‘Who’s for the Game?’ is Jessie Pope’s best-known poem. It was published in a newspaper in 1915 before men were forced to sign up. Unfortunately, her reputation is tied to the negative reaction to this World War I poem and to Wilfred Owen’s poetic reply to her work. One wrote ‘Dulce et Decorum est,’ one of his best poems, to Pope in 1917. Many writers, such as Owen and Sassoon, disliked Pope’s writing and explicitly stated that they found it distasteful in its pro-war sentiment.
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Summary of Who’s for the Game?
The speaker directly addresses the young men of her country, trying to goad them into showing their strength and bravery by joining the armed forces. She refers to war as a “game,” one that’s important for them to participate in and see if they can win.
Themes in Who’s for the Game?
The most obvious themes at work in ‘Who’s for the Game?’ are war and bravery. The speaker is promoting the latter in the face of the former. By suggesting that war is just a game, a dangerous cliche, and idealization, the poet is trying to encourage men to put aside their fear and fight for their country even if they get injured. There is no mention of death or the vast swathes of destruction, and are now directly connected in the historical memory about WWI.
Structure and Form of Who’s for the Game?
‘Who’s for the Game?’ by Jessie Pope is a seventeen (sometimes sixteen depending on the version) line poem that is contained within one stanza. Despite this, the poem is often (and easily) separated out into quatrains, or sets of four lines. Some publishers connect lines thirteen and fourteen into one long line. The poem follows a simple rhyme scheme of ABAB; changing end sounds from stanza to stanza.
It is quite well structured, as were all of Pope’s poems. The poem feels casual, as though one might read it at any point in their life and connect to it. The poet uses anapaests throughout the next. This refers to beats with three syllables, the first two of which are unstressed and the third of which is stressed. This is certainly not consistent throughout.
Literary Devices in Who’s for the Game?
Pope makes use of several literary devices in ‘Who’s for the Game?’ These include but are not limited to allusion, caesura, and anaphora. The latter is a type of repetition that’s focused on the first words in a line. For example, “Who’ll,” which starts lines three, four, and five, and “Who,” which starts lines seven, nine, and eleven. The repetition of questions is another important part of the poem that gives it the majority of its structure.
Allusions are references to something that’s not explicitly stated in the poem. In this case, the poet is referring to WWI and the need for soldiers to sign up to fight. This is an unusual pro-war poem, one that is usually contrasted against the work of better-loved poets such as Siegfried Sassoon.
Caesurae are pauses in the middle of the lines. For example, the one which reads: “Who’s for the game, the biggest that’s played” and line nine which reads: “Who knows it won’t be a picnic – not much.” These pauses might be created with punctuation or with natural pauses in the meter.
Analysis of Who’s for the Game?
Who’s for the game, the biggest that’s played,
The red crashing game of a fight?
Who’ll grip and tackle the job unafraid?
And who thinks he’d rather sit tight?
In the first four lines of ‘Who’s for the Game?’ the speaker begins with the line that later came to be used as the title of the poem. She refers to a “game,” meaning war, that’s the biggest that’s ever played. She describes it as though it’s something to be lusted after and pursued. It’s the “red crashing game of a fight.” In these lines, she’s trying to appeal to a male reader’s natural desire to test themselves against other men and prove their bravery. She repetitively uses the word “Who” in these lines and those that follow suggest that the reader should want to answer “Me, I’m who” to the questions. No one, after being dared to fight, she thinks, will want to “sit tight” instead.
Who’ll toe the line for the signal to ‘Go!’?
Who’ll give his country a hand?
Who wants a turn to himself in the show?
And who wants a seat in the stand?
Who knows it won’t be a picnic – not much-
Yet eagerly shoulders a gun?
Who would much rather come back with a crutch
Than lie low and be out of the fun?
The following lines are quite straightforward without any room for interpretation. The speaker asks who’s going to risk their lives for their country and participate in the war, which she continues to call a game. She makes references to “the stand,” as if the “game” has an audience while also suggesting that it’s going to be “fun” even if one comes back with a crutch. It is hard to read these lines without feeling as though they are propagandistic or at the very least, a complete idealization of the war.
Come along, lads –
But you’ll come on all right –
For there’s only one course to pursue,
Your country is up to her neck in a fight,
And she’s looking and calling for you.
The poem ends as one might expect, with one more call out to the young men of the country to fight in the war. In some versions, the thirteenth and fourteenth lines are combined together. It is hard not to read this poem and consider how untrue Pope’s words were. This is something that has inspired a great deal of criticism and might lead readers to wonder if Pope believed the things she was writing or was seeking to channel a specific attitude, thinking she was genuinely helping.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Who’s for the Game?’ should also consider reading some other war-time poems. For example:
- ‘To Any Dead Officer’ by Siegfried Sassoon – focuses on the lives of officers serving in WWI and what it was like for them in the trenches.
- ‘Spring Offensive’ by Wilfred Owen – a stark anti-war poem in which Owen portrays a group of soldiers embracing death.
- ‘Song-Books of the War’ by Siegfried Sassoon – speaks on revisionist history while looking back on the terrible leadership during the First World War.
- ‘In Flanders Field’ by John McCrae – first published in 1915, it is McCrae’s best-known poem and the reason why the poppy flower is often associated with WWI.