his belief in God is so strong: he is still naïve and his mind is still unaffected by reality. Had he lived to participate in battle, his views may have been changed and his poetry could have been very different for the rest of his life. Another specific allusion to God is where Brooke states “And think, this heart, all evil shed away/ A pulse in the Eternal mind, no less/ Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given” (Brooke, 2186). He is speaking of a resurrection of sorts, the idea that he could die for his country and be saved in the beyond because of his sacrifice. This alludes to Christ’s war against the heathens, when Jesus was forced to sacrifice his body for faith, just as English soldiers did in World War I for Britain. Brooke clearly believes in God, but does not separate his love for England from his ideas about the afterlife.