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Compare and contrast the poems Dulce et Decorum est by Wilfred Owen
and The Soldier by Rupert Brooke, on the theme of war.
In this assignment I will try to show the different ways in which each
poet viewed his own war experiences and how it was shared through
their poetry. The poems are very different and it is necessary to know
a little about each author in order to understand why the poetic
styles are so different.
Many things can shape how people view the same event, social
background, class, education, and associates are among the influences
that can alter a person's view. In the case of Owen and Brooke, all
these things and more seem to have affected how each man chose to
portray events and experiences of the First World War.
Wilfred Edward Salter Owen was born in 1893 in Oswestry, Shropshire.
He was educated Birkenhead Institute and Shrewsbury Technical College.
From an early age he had a passion for poetry and he counted Keats and
Shelley among his early influences. From 1913 to 1915 he was a
language tutor in France, he had no great desire to join the army, but
did so on 21st October 1915 because of peer pressure and propaganda.
The moral pressure to enlist was intense; slogans such as 'Are YOU in
this?' 'Fight for Freedom with the Strength of Free Men' and a badly
misused quote from Shakespeare "Stand not upon the order of your
going, but go at once" - Shakespeare Macbeth 3.4 - Enlist Now!"
Hibberd (1990, p1) It was against this backdrop that Owen joined the
Second Manchesters. Owen saw a terrific amount of front line action
and was awarded the military cross for gallantry. In May 1917, he
developed shell shock and was returned to England for treatment. While
receiving treatment at Craiglockhart War Hospital, Owen met Sigfried
Sassoon, this proved to be a memorable friendship and Owen wrote all
of his major poetry after this period. Owen returned to the
Manchesters in August 1918 and was killed on the 4th November. Seven
days later the war was over.
Rupert Chawner Brooke was born at Rugby in 1887 and educated at Rugby
School and King's College Cambridge. He worked with Edward Marsh on
the first 'Georgian Anthology', a collection of poetry that was
considered 'realistic' and bringing new 'strength and beauty' to
poetry. It has since been described as 'insular', unimaginative' and
'often concerned with the pleasant aspects of England, unaware of or
indifferent to realities' Roberts (1998,p390). Brooke travelled for a
time in Germany, and following a nervous breakdown, went on an
extended tour taking in Canada, America Fiji, New Zealand and Tahiti.
On his return to England, Brooke was undecided on what course of
action to take. He eventually joined the navy. He was a witness to the
siege of Antwerp and wrote his five sonnets, called 1914, after seeing
the refugees and the devastation the war created. He had a deeply
troubled personality and was often assailed by suicidal thoughts, this
could in some way explain his idea that death was not such a bad
thing, and dying for England made it even more palatable. He was taken
ill with a mosquito bite that turned septic and died near the Greek
Island of Skyros, where he is buried. Shortly before Brooke's death
his poem 'The Soldier' was read from the pulpit at St Paul's and
afterwards quoted in the Times. News of his death was seized upon by
the propagandists of the day, and in a glowing obituary the First Lord
of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill said, "A voice had become
audible, a note had been struck, more true, more thrilling, more able
to do justice to the nobility of our youth in arms engaged in this
present war than any other, more able to express their thoughts of
self-surrender, and with a power to carry comfort to those who watch
them so intently from afar. The voice has been softly stilled"
Roberts (1998 p72) and The Times, 26 April 1915.
Because of Brooke's value as a propaganda tool his poetry was held up
as a shining example of the gloriousness of dying for England.
Although the two poems, Dulce et Decorum Est and The Soldier, are
about the Great War, the war to end all wars, they could not be more
different in style. The graphic, punchy lines of Owen versus the flowery
proseof Brooke make comparisons very difficult. My own view of war is
much more in tune with Owen and I find myself quite annoyed that Brooke's
poems were used for such distasteful propaganda. Had Brooke lived to
experience the full horror of trench warfare, one wonders would he
have still held the same patriotic ideals.
Wilfred Owen uses powerful similes in his description of the vital
young men appearing "like old beggars under sacks"; "coughing like
hags"and the line "towards our distant sleep" which could refer to
resting from the march, or eternal rest in death. The metaphorical
description of the men "marching asleep" and limping "blood- shod"
bring home the terrible conditions endured by the soldiers.
In contrast Rupert Brooke's poem seems almost peaceful, it describes,
with the lines " in that rich earth a richer dust conceal'd; a dust
whom England bore" how having a flower of England buried beneath it
will somehow enrich the foreign field. The rather pompous idea that
'everything English must be good', seemed to be a sort of rallying
call, a justification of the war, if the English are in it, it must be
just. The final line of the first verse infers that even the sun is
special in England, "blest by suns of home", or it could mean 'sons'
of home, either way it encourages the thought that everything English
Brooke's poems have been associated with the idealistic attitudes
prevalent in the years leading up to 1914 and the outbreak of war, in
this sense, his poetry is actually pre-war, unlike Owen's verse, which
is during the war, and speaks less of ideals and more of realism.
Wilfred Owen wrote to his mother "Here is a gas poem, done
yesterday the famous Latin tag (from Horace, odes, III, ii.13) means
of course It is sweet and meet to die for one's country. Sweet! And
Decorous!" Stallworthy (2000, p117) The title is ironic, as Owen found
nothing either 'sweet' or 'decorous' in the process of death. It is
widely accepted that the person referred to in the line "My friend "
is Jessie Pope, Owen despised the propagandist poetry which Pope was
associated with, Jessie Pope's War Poems (1915) andSimple Rhymes for
Stirring Times (1916). Stallworthy (2000 p118) give some clue as to
the tone of the books. The quote from Horace at the end of Owen's poem
does more to sum up his feelings for the war than anything else. When
taken in context, and with the irony he intended, the words are a
powerful reminder that war is ugly and not at all decorous. The final
lines of Brooke's poem are almost happy or gay; they speak of
'laughter' and' hearts at peace' and once again, a reference to
England, this time 'an English heaven'. The horror and devastation of
being involved in the 'Great War' would surely have left 'hearts at
peace' anything but peaceful.
Wilfred Owen describes the war as a nightmare, a nightmare that comes
back to haunt him. He invites the reader to see the nightmare through
his eyes in the hope that the sight would prevent the old tales of
gallant death and noble sacrifice. If soldiers go to war they should
be armed with truth and not myth, at least they would then die
In conclusion, it has to be said that I started writing this with a
deep dislike for Rupert Brooke's poem, however, after studying the
poem and the comments from his contemporaries, I have realised that it
is not so much the poem I dislike, rather how it was used.
Wilfred Owens place in the history of war poetry is now established,
he ranks among the best and his poems are as poignant today as they
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"Compare and contrast the poems Dulce et Decorum est by Wilfred Owen." 123HelpMe.com. 10 Mar 2014