‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ and ‘The Soldier’ are all centred upon the theme of war, but approach the subject from contrasting perspectives; whilst the first two are describing the extreme struggles faced by the soldiers, the other is presenting the pride and the pleasures involved in combating for your own country.
'Dulce et decorum est' follows a loose iambic pentameter and is an expression of Wilfred Owen’s recent war time experience. There are three stanzas which contain unequal number of lines; the first and second consist of 8 lines whereas the last is of 12 lines and this is the main reason which deviates this poem from the others that make of use of similar arrangement. The rhyme scheme is quite strict in that it follows a basic rhyme scheme throughout the three stanzas of ‘ababcdcd’. Owen's break from the conventional poetic form serves to symbolize the breakdown of society's value system - a system that had been trusted for many years. Owen also breaks from the pretty language prevalent in the poetry of his day to show his society the awful images of real and not romantically heroic war.
The first stanza depicts the war-weary soldiers marching "through sludge," "blood-shod" and "drunk with fatigue". It is now the gas shells that begin to fall, while in amidst of all this, the soldiers desperately try to put their gas masks on. In all this chaos, one man fails to do so, as he clumsily drops his mask. It is now the vivid imagery that comes through quite strongly here of this man who is now "yelling out and stumbling and flound'ring like a man in fire or lime". Wilfred Owen now explains to his readers that an image of this man "guttering, choking, drowning" disturbs his thoughts and even possibly his dreams. This makes Owen live out these moments in a continuous cycle driven by his mind. The last of the three stanzas serves as an awakening to those young men wishing to leave for war, as Owen vividly describes the atrociousness of the man’s current state. The final line reveals Owen’s intentions as he now full headedly strikes the ‘old lie’ told by Horace: (It is sweet and fitting to die for your country).
The structure of ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ is of a sonnet; it consists of fourteen lines, with three quatrains of the rhyme scheme ‘ababcdcd effegg’, with also a rhyming couplet to finish. It consists of two stanzas which are very effective in achieving their purpose; the first recreates the lack of rituals for the death of the soldiers whereas the other fictionally gives the soldiers the ceremonial rituals through their loved ones. The final line can be considered to be on a separate issue than the two stanzas as it deals with overcoming this disaster for the loved ones.
Brooke’s 'The Soldier', similar with Owen’s 'Anthem for Doomed Youth', as it is also in the sonnet form, however the octave here is rhymed after the Shakespearean/Elizabethan (ababcdcd) rhyme scheme, while the sestet follows the Petrarchan/Italian (efgefg). Brooke has also deviated somewhat from the traditional thematic divisions associated with the octave and sestet: question/predicament and resolution/solution, respectively.
Wilfred Owen’s ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, is a powerful and as described by many, one of the finest battlefield poem ever to be written. It is an anti-war poem, that is, in all ways contradictory to 'The Soldier'. The entire work is dedicated to reveal the grim reality of war, which impresses and disgusts the reader simultaneously. Owen recreates the time when he and his troops were returning back to the rest camp, but suddenly they are left facing various forms of suffering. By the end of the poem, we learn that it had been attacking a phrase from an ode by the Latin poet, ‘Horace’, which was, when translated to English; ‘It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s own country’. The poem may seem to become very technical at some points as Owen continuously makes use of compelling poetic devices; metaphors, smiles, vivid imagery, personification, figurative language and exact diction are to name just a few. All of these elements come together to keep the imagery ‘tight’, and make the reader fully focus on the content. Ultimately, it is his manipulation of the mechanical as well the emotional parts of poetry that allow him to clearly state his theme.
