War Poetry - Dulce et Decorum est and Anthem for Doomed Youth
Wilfred Owen was born in Shropshire on 18th March 1983. He was the son
of a railway worker and was educated at schools in Shrewsbury and
Liverpool. Owen was encouraged to write poetry from an early age by
his devoted mother. He couldn't afford university education, so
decided to go abroad to teach English in France. Owen volunteered for
the Army in 1914 when the First World War broke out. After training he
became an officer and was sent to France at the end of 1916, seeing
service first in the Somme sector. The following year, Owen took part
in the attacks on the German Hindenburg Line near St Quentin. When a
huge shell burst near him, he was shell-shocked and sent back to
The horrors of battle quickly transformed Owen and the way he thought
about life. He was treated in Craig Lockhart hospital in Edinburgh.
Doctors there specialized in shell shock and it was a terrible
experience for Owen, who spent hours surrounded by other distressed
patients. Patients were encouraged to return to their pre-war
interests, so Owen decided to look over his old poems and begin
writing new ones. Owen was very impressed with Sassoon's poetry, and
when Sassoon arrived at the hospital in August 1917, Wilfred Owen
decided to meet him. Sassoon encouraged Owen in his poetry, telling
him to 'Sweat your guts out writing poetry.' Sassoon offered help and
guidance when Owen began to write new poems based around his war
experiences. It was under the influence of Sassoon that Owen began
capturing his vivid visions of the war in the form of poetry.
A number of Owen's poems are now very famous and Owen has done a lot
to prevent the reading public from being persuaded that death in
battle is 'sweet and decourus.'
In this essay I have firstly decided to analyse two poems by the war
poet Wilfred Owen, taken from his writings on the First World War.
Both 'Dulce et Decorum
est' and 'Anthem for Doomed Youth
Owen's bitter angst towards the war, but do so in different ways. Then
I will analyse a very different poem 'Who's for the Game?' written by
Jessie Pope, and finally contrast this with the poems by Owen.
Arguably his most famous poem, 'Dulce est Decorum est' is an example
of a poem written through his own eyes, based on his own experiences
and views of the war. He uses vivid and graphic imagery to give the
reader the exact feeling that he wanted. Exact diction emphasises his
point, showing that war is terrible and devastating. Consequently,
this poem conveys a strong meaning and persuasive argument. This poem
uses four stanzas and an alternate rhyming line scheme.
'Dulce est decorum est pro patria mori' is a quotation from the Latin
poet Horace, meaning 'It is sweet and fitting to die for one's
country.' During the First World War, countries made use of chemical
warfare: mustard gas reacted with the water in the breather's lungs
and effectively dissolved them. The effect of the use of these gasses
was horrific. In this poem Owen discusses an incident in which a
soldier dies because of gas.
In the first stanza the pace is very slow and a painstaking rhythm is
established through Owen's use of heavy, long words. This illustrates
how painstaking and slow the war was.
The first clause 'Bent double,' is a hyperbole which creates the
impression of extreme exhaustion and the image that is conveyed is
that the soldiers have no energy left and are in excruciating agony.
Additionally it suggests that the men are struggling with the extreme
weight of their bags. It highlights the point that they are very
hunched over as they are so physically fatigued. 'Like beggars under
sacks' is a simile that illustrates that the men have no dignity left.
It conjures the image of very dirty, disgustingly vile tramps, who
have a nauseating stench. The way that Owen captures the appearance of
the soldiers as cripples makes them seem distant to us, and the
disjointed, monotonous way they are seen echoes this group of men,
their disorderly fashion and their dull, repetitive journey.
The terrible physical condition that faces these men is illustrated
with the line 'Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through the
sludge.' The alliterative 'Knock-kneed' slows and dulls down the tempo
greatly. The simile compares the soldiers' physical condition to that
of witches. The image created is of very old, wrinkled women slowly
stumbling through the thick mud. It highlights the revolting, phlegmy
cough that the soldiers have as they are so critically ill. By using
'cursed', the image created is that the soldiers were struggling,
desperately unhappy and exhausted.
The word 'trudge' is an onomatopoeia used to emphasise the fact that
the pace is tremendously slow, creating the impression that the men
have little strength or stamina left. Additionally, it portrays the
image that it takes a lot of effort for them to move.
