I've decided to share things from grad school as they happen, rather than waiting until after the course is done. I stalled because there are some files on a computer that I moved and havne't resetup. I'll circle back around to that stuff but, for now, here's some British Lit.
Beowulf, an Old English epic poem, glorifies battle and the heroics of men. The protagonist, Beowulf, is encouraged by his men, who are themselves brave, to seek out actions to win. In the following passage, Beowulf explains to Hrothgar how his men encouraged him and boast of his strength:
This my earls then urged me, the most excellent of them, Carles very clever, to come and assist thee, Folk-leader Hrothgar; fully they knew of The strength of my body. Themselves they beheld me When I came from the contest, when covered with gore Foes I escaped from, where five I had bound, The giant-race wasted, in the waters destroying The nickers by night, bore numberless sorrows, The Weders avenged (woes had they suffered) Enemies ravaged; (VII. 43 - 52)
In this passage, Beowulf is boasting of his strength and how his men have watched him avenge wrongs done to others. He is not only capable of the battle he may face with Grendel; he is capable of doing it by himself. Even as Beowulf ages, he looks back on the battles of his youth with pride and continues to seek out more:
"I braved in my youth-days battles unnumbered; Still am I willing the struggle to look for, Fame-deeds perform, folk-warden prudent, If the hateful despoiler forth from his cavern Seeketh me out!” (XXXV. 50 - 54)
Throughout Beowulf, there are many descriptions of heroics during battle, and while there is a reference to gore and death, it is not described in such detail as it is in Wilfred Owen’s poem “Dulce et Decorum est.”
Owen wrote his poem while serving in the British Army during World War I. In his poem, he describes battle not with glory but as a nightmare:
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs And towards our distant rest began to trudge. Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
This passage speaks of men that are exhausted and bloodied. They want nothing but sleep to the point that they do not notice the battle that rages behind them as they are out of range and are headed back to camp. Owen’s poem suggests that there is no glory in war. His description of a man dying during a gas attack is both terrifying and an accurate portrayal of battle. Death in on the battlefield for this man does not end on a funeral pyre with people crying for him. His death comes on a jostling wagon on which other soldiers have tossed his body.
These two poems present very different ideas of battle. Beowulf encourages seeking out great feats of danger and battle to find glory. Wilfred Owen paints a scene that proves Beowulf a lie. There is no glory in battle, and no one comes out of it without injury.