The first stanza of this poem takes us directly to the trenches and serves as an account of surviving in these harsh conditions. Owen begins the poem with two imaginary comparisons; the men are ‘bent double’ as if they were ‘old beggars’ carrying ‘sacks’ and in the second line that follows further describes their attributes as being ‘knock-kneed’ and ‘coughing’ like ‘hags’. His use of compelling figurative language is quite noticeable here, and is in this sense effective as we can evidently imagine the great suffering that these Soldiers must have been through. They are ‘bent double’ as well as ‘knock kneed’ because they must have been marching for days if not months with also some members having terrible ‘coughing’ as a result of all this. They have been compared to old women (hags), which shows the extent to which they must have been exhausted; firstly they are of the opposite sex and secondly they are younger. We can clearly make the case that the men have become old, shrivelled and decrepit lacking the normal capabilities zealous men that were called to war. The second line ends with Owen making them ‘cursed’ through ‘sludge’; a religious overtone that is very contrasting to the 'The Soldier' where Brooke is very willing to fight, whereas here they were not even forced but ‘cursed’ all along to do so.
Suddenly, when these troops of soldiers reach the ‘haunting flares’; rockets which were sent up to burn with a brilliant glare to light up men and other targets in the area between the front lines. These men then decided to ‘turn’ their ‘backs’, denoting that they refused to proceed because they didn’t want to be spotted by the enemy. They were now moving ‘towards’ their ‘distant rest’; supposedly a camp away from the front lines where exhausted soldiers might be able to rest for some brief period of time.
In the next line, Owen, very simplistically expresses the soldier marching ‘asleep’; a hyperbole used to exaggerate the conditions of the soldiers so that it couldn’t be taken literally. Quite effective in the sense that it makes me quickly imagine if such a thing could take place but then I doubt if something like this could actually occur on the battlefield where strict rules were applied. Because of all the ‘sludge’, ‘many had lost their boots’, ‘but limped on blood-shot’. This phrase "blood shot" quite vividly displays the state of the soldiers who must have gone on for days or even weeks without sleep. One must now know that when someone goes on for days without any rest they become ‘lame’ and subsequently ‘blind’ as they close their eyes to sleep. I consider this to be another one of Owen’s hyperboles which again exaggerates the conditions of the soldiers and can’t be, by any reason, taken literally.
In the next couple of lines, Owen continues with his use of zombie like conditions to compare the soldiers; they have been ‘Drunk with fatigue’ and are ‘deaf even to the hoots’ by the ‘five-nines’ or poisonous gas shells that ‘dropped behind’, but still, they have some hope in themselves of reaching their ‘distant rest’.
The second stanza is able to bring out very expressive imagery which serves an effective purpose in illustrating the horror of the afflicted as well the narrator who observed this dreadful sight. Owen has cleverly compared the soldiers attempt to escape from what seems to be chlorine gas (by looking at its symptoms) with his lack of success to one floundering as though in a body of water. However, he is drowning in a green sea of this gas. We can almost hear and picture his desperate desire for oxygen gas as is unable to keep his head above the ‘green sea’.
In the third stanza, Owen makes further use of exact diction and extended metaphors to view the suffering soldier. There are sounds in this stanza which Owen recalls from when the afflicted man was flung into the wagon; of ‘guttering’, ‘choking’ and of the gargling of the blood in his lungs. However, the visionary form remains to be foremost effective as Owen is now able to ‘watch the white eyes writhing in his face’. A religious overtone is used after this line of the soldier’s ‘hanging face’ being compared to the devil’s own image knotted as his ‘sick of sin’. Owen magnifies the pain and the suffering by a horrifying description of the soldier’s ‘froth-corrupted lungs’; these being vile, bitter, cud and incurable as cancer. A very persuasive argument that Owen had been trying to convey comes through very heavily after these descriptions of the soldier’s festering, oozing injury.
Owen ends with the Latin phrase by claiming it was an ‘old lie’ that had been perpetuated all across the world; ‘Dulce et decorum est/ Pro patria mori’, which when translated is ‘it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country’. After viewing the graphic images of the afflicted comrade there can’t be one who still believes war to be ‘sweet’. The irony is somehow overpowering as Owen cleverly juxtaposes the two very contrasting perspectives side by side. He has attacked not simply the Roman poet, Horace, but also Jessie Pope; a civilian who encouraged young men ‘with such high zest’ to join the army, through her poetry. I strongly think that Owen has put across his message quite heavily among his readers by his use of figurative language and resounding imagery to make people realise that the reality is gruesome rather than glamorous.
