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Analysis of the poem 'Subalterns' by Elizabeth Daryush

Joanne Aylott

on 4 November 2012

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Transcript of 'Subalterns'

Elizabeth Daryush 'Subalterns' She said to one: 'How glows
My heart at the hot thought
Of battle's glorious throes!'
He said: 'For us who fought
Are icy memories
That must for ever freeze
The sunny hours they bought.' She said to one: 'How light
Must your freed heart be now,
After the heavy fight!' He said: ‘Well I don’t know ...
The war gave one a shake,
Somehow, knocked one awake ...
Now, life’s so deadly slow.’ 'Subalterns' provides multiple attitudes towards the First World War. The female speaker presents a 'for' attitude, whereas the male speaker presents an 'against' attitude. It can be strongly argued that 'Subalterns' is similar to the poem 'For Two Voices' by Maurice Hewlett. 'For Two Voices' is structured in the same way as 'Subalterns', with two speakers, each representing a different attitude towards the war. She said to one: 'How light
Must be your freed heart now,
After the heavy fight!'
He said: 'Well, I don't know ...
The war gave one a shake,
Somehow, knocked one awake ...
Now, life's so deadly slow.' The male speaker can be interpreted as being a war veteran, and the female speaker as perhaps being one of the women at home, who cannot really imagine the realities and brutalities of war. 'For Two Voices'

'O mother, mother, isn't it fun,
The soldiers marching past in the sun!'
'Child, child, what are you saying?'
Come to church. We should be praying.'

'Look, mother, at their bright spears!'
'The leaves are falling like women's tears.'
'You are not looking at what I see.'
'Nay, but I look at what must be.'

'Hark to the pipers! See the flags flying!'
'I hear the sound of a girl crying.'
'How many hundreds before they are done?'
'How many mothers wanting a son?'

'Here rides the general, pacing slow!'
'Well he may, if he knows what I know.'
'O this war, what a glorious game!'
'Sin and shame, sin and shame.' She said to one: 'How glows
My heart at the hot thought
Of battle's glorious throes!' "throes"

Intense or violent pain and struggle. "glorious throes" reflects the attitudes felt by the people at the homefront during the beginning of the War. He said: ‘For us who fought
Are icy memories
That must for ever freeze
The sunny hours they bought.’ People believed that the War was indeed a glorious and heroic way to die. A poem by Wilfred Owen contradicts this view. Dulce et Decorum est

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, -
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori. Could be a reference to 'shellshock', which many soldiers suffered from after the War, in some cases, where memories of certain experiences in the war never go away, that are 'frozen' in the mind, hence the line "that must for ever freeze". A subaltern is an officer in the British army, having a rank just below that of the Captain. The use of multiple attitudes gives the poem more depth. The female speaker could be seen as referring to the soldier's 'duty', and after doing his bit for his country, that he must feel 'lighter'. The daughter of the poet and poet laureate Robert Bridges, Elizabeth Daryush was an English poet. The themes of her work are often critical of the upper classes and also of the social injustice that their privileges have put upon others. The poem is presented in two stanzas. The rhyme scheme to this poem is ABABCCB She said to one: Throughout the poem, the ex-soldier is given no identity, he is only referred to as 'one'. It could be interpreted that Daryush does this because there were so many men that went to war, that in a way, you did lose your identity and your individuality. She can be seen as quite naive, completely unaware of the long-term effects of going through such a brutal and constantly terrifying ordeal. Compared to his experiences during the War, his life back at home is drastically different, as men returning from the war found it difficult to settle in to their normal lives after their time at the front. The female speaker is seen as being the woman at home, evidently because women were not allowed to participate in the actual combat aspect of the War. It could be argued that gender roles are explored in this poem. The war gave one a shake,
Somehow, knocked one awake ... The reason why the poem does not have a strict, straightforward rhyme scheme such as AABB or ABAB is because the rhyme scheme could be seen as a reflection of the general state of the War itself, or even the purpose of the War, (the view that it was feeble and pointless) due to the fact that many of the men themselves were questioning it, as seen through some of their first-hand experiences in poems, diary extracts... Another possible reason why Daryush chose to present the poem in this way is that the male speaker is just one of many, that many hundreds of thousands of others experienced what the speaker has experienced, and this ex-soldier is just "one" of them, thus adding to the impact the poem makes. Therefore the poem is referring to the roles of man and woman at this time. Main themes of the poem: Realities of war
The Front Line
The Homefront
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