'Men marched asleep, many had lost their boots,' uses both
alliteration and a hyperbole to illustrate how immensely exhausted
they were as they probably had not slept for months. Furthermore, it
suggests that they are in a horrific condition and are facing extreme
and excruciating pain.
'But limped on,' is a phrase that conveys the image that it is very
slow moving and the reader gains the image that the men must be
injured from previous traumatising experiences so are suffering pain.
However, the soldiers do still have a small amount of energy left and
determination is shown because they do not give up.
'Drunk with fatigue,' is an expression that uses a metaphor to suggest
that the men are mentally vacant and are staggering along. To be
'Drunk with fatigue,' these men must be so tired that they are no
longer sane and can barely even think for themselves. You can almost
imagine large numbers of people dragging their boots through the mud,
tripping over their own shadow.
'Deaf even to the hoots of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped
behind them,' advocates that the men are somewhat oblivious to the war
that is continuing around them. It highlights the point that they have
been forced to withstand war for such a long period of time that they
have become 'deaf' as a consequence. It could also suggest that the
soldiers are so exasperated with war that it has had a subconscious
effect on them. A personification is used to describe the shells as
'tired,' which gives the impression that the author thinks that the
war is pointless and has been occurring for so long that even the
shells have become wary of this futile catastrophe.
In the second stanza there is suddenly a massive contrast and the mood
instantly changes. The pace rapidly speeds up and the difference
between the sombre, slow mood that had been previously displayed to a
much faster, more frantic mood is obvious.
'Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!' highlights the speed of this section and that
there is urgency in what is happening. The image created is that
everyone in 'an ecstasy of fumbling' was forced to run out into the
mist, unaware of their fate. Anyone wanting to fight in the war would
become nervous at the image of himself running out into a blood bath.
The graphic images displayed here are profoundly affecting and can
never be forgotten. The word 'ecstasy,' is ironic as it gives the
impression of extreme joy, yet the opposite emotion would be expected.
Following this sudden opening to the stanza, words are frequently used
to portray the frantic movements of the soldiers, such as 'clumsy,'
and 'stumbling.' As a result, this gives the reader the impression
that the whole scenario was incredibly poorly organized.
'Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,' is used to create the image
that the process is urgent, life threatening and dangerous and that it
is really important that they manage to put their helmets on prior to
the devastation and destruction that will follow. Also, the image
created is that the soldiers suddenly move very quickly, despite their
Alliteration is then used in the next line to emphasise that there is
just one person left, making hysterical movements. 'Someone still was
yelling out and stumbling.' This creates the impression that the
soldier is in a severe state of panic and knows how crucial it is to
fit his helmet.
The writer then uses the simile 'As under a green sea I saw him
drowning.' This portrays the image that the soldier is really
suffering and struggling to a horrendous death, that definitely isn't
a 'sweet,' way to end one's life. The reader can imagine a man slowly
sinking into thick, deep water as he violently moves about, but
nothing can be done. It also helps to create a surreal feel to the
poem. This surreal feel is particularly established by Owen's
continued use of metaphors when describing the atrocious scene.
The penultimate stanza is reflective, as if the writer has taken a
step back and surveyed the situation. He describes his sight as being
'helpless,' implying that the writer desperately wanted to help the
struggling soldier, but it was virtually impossible for him to do so
amongst all the commotion. Additionally, it creates the impression
that the writer himself was in a dangerous situation. The image that
is formed is that the scene is very chaotic, disorderly and confusing.
Owen then uses the word 'plunges,' to illustrate the image that the
suffering soldier tries to make one final attempt to be saved. The
sounds 'guttering, choking, drowning' are then used to highlight the
point that the soldier truly is experiencing a ghastly death and he is
in tremendous pain. These examples of onomatopoeia are used to really
emphasise the crucial pain that he is suffering and that he was making
these revolting sounds. They not only show how the man is suffering,
but that he is in terrible pain that no human should endure. They show
the repetitive, prolonged anguish of the soldier as he 'plunges'
towards his death.