Owen’s ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ is considered as a lament for the young soldiers whose lives were unnecessarily lost in the First World War. The content of this poem is contradicting its form; a sonnet, which was usually used to express love and other similar affections. It is largely centered upon the way in which the loss of the lives during this experience affects those back at home; how they are respected and remembered after their deaths.
Instantly in the first line, Owen sets out clearly his purpose; to disgust the youth of the atrocious side of battle and consequently discouraging them to join the army. Poetic devices are widely used here, with also phrases and diction that create horrifying images, such as ‘dying as cattle’; a very powerful image is created when speaking these exact words of thousands or even millions of men being brutally slaughtered by their enemies. Owen makes effective use of personification, where he describes the guns as being ‘full of monstrous anger’; he is giving them a persona to display their anger and hence to show no signs of mercy or forgiveness. This can be very hard-hitting to the youths of not just those days but of today and in this sense, the poem clearly achieves its sole aim. In another similar line, which also starts with ‘only’, describes further these guns by using a few useful poetic techniques. The guns are now described as ‘stuttering’, which is onomatopoeia; a name or word formed from sounds that resemble what is named. ‘Stuttering’ seems to me as a sound that keeps on going, for example someone may be stuttering a mortar. This line becomes even more interesting when considering the alliteration used; ‘rifles rapid rattle’ has an onomatopoeic sound of repetitiveness which corresponds to its use; to illustrate the constant firing of machine guns on the battlefield.
Owen desperately wants those back home to connect and sympathise deeply with the suffering caused to the soldiers. They have ‘no mockeries’ nor ‘players nor bells’ for them, which are usually given to those that die a normal death back in England. For the youth, this degrades fighting in the war immensely, as this is an indication of shear disrespect that is given to the soldiers. The next line is formed on the basis of the previous, as Owen continues to state the things that are not provided to the soldiers after their deaths. There are still no ‘Choirs’ or even ‘any voice of mourning’; these descriptions back up those made earlier and intensify the harshness that the soldiers had to encounter. The next line makes use of an oxymoron, where ‘choirs’ and ‘wailing shells’ are placed next to each other or are juxtaposed for effect. They both carry contrasting meanings in my personal opinion; ‘choirs’ are harmonious sounds, whereas the ‘wailing shells’ creates a rather disturbed, screeching shill sound. The effect that this technique creates is particularly interesting; it is as if the ‘shells’ are continuously bombarding the battlefield with their high pitched screeching, which can be harmonious as a ‘choir’, but because they are irregular ‘wailing’ noises, then this is not the case. It seems to be that Owen is trying to merge the mourning that the soldiers’ loved ones would be doing, with the shells that constantly fall and pertrude the battlefield.
The second stanza of 'Anthem for Doomed Youth' teleports us directly back to the homeland that is England. Here the sorrows of the loved ones are deeply illustrated who Owen, with his imagination, makes them contribute something or another to the funerals of their dead. Some do it with their ‘brows’, others with ‘flowers’ or ‘glimmers’ to those that have fought in the deadly war. 'Anthem for Doomed Youth'
The first line instantly questions the reader (similar to the opening of the first stanza) with ‘what candles may be held to speed them all?’; meaning what is exactly there for the soldiers to pass from life to their death. Now, Owen will answer this question in the remaining five lines of this poem. Just after this line, Owen introduces a line that contains very vivid imagery. He answers his own question by saying that the candles will not be ‘in the hand of boys but in their eyes’, that will ‘shine the holy glimmers of good-byes’. Here, I believe that Owen is speaking of the tears in the eyes of the soldier’s relatives. And it is the ‘glimmers’ of these tears that allow the candles to shine for their commemoration at the battlefield, where as described previously, no such rituals take place. In this line we learn that it is the ‘glimmers’ that ‘speeds them all’; hence providing a part of the answer to the question formed by Owen.
However, there is more to come, as Owen now speaks of the ‘the pallor of girls’ brows’ and that they ‘shall be their pall’; this implicates that the shadow or rather a blanket of the ‘girls’(quite possibly their wives) emotions (brows) will cover them after their deaths. During a conventional death a drape is covered over the dead by religious people, but here the emotions of their wives will do this job. A sorrowful yet realistic image is formed, with the girls mourning over their husbands and loved ones, and in this sense providing them with this cover that they need.
