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How does Wilfred Owen portray the horror of war in 'Dulce et Decorum est'?

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Introduction

How does Wilfred Owen portray the horror of war in 'Dulce et Decorem est'? Owen's 'Dulce et Decorem est' is a painful, poignant and blunt depiction of the squalid conditions and distressing experiences which had a permanent effect on the soldiers of the 1st world war. He addresses the subject with absolute honesty and frankness as a soldier himself, which brings out the stark contrast of the reality of war to the propaganda which enticed young soldiers to fight to begin with; Owen's use of language here shows his deep loathing towards war and misleading propaganda. Firstly I will address the idea in the poem that war is irreconcilable and contradictory to the notions displayed by propaganda posters of courage, bravery, honour, glory and patriotism. The first stanza of the poem is heavy with negative connotations- the men are 'beggars', weak, destitute and dejected, lacking in hope; they are 'coughing like hags' due to living in the trenches- rife with illness, disease, gas attacks and dead bodies. ...read more.

Middle

There is nothing positive about the men's desire to push on, only desperation. This is heightened by the fact that this poem was written in 1917, 3 years after they were promised the war would end by Christmas 1914. The second stanza could be likened to wakening from a dream- the men are 'drunk with fatigue' when a small but urgent voice calls 'Gas!' then more urgently, as the danger is fully understood- 'GAS!' following on from this is an avalanche of awkward words like 'fumbling', clumsy' and 'stumbling' which adds to the urgent, staccato feeling of the stanza structure. This feeling of awkwardness augments itself, then becomes relief ('just in time') then turns into pity and excruciating empathy for the 'someone' who is 'drowning' under a 'green sea', as he is 'yelling out' and 'flound'ring' like a fish, wrenching at the emotions of the reader; and, it seems, of Owen himself. ...read more.

Conclusion

That 'you', 'My friend', the reader, would not dream of speaking of the war with ardour, if to create a utopian fantasy for one's children; if at all. The fact that Owen capitalises the L in 'Lie' along with the ending of the poem with the religiously indicative Latin phrase shows his sarcastic bitterness clearly- he wants the reader to empathise and feel as he feels when he thinks of how he was lied to about a place worse than hell, and even worse, how it was glorified. In conclusion, Owen portrays the horror of war, with an incredibly graphic nature, as at complete odds with popular considerations. He fills the poem with themes of loss, blindness, illness, fatigue, death, blood, uncleanliness and deafness and likens war to a place worse than hell, worse than the reader could even imagine. He displays war as rife with sickening and squalid substance, and the effects it has on the soldiers who survive as incurable, corrupted, horrific, destructive and vile. ...read more.

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