Wilfred Owen (1893–1918) fought on the western front in World War I (also called the Great War, 1914–18). Owen was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and when discharged he was sent back to the warfront. He died shortly before the end of the War on the battlefield.

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Structure:

Stanza one is largely written using regular iambic pentameter, reflecting the relentless but, sadly, routine nature of the horror the men experience. 

The stumbling, lurching progress of the men through the ‘sludge’ is conveyed by Owen’s use of caesura in the middle of line 5-7.

In stanza two the pentameter is disrupted by longer 11 syllable lines (l.9,11,14). The additional beat gives the sense of being out of time. The pace and punctuation also changes to reflect the panic of the men.

By rhyming ‘glory’( l.26) with ‘mori’ (Latin for ‘to die’) (l.28) Owen makes a point of contrast and irony from the two words which seem to be so much at odds with each other.

Throughout the poem, Owen refrains from making the structure neat and tidy to establish the battlefield’s atmosphere – he wants us to understand the pain endured through every aspect of the poem.

Themes:

  • Warfare and its’ realities: War is never-ending nightmare of muddy trenches and unexpected gas attacks. Wilfred does not shy away from depicting its inhumane deaths and ultimate futility.
  • Patriotism: Dying for your country (or fighting for your country) seems a lot less worthwhile than the trumped-up truisms of old patriotic battle cries imply. The ideals of war spread by patriotism and propaganda, Owen argues, serve only to perpetuate the suffering of those who fight.

Key Quotations:

“Bent double, like old beggars under sacks//Knock-kneed, coughing like hags…”

  • Owen inundates the reader with deliberately anti-heroic images that relentlessly condemn war.
  • Already displays the effect of war on men – takes away years from their lives, the burden of war weighs them down
  • The noun “hags” has negative connotations of wizened old women who have had enough of the world. That it has been used to describe these young soldiers suggests that their experiences of war have aged and embittered them.

“Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light//As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.”

  • We can imagine him gasping and struggling for air as the gas, like water, fills his lungs. The anecdote highlights how traumatic war experiences were. The imagery of “misty panes” and “green sea” describes a grisly reality.
READ:
Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum est: Summary & Analysis

This line is followed by “In all my dreams, before my helpless sight. He plunges  at me, guttering, choking, drowning.”

  • The speaker switches to present tense.
  • The adjective ‘helpless’ effectively conveys the sense of despair and futility felt by so many who fought in the Great War. He was helpless to save his comrade and is helpless to escape the memories which haunt him.
  • A triplet of verbs — “guttering, choking, drowning” — emphasise the suffering of the last moments of the dying man. 

Similarities & Differences- Comparison to other poems:

The Soldier: These poems have completely different views about war. Brooke expresses his patriotism and how it is an honour to die for your country in a foreign country, making a piece of it ‘forever England’. The contexts of the poems are also different. Brooke never experiences the harsh realities of war because he dies before he gets the chance to.

Mametz Wood: Both of the poems incorporate graphic visual imagery to help to portray the horrors of war. “Mametz Wood” focuses on the aftermath of the Battle of the Somme, where 4000 welsh soldier died. Whereas, “Dulce et Decorum Est” uses the visual imagery to show a realistic account of a gas attack in WW1. The poems both criticise war and the suffering it causes.

The Manhunt: The Manhunt is set in the modern day, whereas Dulce et Decorum Est is set in WW1; this influences the poems in several ways, one being that the historical context allows The Manhunt to focus much more on the psychological scarring that results from being in a war, due to the increased awareness about mental health. Both poems make use of changing pace and structure throughout the poem. 

A Wife In London: ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ gives a first-hand account of the horrors of the first World War, compared to ‘A Wife in London’, which demonstrates the isolation and loneliness of soldiers’ loved ones at home. in ‘A Wife in London’, Hardy describes the heartache and sorrow that wives encounter during the death and deployment of a loved one, using the third person pronoun ‘she’ to symbolise the many women who have lost relatives at war. The different perspectives allow the reader to empathise from the point of view of a solider, compared to the effect death has on their spouse and family. 

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