The last line is very intense and is perfect in concluding this poem, mainly because it can be interpreted in various ways, but which all correlate to form a resounding purpose.
‘And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds’
This insinuates to me that every day when the ‘dusk’ draws in, the loved ones of the soldiers would be still left waiting for any news, and draw ‘down’ their ‘blinds’ in order to sleep. We know that this waiting continues on, as Owen makes use of ‘each’ to describe the dusk. However, there can be other interpretations of this line that I must consider. Some people may believe that this marks as a respectful honour for the dead as the ‘blinds’ are drawn in order for the ceremonial march to pass. Others may think that the ‘blinds’ could mean the eyes of the citizens of England, as they close their eyes (blinds) at each dusk to pray for those that have died during the day. On a more emotional level, this line may mean that the loved ones of the dead soldiers have given up in all their hope and have accepted their deaths. And it is because of that that they would now be able to realise the struggles and sorrows that war brings all over the world and consequently direct their anger at war itself rather than their opponents.
In contrast to these poems, ‘The Soldier’ by Rupert Brooke, is an immensely patriotic poem, in which it is thought that dieing for your country is an honourable and audacious thing to carry out. Throughout the poem, Brooke continuously raises the positive aspects of war, but not the downfalls. The main explanation to this is that Brooke wrote this poem before going to battle for the very first time. This provides me with the insinuation that he didn’t experience the harsh realities of war yet, and thus his work during this time had an optimistic yet obscured view of war.
‘The Soldier’ commences with an engaging first line;
“If I should die think only this of me”
This line seems as if these are the very last words of the poet being delivered to all the soldiers that are about to leave for battle. The use of the word ‘if’ seems intentional for purpose as it indicates that Brooke believes that he might not actually die. The majority of the readers would become quite confused and subsequently interested as to what exactly Brooke is trying to imply by doing this; he could be rather narrow-minded as to not knowing the dangers of the war or extremely overconfident in thinking that he is far too superior to die in this battle. Moreover, the lines make use of the imperative verb that commands the reader to carry out the tasks Brooke is about to list. This poem from here on provides a response to the scenario created in this line; Brooke lays down the ways that he can be remembered after his death in this war.
After the first line, Brooke carries on to say that wherever he dies on the ‘foreign’ land, it will become and remain ‘forever England’. This shows the intensity of his patriotism, as he believes his nationality will never change, not in a foreign country or even after his death. On a technical note, Brooke has made use of poetic devices for effect: he makes use of alliteration in ‘foreign field’, which places prominence on this part of the poem, and therefore on its content to the reader. Furthermore, he makes use of enjambment; where he fuses the next line together with this one. What seems to me as being an intentional device used by Brooke is that he has separated ‘England’ from the ‘foreign field’ to be very far apart in this enjambment for the purpose of emphasising the great distance that he has travelled from his homeland.
In the next few lines (4-5), Brooke mentions that his body will decompose and turn to ‘dust’. Furthermore, he comments that this dust is much ‘richer’ or to say greater than the foreign land he will die upon. The use of the word ‘concealed’ to describe this dust, gives rise to the fact that he may not have been buried but would have remained ignored or undiscovered. At the end of this line Brooke makes use of a semi-colon (;), which implicates that he is going to elaborate these thoughts in the next line/s.
In lines (6-7), a jingoistic emotion is built up as Brooke states that his dust is formed from an Englishman who had breathed the English air; been washed by the rivers of blood and sanctified by the English sun. However, the foreign land has not been bred or nurtured with these English values and hence is not as rich or great. Brooke personifies England to be his ‘mother England’, who has made him ‘bore, shaped, made aware’ and ‘gave her flowers to love’ with also ‘her ways to roam’ connoting that Brooke has been given the freewill to be able to travel anywhere back home; there are no restrictions nor any barriers as the relationship is as close as a child is to her mother. His use of monosyllabic diction is very useful here as a very defiant tone is achieved, which is very simplistic for a poet of such a high calibre yet effective in conveying his intensive emotions. When considering this aspect, it becomes very contrasting to 'Dulce et decorum est' that makes use of diction of a different form to express the deliriousness and fatalities of war.
