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Essay on Post World War 2 Literature: Portrayal of Warfare and Massive Destruction by Seamus Heaney

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Two world wars, an intervening economic depression of great severity, and the austerity of life in Britain following the Second World War help to explain the quality and direction of English literature in the 20th century. The traditional values of Western civilization, which the Victorians had only begun to question, came to be questioned seriously by a number of new writers, who saw society breaking down around them. Traditional literary forms were often discarded, and new ones succeeded one another with bewildering rapidity, as writers sought fresher ways of expressing new kinds of experience, or experience seen in new ways. The Post World War II Literature defined itself by reflecting the prevalent violence of modern society, from the destruction of large-scale warfare to individual crimes. The historical significance of violence in the period following World War II attributed to violence becoming a very common and popular theme. The poets expressed their anxieties of a world where human aggression was rising at an alarming rate and warfare was causing massive destruction.

It is hard to overstate how pivotal a figure in British Literature Ted Hughes was, and remains. Understated and mildly ironic in style, he explored questions of human existence, human consciousness; man’s relation with the universe, with the natural world and with his own inner self. He wrote with vivid imagination, cynical descriptions and powerful imagery. He often used the imagery of crows, hawks and jaguars in his poetry. In extraordinarily vigorous verse, beginning with his first collection, The Hawk in the Rain (1957), Hughes captured the ferocity, vitality, and splendor of the natural world. Hughes has become one of the main poetical voices in English thanks to his celebration of the dark rhythms of nature and his valuation of the animal world above the rational, destructive impulses of human civilization. Sheikh Mehedi Hassan believes that “…his contemporaries were committed to “the Movement” and kept articulating angst, anger, negation, narcissism, morbidity, and frustration in their verses, Hughes produced elegant poems of versatile animal world.” Nevertheless, according to Hassan, “The use of animal symbolism and imagery is an old trend to teach human beings certain lessons of honesty, morality and ethics.” The theme of violence finds the most vivid expression in the animal poems of Hughes. That Morning, Full Moon and Little Frieda, The Jaguar, Second Glance at a Jaguar, Pike; Hawk Roosting; Thrushes are some of his poems which revolve around the themes of cruelty and violence, inseparable from the world of Nature. John Press refers to his work as a ‘naked apprehension of physical reality’, and to Hughes himself as ‘anatomist of violence’.

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A native of Northern Ireland, Seamus Heaney is widely recognized as one of the major poets of the 20th century. Heaney began his career writing personal and pastoral poems using rustic images. However, he changed the course of his poetry because of what he deemed as political necessity- the agitation in Northern Ireland- to poetry of political significance. In 1979, reflecting on the years he spent writing Field Work, Heaney offers a much less politically charged focus for his art: ‘Those years […] were an important growth time when I was asking myself the proper function of poets and poetry and learning a new commitment to the art”. His poems are popular for their simple and understandable language along with their universal themes. As Blake Morrison noted in his work Seamus Heaney, the author is ‘that rare thing, a poet rated highly by critics and academics yet popular with ‘the common reader.”

Hughes’ Hawk Roosting is a dramatic monologue of a Hawk. Sitting on a treetop, the Hawk meditates on its upraised position as it looks arrogantly at the world in front of it. Proud of its abilities and situation, it assumes the role of the Creator, God. It takes pleasure and pride in the fact that it can kill and wreak havoc on its innocent preys whenever it pleases. The Hawk is a symbol of power, superiority and arrogance. Many critics see in the ruthless behavior of the hawk a despot or a dictator. It can be compared to a tyrant or a fascist. However, Hughes didn’t particularly agree with this approach to his poem. According to him, he merely wanted to depict the cruelty and the bloodthirstiness which exists in nature. The poem is about a single minded concern with a violence which seeks no justification for itself.

Casualty is an elegy for Seamus Heaney’s friend who was killed by the British troops on ‘Bloody Sunday’. It is set against the background of the turmoil in Northern Ireland in which innocent lives were being taken in Ireland by the British troops. Heaney describes the victim in elaborate detail. This detailed description helps the reader connect with the victim. Heaney then describes the coffin procession and tries to imagine the expression of his friend before his death. The poet missed his funeral but finds or imagines himself on a boat carrying the coffin. The poem ends with the poet asking the victim to return and talk to him again. Through the poem, Heaney attempts to outline the suffering that the innocent endure due to acts of violence. Put into context with the social significance and the other victims, this puts a more subjective face on the victims of what are usually dispassionately described as the casualties of war and political struggle. It ends by ensnaring both the speaker and his elegized subject in the Northern Irish conflict, despite the best efforts of both men to remain uninvolved.

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Essay on Post World War 2 Literature: Portrayal of Warfare and Massive Destruction by Seamus Heaney. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved January 30, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/essay-on-post-world-war-2-literature-portrayal-of-warfare-and-massive-destruction-by-seamus-heaney/
“Essay on Post World War 2 Literature: Portrayal of Warfare and Massive Destruction by Seamus Heaney.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/essay-on-post-world-war-2-literature-portrayal-of-warfare-and-massive-destruction-by-seamus-heaney/
Essay on Post World War 2 Literature: Portrayal of Warfare and Massive Destruction by Seamus Heaney. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/essay-on-post-world-war-2-literature-portrayal-of-warfare-and-massive-destruction-by-seamus-heaney/> [Accessed 30 Jan. 2023].
Essay on Post World War 2 Literature: Portrayal of Warfare and Massive Destruction by Seamus Heaney [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2023 Jan 30]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/essay-on-post-world-war-2-literature-portrayal-of-warfare-and-massive-destruction-by-seamus-heaney/
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