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War & 20th Century Poetry

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An individual’s personality, opinion and even the way they perceive things are highly influenced by experience. Many experiences are documented, whether positive or negative, in the form of film, story, song or poem. The twentieth century was an era of imperialism, nationalism and decolonization which would all contribute to the outbreak of both world wars. Each war was both surprising to many people, as well as damaging. The state of a nations economy, moral and even landscape became a daily reminder of the war that surrounded them. Friends and family were shipped off to war, many did not return. Mothers, daughters, sisters and wives all tried to stay strong for their heroes at war, but inside, tension and heartache were overpowering their lives. Soldiers faced battle daily, and were physically and emotionally worn. Things in the world were harsh, everyone wanted to escape reality and many did so, through poetry.

Twentieth century poetry was highly influenced by the war, individuals in the home front wrote about their feelings that captured their lives daily, soldiers wrote on the warfront craving a place to escape the harsh reality and many others just wanted their opinion to be heard, but in a less obvious way. The poem written by Derek Walcott, A Far Cry from Africa illustrates the frustration of being apart of two cultures, British and African. The lines “I who am poisoned with the blood of both/Where shall I turn, divided to the vein?” (Walcott, pg 17) illustrates the speakers confusion of his cultural background. It seems that the speaker doesn’t feel like he/she is a true Britain or African. Lines such as “The salients of colonial policy” and “In a white dust of ibises whose cries have wheeled since civilizations dawn” (Walcott, pg 17) could possibly represent Britain’s imperialism on Africa, and their need for Africans to assimilate as a British colony. In addition, we could translate “The gorilla wrestles with the superman” (Walcott, pg 18) into Africa’s struggle with Great Britain. The gorilla can be seen as a primitive African beast, while superman could possibly be the British, being the biggest super power at the time. Through out the poem we are given lines that explains the feelings of descendants of both African and British culture. The end of the poem, “How can I face such slaughter and be cool?/How can I turn from Africa and live?” (Walcott, pg 18) clearly shows that the speaker doesn’t come to a conclusion, and thus, his feeling of being isolated and somewhat lost, remains.

In the aftermath of the first world war, everything became a struggle as people tried to move on. Nations began to rebuild their selves, ensuring the people that there wouldn’t be another war. The state began to create expectations for their citizens, such as those introduced in W.H Auden’s, The Unknown Citizen. In the poem, Auden illustrates the states expectation to have the perfect man; the unknown citizen. Throughout the poem, we are introduced to the traits that define the perfect man

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