Later Brooke writes, ‘blest by the suns of home’, which connotes that the sun only shines and blesses England than anyone else. This shows Brooke’s great arrogance as he considers England to be the only nation that is so fortunate enough to be getting this luxury. Also notice how Brooke describes the body and air as being English, which further reveals his egotism or rather his intense patriotism as some would suggest.
In the second stanza, Brooke goes on to say:
“and think, this heart, all evil shed away”
Through which he means that he had never thought of anything bad about the foreigners or the enemy as he is an Englishmen. And it is the result of him being English that has caused all the negatives between the two sides to (‘shed away’). After such an intense line, Brooke proudly mentions that his soul (‘mind’) will remain alive (‘pulse’) forever;
“A pulse in the external mind”
As a personal view, I believe Brooke is trying to somehow express that he as well all the English Soldiers that have died will never be forgotten by those back at home as a ‘pulse’, like one in our hearts, will forever remain in their ‘mind’.
Continuing from here, Brooke writes that it is these living souls that will give him the thoughts of England wherever he dies. However, these thoughts would not be as vivid as those that he experienced while he was in England. Subsequently, Brooke magnifies the beauties of England, which he had experienced already in this line:
“Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day”
These lines clearly express Brooke’s immense love for England as he personifies England to be his kind, loving and caring mother who has ‘sights and sounds’. The next line reveals that he learnt to laugh and became gentle with only his friends: “And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness”.
In the last line of this poem, Brooke connects the previous line (using enjambment), by stating that his friends and fellowmen have their ‘hearts at peace, under an English Heaven’. In a sense, he is trying to say that every person or ‘heart’ living under the ‘heaven’ of England is peaceful. Furthermore, this line not only illustrates his strong spiritual ideals, but moreover his thought that if England is triumphant, the world will become something similar to heaven.
There is obviously a very strong bond between him and England which can never be broken because even after his death he still believes that he would be in ‘England’. He does not want the luxuries that a typical depicted heaven offers, but just simply the English culture, traditions and ways. He is clearly in deep love with England. A case can be formed by which one can confirm that his fearless approach to war is due to his rather obscured beliefs. As he thinks that England would be with him forever, he is not afraid of the prospect of dying as he would still find an ‘English Heaven’ afterwards. Nothing is going to change; a transition from life to death is one Brooke seems to think would be the same as going back to England in the real world. Moreover, he believes that dieing in battle is an easier method to meet his England.
My favourite poem of the three that I have analysed here is without the doubt, ‘The Soldier’ by Rupert Brooke. It richly illustrates a time in England where many, if not all of its citizens took a deal of pride in being English; such thoughts among the people of today are very rare to come by and thus it enlightens me with the way that people used to think during the time. 'Dulce et decorum est' and ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’, although should be equally credited as 'The Soldier', are mere realisations of the war. It is the harsh truth that is too hard to shallow for some, and I feel that these lack optimism in this sense. 'The Soldier' is more imaginative as Brooke presumes the war to be of a certain sort, when ironically it is the opposite. I enjoy the fact that Brooke has played against the odds, and thought of fighting in the war as an optimistic challenge rather than one which is filled with anger and sorrow.
Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brooke have achieved their sole purpose in their poetry; to make its readers connect and in turn understand their perspective of war. As a personal thought, I would say that the two have made me realise their contexts from which their poetry had originated, and so understand their views. War often brings sympathy as a by-product and I have the same sort of feelings for these poets; Owen for his physical suffering and Brooke for his ignorance or rather his ‘wrong place at the wrong time’ situation for which he could not be blamed. Moreover, their deaths are quite ironic in the way they carried out their life; Owen died in the very war he opposed so strongly, whereas Brooke, who wanted to desperately didn’t. The content with the aid of technical poetic devices have made them produce works which are highly pragmatic to its readers of not just the 21st century but many others to come. Ultimately, War will remain a universal problem that every one of us must try and solve; some have done it with the mighty pen, others with the sword.