Women Poets of the First World War During the First World War, many women began writing about their experiences and their opinions of the war. However their works have been given less importance as compared to the Literature written by Men of the time. Even while poetry is arguably the most central of women’s war time genre, readers have often found it disappointingly backward-looking in both style and subject matter’ (Blacks, 89) While looking at the works of Women poets we find a variation in themes ranging from those who encouraged men to fight the war to those who fought the war themselves ND despised it. This research paper attempts to study the different kinds of poetry written by women and the themes they express. ‘The infamous white feather campaign was part of a government- orchestrated effort to mobile women to recruit male soldiers’ (Blacks, 90).
As it was a completely volunteer based army, it was necessary to have very powerful recruitment campaigns in order to have enough soldiers. The White Feather Brigade was started by Admiral Fitzgerald on August 30, 1914, when he gave out white feathers to 30 women, giving instructions to hand them out to men who had cowardly not enlisted in the army. The idea of the white feather as a symbol for cowardice and disapproval comes from a popular novel written by the British author A. E. W. Mason in 1902, during the Boer War (Wiseacres).
This resulted in Jingoism even in some of the poems written by women. Among the Jingo- writers were writers like Jessie Pope who wrote two such poems- The Call and Who’s for the Game? In Who’s for the Game? Pope was trying to bring out the image that war was fun and full of glory that any young man could earn if only he had the courage- ‘The red crashing game of a fight? Who’ll grip and tackle the Job unafraid? By using the words like ‘game’, the biggest that’s played’ and ‘game of a fight’ she makes fighting the wars seem like an easy task.
She also compares the war to a show for praise was given to the soldiers who fought the war and not those who watched from the home front- Who wants a turn to himself in the show? And who wants a seat in the stand? Similarly in The Call Pope repeatedly uses rhetorical questions to evoke a sense of guilt. Her constant uses of the question- Will you my ladder? And her use of ‘My Ladder’ almost suggests that going to the war would be a way to impress he ladies on the home front because it was heroic and noble.
A similar belief in expressed in her poem, The Beau Ideal which literally means the perfect beauty and according to Pope would be the lad that- ‘Must be in shabby khaki digit To compass her affection’ Who’s proved that he is brittle’ or- Must her have one member in a sling Or, preferably, missing This poem would was used to convince men to fight the war because women now preferred Soldiers but must have been very offensive to those who fought the war. For the country- ‘For there’s only one course to pursue.
Your country is up to her neck n a fight, And she’s looking and calling for you’ And she was also certain that England was going to win the war and when She did, that all these soldiers would be honored. When that procession comes, Banners and rolling drums- Who’ll stand and bite his thumbs- Will you, my ladder? And like she does in Who’s for the gamer, she asks -at this point of time would the people rather be with among those who are being honored or stand among those who fought?
Helen Hamilton counter attacked this movement when she wrote Jingo- women. Her dislike towards all women who were part of this movement is clearly evident in her poem ‘Jingo-woman (How I dislike you! ) Dealer in white feathers, Insulter, self-appointed, Of all the men you meet, Not dressed in uniform’ What these women are doing by shaming the men into war is unacceptable to her. She doesn’t believe that men should be shamed into the war Just because they are men. ‘Can’t you see it isn’t decent, To flout and goad men into doing, What is not asked of you?
Aside from the Jingoist writers, a whole range of poetry was written by women who worked on the war front as nurses among them being Vera Britain who and Eva Double, Both who served in The Voluntary Aid Detachment (BAD) nurse. Some of their works reflect the things they encountered while working. Some were about heroism and some were about the pain and agony that the soldiers suffered. Eva Double wrote ‘Night duty, ‘Pluck and ‘Gramophones’ which take an account of things she may have encountered while working at the hospitals. Pluck emphasis on the fact that young people were brainwashed into enlisting into the army. She speaks of a seventeen year old- ‘His great eyes seems to question why: with both legs smashed it might have been Better in that grim trench to die’ Some poems were written by women who were on the home front and wrote poems based on what they had heard from others. Margaret Cole for example was a pacifist in the First World War. She wrote the ‘The Veteran’ which again is a poem about a young who people enlisted in the army.
The Veteran himself is only 19 and yet he has encountered. Cole could have been trying to make a statement that people who are so young should not have to face such traumatizing events. Poems by other women on the home front reflect themes of loss, pain, love. These women were the ones who ad to anxiously wait at home only to hear the news that their loved ones has passed. One such poem that expressed these themes is The Wind on the Downs by Marina Allen. This poem was written to her FianceГ©, Arthur Greg who died in the war.
The poem expresses her struggle to cope with the news of his death- You have not died, it is not true, instead You seek adventure in some other place’, a feeling that was faced by most women on the home front. Men on the war front often suffered horrible deaths, many of whom, the bodies were never found. Their loved ones at home therefore had no closure. The lines of Vera Britain’s Perhaps expresses the same idea when she says – ‘.. Though kind Time may many Joys renew, There is one greatest Joy I shall not know Again, because my heart for loss of You Was broken, long ago. Her poem expresses deep feelings of loss because life might go on as usual for her and everyone around by her loved one will not be there to enjoy it with her. Many of the women were insistent on being on the war front. They may have felt subordinated or may have been carried away by the idea of the war or maybe Just wanted to be useful first world war is notable for having transformed woman’s role of mere spectator of a male event into one active participant at various levels, in the war behind. Therefore some did go to war and worked on various levels. Female feats went unrecorded; occasionally they got a mention in the papers’ (Khan, 133). A range of poetry was also a cry for much needed respect that ought to be given to women who fought the war. Apart from the soldiers who lost their lives there was a large number of women who worked on the war front as nurses or did other voluntary work and were killed in ill faith. Women Felt unappreciated as all praise was given to the men and none to the women. Poets like Vera Britain expressed some of these ideas in their works.
Vera Britain’s ‘The Sisters Buried at Lemons’ is one of the best poems to depict that cry. She expresses the idea that- Poets praise the soldier’s might and deeds of War, But few exalt the Sisters, and the glory Of women dead beneath a distant star. Or in The Lament of the Demolished – ‘.. They forget How others stayed behind and Just got on– Got on the better since we were away. And we came home and found They had achieved, and men revered their names, But never mentioned ours; And no one talked heroics now.. ‘. Rebel working conditions, horrible, weather conditions and diseases yet no ‘blazing tribute’ was paid to the women. Women thus wrote a wide range of poetry. Their themes vary from that of men on the war front but at the same time give us an understanding of what the women felt through the war. Bibliography 1. Blacks Claire, British Women’s Writing of the Great War. Cambridge Companion to the literature of the First World War. 2. Khan Noshed, Women’s Poetry of the first world war University Press of Kentucky, 1988 3. Http://the-white-feather-movement- worldwide. Wiseacres. Com/