In the final stanza the tempo quickly accelerates. This is achieved by
the use of lines with fewer syllables. A personification is used to
describe his dreams as 'smothering.' This portrays the image that the
writer is unable to escape the frightening nightmares that occur so
often. Additionally, it emphasises the fact that it was a devastating
and unforgettable experience that was so tragic that he will never be
able to forget or overcome.
The gassed man was then 'flung,' into the wagon. This reveals the
urgency and occupation with the fighting. The only thing that they can
physically do or have time for is to toss him into a wagon.
The writer then describes in graphic detail how the physical look of
the soldier had changed, obviously trying to shock the reader and get
through to them how war is such a devastating business. 'Watch the
white eyes writhing in his face,' uses alliteration to emphasise how
grotesque the scenario was. Following this, the image that is
portrayed is that the soldier's face had dropped and was now
exceedingly unsightly. 'His face hanging like a devil's sick of sin,'
is a simile that highlights this point. This comparison implies that
his face was corrupted and baneful. The image created in the reader's
mind is that the face has suddenly been transformed from a young,
youthful face to a very old and aged face. Now the face is hideously
ugly and revolting. You can imagine the face appearing twisted and
very stretched, covered in gruesome boils and markings.
The rest of the description is just as graphic and frightening to the
reader. The blood is described to have 'come gargling from the
froth-corrupted lungs.' This can be disturbing to think about. It
shows troops being slaughtered very vividly, evoking images in the
reader's mind. At this point the reader should begin to understand the
experience that the writer is explaining and start to realise how
obscene it was. I think that the writer describes the death so
graphically to try and get through to the reader how horrendous it
really was. It describes how precisely the man is being tortured.
A very effective metaphor compares 'vile, incurable sores' with the
memories of the troops. It not only tells the reader how the troops
will never forget the experience, but also how they are frightening
tales, ones that the troops will never be able to tell without
remembering the extremely painful experience. This comparison
illustrates the point so vividly that it increases the effectiveness
of this poem.
Finally, the writer implies that if the reader had experienced this
disgustingly frightful situation themselves, then they wouldn't tell
with such 'high zest to children ardent for some glory, The old Lie:
Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.' There is some irony in this
concluding stanza, but Owen is also very serious. He uses the saying
as a warning and a final attempt to persuade the reader that war is
grotesque. He describes the saying as 'The old Lie,' implying that it
is a trick. Owen calls this a lie by using good diction, vivid
comparisons and graphic images to have the reader feel disgusted at
what war is capable of. This poem is extremely effective as an
anti-war poem, making war seem absolutely horrid and revolting, just
as the author wanted it to. The aim of this poem was to shock the
reader-to let them feel the sense of disgust and frustration felt by
all the soldiers as they witness the soldier's struggle to breathe. At
no point in this poem does Owen make use of euphemisms. He is very
clear about the horror of war.
The second poem that I have decided to study and analyse is 'Anthem
for Doomed Youth,' also written by Owen with assistance from Sassoon.
It can be easily distinguished from many of his other works, as it is
a sonnet. It has fourteen lines, divided up into two movements, with
an initial alternate rhyme scheme used in the octave, changing to a
more unusual sestet in the final movement. In this sestet, the first
and fourth lines rhyme, as do the second and third and it ends on a
couplet. The first stanza is mainly about the battlefield, whereas the
second stanza is more about the reactions of friends and family back
at home. By using a sonnet, a touch of irony is used. The conventional
function for a sonnet is love, but this sonnet has a theme of a love
that has turned bad. The young male population have so much patriotic
love and are so eager to serve, but this love turns sour. They spend
time rotting in the wastes of the trenches, only to be mown down by a
machine gun nest. Not only are their lives wasted, gone without the
holy ritual of funeral, but the lives of their loved ones at home are
This poem starts off at a quick pace, and then continues to decelerate
throughout the poem, drawing to a slow, solemn and sombre close.
Throughout this poem the traditional feel of an elaborate ceremonial
of a Victorian style funeral is constantly compared and contrasted to
the ways in which men died in the war.
The title 'Anthem for Doomed Youth,' with anthems usually being
associated with love and passion, is very deliberately ironic. It is a
way in which Owen shows how ridiculous he really thought the war was.
