Comparing Wilfred Owen's The Sentry and Dulce et Decorum Est

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Wilfred Owen: The Sentry and Dulce et Decorum Est

Wilfred Owen’s poetry is not about grandeur, dominion or altruism. It is about war and the grotesque horrors that it represents to the former nation, the nation of today and the nation of tomorrow. Owen did not write in self-pity but in the pity of war. His poems The Sentry and Dulce et Decorum Est are resonant, portentous and multi-layered works characterised by poignant honesty and profound compassion whilst embodying both differences and similarities to each other.

Wilfred Owen’s Dulce and The Sentry are both presented as a vignette from the front lines of the First World War. In Dulce, Owen describes British soldiers being attacked with gas, however, in The Sentry he depicts the shelling of his sentry. He employs sibilance to imitate the sound of the gas when he states, “Dim, through the misty panes…” as Owen sets eyes open the soldier who had been gassed. Caesura has been exploited after ‘dim’, fracturing the line to illustrate the horror that Owen experienced to the reader. He also uses the same technique in The Sentry when he sees the soldier falling down the steps of their dugout after a shell attack. Owen states, “The sentry’s body; then his rifle.” Again, he is conveying the dismay and incredulity of what he is witnessing. He also writes in the present continuous tense at both times in the poem, implying that the sufferings of these soldiers are resulting in recurring nightmares.

Moreover, Owen goes on to use sibilance again in Dulce: “gas-shells dropping softly behind.” This gives the poem more depth to the imagery and instigates the reader to relive the gas attack with him. The use of the sinister ‘s’ sound throughout the poem also represents his attitudes and emotions of war. In the quotation, Owen also utilises irony through the adverb ‘softly’ to assert the soldiers unawareness of the shells and the fact that they have become accustom to the deafening sound and are not able to hear anything anymore. This is reinforced by the quotation “Deaf even to the hoots.” In the first of the four stanzas, Owen is purposefully creating a death-like although rather composed feeling before the surprise of the gas attack in the second stanza to highlight the chaos. Consequently, Owen creates a sense of pathos and the reader can emphasise with the soldiers. He also achieves the chaotic feeling through transitioning from a regular rhyming scheme to an irregular one. Regular suggests routine and organisation, however, irregular implies that the gas attack disrupted this and was a shock to the soldiers. In contrast, to creating a composed feeling in the first stanza in Dulce, in The Sentry, Wilfred Owen the reader instantaneously is given an insight into the continuous violence from the irregular rhythm. The quotation “hell, for shell on frantic shell” reveals that the attack on the dugout was incessant whilst the use consonance mimics the noise of the shells to add to the effect. The repetition shows the abundance of shells that were falling. Furthermore, Owen uses the preposition ‘on’ to indicate that each shell was overshadowing the last and the situation is getting worse and worse. The verb “hammered” reinforces that the shells falling on the soldiers rapidly whilst elucidating that they are breaking the soldier’s spirits as caesura follows.

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Similarly, in Dulce, the war is compared to the devil: “His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin.” This simile is iron as sin to a devil is his reason for existence and if he becomes “sick of sin” he is essentially inquiring everything that has been of significance to him. His face expressed this extent of the supposed disillusion that his entire life had been for nothing. It could be interpreted that Owen is suggesting that the dying soldier is questioning everything that he has been told about the honour of patriotism, the glory and the sweetness of ...

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