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What picture does Owen present to us of the conditions the soldiers faced in World War One? What are his feelings towards the war?

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Introduction

In June 1918, Owen wrote a Preface to a collection of his poetry in which he said: 'My subject is War, and the pity of War, The Poetry is in the pity. ... All a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true poets must be truthful.' What picture does Owen present to us of the conditions the soldiers faced in World War One? What are his feelings towards the war? Out of the collection of Owen's poems that we have studied, I chose to look closely at three; 'Anthem for Doomed Youth', 'Spring Offensive' and 'Dulce et Decorum est'. These poems, although being very different in style, all present a similar picture of the futility and horror of war. 'Anthem for Doomed Youth' was written while Owen was a resident of Craiglockhart War Hospital. Here he met Siegfried Sassoon, another well-known war-poet; who greatly helped Owen develop and improve his poems. 'Anthem for Doomed Youth' is an example of their collaboration. The poem draws a stark contrast between the rites and ceremonies that would be performed if you died at home and those that you can expect on the battlefield. 'Spring Offensive' tells of a troop of soldiers resting in the "May breeze", awaiting the orders to go over the top. It describes their feeling as they prepare for the inevitable. This poem focuses more on nature in war than the other two. 'Dulce et Decorum est' is perhaps the most famous of Owens' poems. It was written in response to 'Who's for the Game?' by Jessie Pope. In it he tries to combat the propaganda at home that had won over Pope and a large percentage of the population, by graphically describing the reality of war. ...read more.

Middle

The focus of this stanza is very much on the nature of the scene around them. The poet uses alliteration to emphasise how "buttercups Had blessed with gold their slow boots". This idea that the pollen was all over their boots is very incongruous. The brambles are described as "small", being insignificant to what they are about to face. They "clung to them like sorrowing arms", suggesting that they don't want them to go, just like the relatives at home. The third stanza provides us with a sudden contrast. It has become very "cold", having changed from the warm spring day. Owen describes how the soldiers are very tense and apprehensive: "At which each body and its soul begird And tighten them for battle". We would expect that when troops go over the top, there is this glorious ceremony because it is in this way that most films portray it. But the reality for these soldiers is that there is "No alarms Of bugles, no high flags, no clamorous haste,". This is not a big event and there is nothing to mark it. It is the use of a simile: "The sun, like a friend with whom their love is done", that signifies the end of the calmness. The sun has shown that its "love is done" and the soldiers have no use for it anymore. In the fourth stanza, the soldiers finally go over the top. They "raced" over, because there was no turning back. Owen uses a single word "Exposed."; as a very short sentence to place the emphasis on the fact that there was no cover and therefore nowhere else to go. ...read more.

Conclusion

The Latin title is repeated in the concluding two lines of the poem: "Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori" This means 'It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country'. Owen names this "the old Lie", showing that he disagrees with this representation of war. The use of the Latin, really makes this, the punch line of his poem, stand out. Because the message is presented in an unusual format, the reader is encouraged to think about its meaning. Owen is saying that it isn't sweet and fitting to die for one's country, it is painful, torturous, tormenting, dangerous and futile. Although the three poems that I have studied are all widely different, the representation of war is similar throughout. In its individual way, each poem describes the horror and futility of war. Owen tries to portray the truth about war, and warn of the reality, as in the quote in the title of this essay. It is in 'Dulce et Decorum est' that Owen most prominently sends out a warning and reveals his true feelings about war. This poem has an actual purpose, rather than sending out a general message. Owen uses language in a graphical manner and uses the art of shocking his audience to remind them of the truth of what they have read. He describes events and feelings in such detail, as to leave the reader no doubt that Owen really believed in the tragic and disgusting conditions that the soldiers faced. Joining the army wasn't glorious, brave and a "Game" as frequently portrayed at home. Owen uses his poems to convey the horror, the frequent deaths and the treacherous conditions daily faced by those who went off to fight. 1 1 ...read more.

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