'Anthem' is a song that is sung in churches by choirs or could mean a
celebration. The word 'Doomed' is used to suggest that the soldiers
are alive but have an inevitable death. Additionally, it symbolises
death and conjures up the image that the soldiers are on their journey
to hell. The word 'Youth' is used to remind the reader that these
soldiers were only young men, with their whole lives ahead of them,
but this has now been ruined pointlessly. It creates the image of
lively young people that are full of energy and enthusiasm. The title
has use of assonance-'Doomed Youth.' The sound is intended to be drawn
out, long and melancholy, as melancholy as the subject of war itself.
The opening line 'What passing bells for these who die as cattle?'
uses a simile to conjure up the image of a slaughterhouse. It creates
the image of horrendous mass burials, as the 'cattle' are being
slaughtered mercilessly. It highlights the huge and crazy sacrifice
that the soldiers gave. This opening line is an example of how Owen
asks questions of the reader in order to make them think more about
the poem. This question is deliberately easy to answer and perhaps
rhetorical and Owen goes to answer it in graphic detail just to
emphasise how obviously stupid the war was. It offers the reader the
opportunity to step into a soldier's shoes in order to encounter the
tragedy that he encountered.
'-Only the monstrous anger of the guns' is the answer to this
question, describing what the soldiers received. Through
personification the guns responsible for taking so much human life are
made out to be evil. The image that is created is that there is
massive destruction and a crescendo of exploding shells. 'Guns' is a
loud and rhythmic word, creating the impression that war is fierce,
like a monster. Additionally, it implies that war is still continuing
around these soldiers even during their burial, possibly highlighting
a lack of respect.
'Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle can patter out their hasty
orisons,' are two very effective lines that imply that instead of
prayers, the soldiers received the firing of bullets. 'Stuttering' is
an onomatopoeia to add the sound into the image that is formed in the
reader's mind. It also implies that the sound was not fluent.
Alliteration is used on the 'r' sounds to emphasise the sounds of
destruction that were occurring.
'No mockeries no prayers nor bells nor choirs,' is the opening to the
second quatrain and illustrates the horrific way in which these
soldiers depart from this world and that they do not even receive
basic objects that would be expected in a traditional ceremony.
Instead, these soldiers who have died fighting for their country
received 'The shrill demented choirs of wailing shells and bugles.'
'Shrill' is a hard and strong word that creates the image that the
'funeral' was not a quiet and peaceful way of saying goodbye to the
soldiers. It creates a very piercing sound and is a harsh word. The
word 'demented' is used to describe the shells. This conjures up the
image that the shells have gone mad and crazy, highlighting the point
that war was a totally crazy thing. It could also imply that the sound
the shells made was exceedingly peculiar and frightening to hear.
Additionally, the shells and bugles are described as 'wailing.' This
is an onomatopoeia and a personification. This word portrays the image
of sadness, perhaps that so many innocent men had lost their lives for
no obvious reason. It is also a hard word that suggests the
unpleasantness of the situation, contrasting to the tuneful choirs
that would be heard at a traditional funeral.
'Sad shires' is an alliterative phrase that reminds the reader of the
country, back at home. The word 'sad' suggests that it must be a
devastating and traumatic time for their relatives and friends.
The next stanza also begins with a rhetorical question to drive home
how obviously stupid the war was. 'What candles may be held to speed
them all?' creates the impression that the deceased are moving on to
their next life, possibly highlighting Owen's religious views on life.
The response is 'Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes,' implying
that as opposed to a candle that would be lit at a traditional funeral
to symbolise everlasting life, these soldiers received tears in the
eyes of boys. The image conveyed in the reader's mind is the misting
up of boys' eyes and tears that are being shed. This image is very sad
and depressing for the reader.
'Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes,' suggests that their eyes
are very meaningful as they see the deceased soldiers off to their
next lives. It has an extremely sad meaning to it and the reader may
reflect upon the emotional experiences of the 'victim's' family. This
line also has a religious theme, and lots of alliteration is used to
strongly emphasise the point that Owen is making. The word 'glimmer'
stresses the point that it is not a thorough seeing off that these
soldiers are receiving.
