Essay on Conflict in Poetry

Submitted By beardo
Words: 2354
Pages: 10

Conflict in PoetryConflict is how the world was made. Some amount of matter and energy colliding with some other bits of matter and energy. From that primal battleground, Life sprung forth. It is the nature of living things to continue colliding with each other. The soupy chaos of Life continues, even today, to grow and change and bloom. Change is (often) violent, and the commencement of that change is not always a mutually agreed upon decision. There are many different forces in the world. Each has its own agenda. Each is pushing to be the dominant decision maker. This holds true among mankind, of course. War is as natural to us as colliding asteroids are to the universe at large. Different groups of people have different wants and needs. These varying concerns intersect in (often) violent events. Considering the scope of war, that it directly involves and indirectly affects hundreds, thousands, and even millions of people at a time, it is not surprising that it is a major topic in all forms of human discourse. Poets, and their insightful, emotive, thought-provoking outputs, are uniquely set up to tackle this fundamental theme. Looking at poetry through the centuries, we can see how mankind, as a whole, has evolved in its approach to large-scale conflict, destruction, and death.
Starting with some of the oldest English-language verses we still have available today, “Beowulf” (n.d./2005), we see the innate tendency toward violence and fighting within humans. Lines 708-709 of the epic poem state, “One man, however, was in fighting mood, / awake and on edge, spoiling for action.” The man in question is, of course, Beowulf, hero of the tale. In this poem, he represents the best of mankind: brave, strong, stalwart, and noble. Describing this darling of the people as “spoiling for action” is not simply a banal description of this moment. It shows an inherent bloodlust, an eagerness to solve a problem with brute force. This is indicative of the time the work was written. During the 8th and 9th centuries, mankind lived in tribal societies. Life was difficult, as one had to spend all available resources just staying alive. Besides the rigors of a rudimentary agricultural lifestyle, there were regular conflicts to defend against. The warriors of one village thought very little wrong in attacking and taking the resources of other villages. Fighting was more than just commonplace, it was necessary for survival. Later in the fight between Beowulf and his foe, the monster Grendel, the anonymous writer used phrases like “stalwart in action” (797), “the glory of winning” (818), “one bloody clash / had fulfilled the dearest wishes” (822-823), and “he was happy with his nightwork / and the courage he had shown” (826-827). All of these descriptors are positive and glorify the act of fighting as something of which to be proud and boastful. Defeating your foes was so much a part of the meaning of life it was synonymous with living itself.
As the Renaissance was winding down in the mid-17th century, English language literature had become formalized by the Church and those high enough in society to obtain an education. Words used were largely the same as they are today. Poets used their work to document historical events, but also to express their emotional or spiritual feelings. Politically motivated poems were written. One of these, John Milton’s “On the Late Massacre in Piedmont” (1673/2005), is a fine example of how humanity’s approach to warfare had evolved from the brutish time of centuries earlier. The poem is essentially a prayer for vengeance, using graphic (for the time) descriptions of the horrors of an attack. Protestant and Catholic forces were engaged in a period of vicious fighting. An attack by a group of Catholics had destroyed a Protestant settlement. Using the poem to both express his outrage and to stir up the ire of his compatriots, Milton wrote, “Slain by the bloody Piedmontese that rolled / Mother with infant down the