'The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall,' compares the
elaborate cloth that would cover the coffin in a Victorian style
funeral to the pale complexion of relatives to the soldiers. This line
suggests that the girls back at home have very pale, ashen, grief
stricken faces. We imagine wives, girlfriends and other female
relatives crying in despair when they hear the news. It conjures the
image that groups of women all have tears streaming down their
colourless faces as they realise that their loved one has died in such
a horrific way. It brings the scene to reality as the reader realises
that it can affect those at home as well as the soldiers that are
actually fighting. It suggests the terrible effect that their tragic
death has had on their relatives and the strong, sorrowful emotions
they must be encountering.
'Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,' compares the bright,
colourful flowers that would be offered at a ceremonial to suffering
relatives and friends of the 'victim.' It emphasises the preceding
point that was made, creating the image of people that are grieving
and suffering as a result of the loss of their friend. This funeral
highlights the distance between funerals on the Western Front and
their relatives back at home.
The final comparison is that of dusk to the drawing down blinds in a
house in mourning. 'And each slow dusk a drawing down of blinds,'
creating the image that dusk is like a blind that is being lowered.
The funeral is over and the rhetorical question that the poet asked at
the beginning of the stanza has been answered, and the noise has
vanished. All is now quiet. The long, heavy 'd' sounds really drag the
ending on and draw the poem to a deliberate close.
Throughout the poem the point that is emphasised is that the soldiers
that died on the Western Front did not receive dignified endings and
even in death, battle still raged around them. Additionally, the
meaning of the poem is that each soldier will not be remembered
because they are one in so many and have no elaborate funeral.
Owen uses the idea of irony in war in both of the poems that I have
studied, as he saw misery, destruction, and pain and wanted people to
be more aware of the cruelty of war and hopefully to stop it from
happening again. Both poems have an alternate line rhyming scheme.
'Anthem For Doomed Youth' uses the form of a sonnet to portray a
distressing message that flows slowly as you would imagine a funeral
march. 'Dulce et Decorum est' also has a distressing message but is
portrayed in contradiction to its title. The idea of nationalism is
explored. Both poems make the reader feel helplessness. There was no
way of helping the gas victim in 'Dulce est Decorum est' and the
'doomed youth' didn't know their fate making them helpless victims and
the reader too is a helpless victim of the poem.
Now I am going to analyse a third war poem, 'Who's for the Game?'
written by Jessie Pope, and compare and contrast this to the two poems
written by Wilfred Owen.
Jessie Pope composed crude recruitment poems for the Daily Mail. In
particular she was detested by Wilfred Owen, who saw her as typical of
the unfeeling civilian who was supporting the war from the relative
safety of the Home Front.
The presentation of war is quite different in Jessie Pope's 'Who's for
the Game?' to Wilfred Owen's poems. She writes in a more
conversational manner which makes the poem more memorable and
persuasive. She compares the war to a 'game', implying that there is
little danger on the battlefield. She also refers to the war as a
sport where a player would return with a minor injury such as a
crutch. Within the poem, Pope uses many questions which involve the
reader more and together with the use of everyday language give the
poem a less formal feel. She persuades the men to join the army by
making them feel deceitful and cowardly if they were to 'lie low'. She
also has a friendly manner in her propaganda poem as she refers to the
men as 'lads'. She pressurises the men into joining the forces with
her assumption that they'll 'come on alright'. She makes the country
more appealing and dependable upon their support when she gives it a
female gender. This capitalises on the sexist attitude of the era
where men were expected to take care of and protect their women. Pope
has written this poem in four quatrains with a regular rhythm and
rhyme scheme. This makes the poem more memorable. This is also a
technique employed in children's poetry and as such trivialises her
subject matter. This poem is a recruiting poem with the aim of
encouraging men to volunteer to join the forces. It was written at the
beginning of the First World War and therefore the true disastrous
effects of the war had not been experienced. Those left behind, women,
children and exempt men, were often unaware of the true horror of the
war and instead were seduced by a romantic ideal.
In conclusion, I feel that both poets are effective, but they both
present such different pictures of War. Owen's poems are excellent
examples of poetry portraying the realism of war whereas Pope's poem
is an excellent example of the unfortunate attitude cultivated on the
home front. The contrast between the two allows the reader to see the
reality of the First World War from two immensely different