Wilfred Owen was a war poet who wrote during the First World War. Owen believed that his poetry was away to tell the people back home how it really was at the front lines. Especially in ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, Owen really makes people question their beliefs and concentrates a lot on the lives of the soldier at the front lines and the effects the war has on them. In ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ however, Owen tends to concentrate on funerals and compares them with funerals back home. He tries to tell us how funerals at the front line lack in dignity and ceremony in the octave and then indicates a shift of mood as he says in the sestet how maybe this is better. Owen suggests in this poem that funerals back home are a mockery because the person is already dead so they won’t be there to enjoy their own funeral. In this poem, Owen says that the important thing is that we remember these men and that the war should stop because we should pay tribute to the men who have died.
The first line of ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ shows a little of the truth about the conditions of the First World War. Owen describes the soldiers as being “Bent double”, which shows how the soldiers aren’t standing up straight and tall as they should be. During the First World War, everybody in England who wasn’t directly fighting in the war had visions of British men standing straight and proud and these first few words contradict this nave belief.
Therefore, Owen is contradicting the conventional images of war. Instead of standing bravely and nobly, the men seem afraid. The first line goes on to reveal how the soldiers resemble “old beggars under sacks”. Owen uses a simile to show how the conditions are so harsh that men are starting to behave like beggars and the words “under sacks” also suggests that the soldiers are aging prematurely. The impression is given that the soldiers are hiding or maybe even trying to get some warmth. This phrase also suggests that the sacks are hiding a mass of soldiers, which shows us how conditions of the war are so horrendous that not just a few soldiers are hiding under the sacks, but quite a number. This thought ties in with the title of the second poem ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ which suggests the entire population of youth are doomed. It is Owen’s way of showing how a colossal number of men are dying and conditions in the war are quite horrific because soldiers are being allowed to die in this way.
In the second line of ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, another simile is used but this time Owen describes the soldiers as ‘coughing like hags’. This gives a strong impression that Owen is trying to expose the truth about the conditions of the First World War as he compares the men firstly to beggars and then to hags. Owen compares the soldiers to the two things are least like soldiers – beggars and hags. Beggars and hags are sort of seen as outcasts, almost as if they don’t belong to society and are often seen as having no pride and nowhere to go. Soldiers however are considered to have a sense of pride, a sense of belonging and in the days of the First World War, were probably believed to be the backbone of the British society. Owen uses the word “haunting” in the third line that gives the idea of the war being a scary place. Even though most of us now associate war with fear, this wasn’t the case during the First World War and this in turn tries to show how awful the conditions were at the front line.
Owen also says how the men trudged to their “distant rest” and “marched asleep”. This makes us assume that the men were so used to marching that it came naturally to them even when they were sleeping. Even though these men are marching to their rest, they still seem to have no energy. You would expect the men to be happy that they were marching back to rest and to be a bit more energetic but they continue to march in an unconscious state of mind. Owen suggests that the men maybe having trouble getting over what they had just experienced or that these men had just been through such a terribly exhausting ordeal that even the thought of rest was too much for them. The next line also tries to expose the truth of the conditions during the war when it says how many of the men “had lost their boots, But limped on blood-shed.” This gives the view that even though the men had lost their boots; blood had replaced the boots. Owen describes the men as being “drunk with fatigue” which once again describes how tired the men are and how the war was so draining.
In the next stanza, Owen mentions the gas, “Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling.” This line gives the impression that Owen is trying to tell us how even gas is welcome, as the soldiers are just so relieved that they are finally doing something. The words “just in time” make the reader realize how almost everything is a life or death situation in war. The line “But someone was still yelling out and stumbling And floundering like a man in fire or lime…. As under a green sea, I saw him drowning” is Owen’s way of trying to get the point across that if you aren’t quick enough, there is a very big chance that you may lose your life. This line tells us how one soldier wasn’t quick enough to put his gas mask on and now the gas has surrounded him like a sea of green and is now close to death.
Owen tries to expose how dangerous the conditions of the First World War are in the use of words such as “helpless”. This makes us understand how vulnerable the soldiers are to the dangers around them and the word “plunging” makes one picture a dying man reaching out in desperate need of help. The words, “In all my dreams before my helpless sight, He plunges at me,” makes the reader realize what a horrific experience these youths are going through. At the end of this line, Owen uses the words “guttering, choking, drowning” which are a repetition of the ‘-ing’ sound. This brings the poem into the present tense and makes the scene come alive to the reader and implies that the war is a continuing trauma. The repetition makes the point get across that the conditions really were awful.
Owen describes his dreams to be “smothering” whilst one would usually associate dream as being pleasant and peaceful and makes us realize how different things are at the front line and how even the dreams are traumatic. In the second line of the final stanza, Owen describes how the men “flung the injured soldier into the wagon”, and this gives the reader the notion that this man is not considered to be human anymore. Owen describes the injured man’s face as looking like a “devil’s sick of sin”. Owen is hinting that the men are sick of living, the one thing they were born to do and look like a devil that is sick of sinning, the one thing he was born to do.
In the last four lines of “Dulce et Decorum Est”, Owen addresses the reader and says how it is not beautiful and right to die for your country and to stop telling children this lie. This exposes the truth about the First World War clearly as Owen discourages anyone from going to war so fiercely.
Another of Owen’s poems, “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, expresses quite a lot in just the title. Firstly, the word “Anthem” is usually associated with your country’s National Anthem and is considered to be heroic and patriotic. Yet as one reads the rest of the title, a different meaning comes across. The rest of the title, ” for Doomed Youth” impresses upon the reader that Owen believes there is no hope for these young men. Owen uses the word “Anthem” ironically. Anthem is supposed to be a jolly song, full of hope but in this text, it is being used as a serious and most depressing word. I think this exposes the conditions during the First World War straight away. Plus, the title also indicates how it is not just a few youths that are dying, but the entire youth population.
The first line is a direct question to the reader and involves the audience into the poem as it asks, “What passing bells for those who die as cattle?” There is a tone of disgust and Owen compares people to cattle like he does in “Dulce et Decorum Est” when he describes the soldier, suffering from a gas attack as having “blood come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, Bitter as the cud.” Cud is a word usually associated with grass-eating animals such as cattle. Also Owen uses similes, like in “Dulce et Decorum Est”, when he compares the soldiers to hags and beggars, in “Anthem for Doomed Youth” Owen uses the word cattle to compare the soldiers with. Owen answers the question “What passing-bells for those who die as cattle?” quite sarcastically and ironically as he goes on to say “Only the monstrous anger of the guns.”
This is quite a powerful statement as it states how men will die but they are not buried with church bells and flowers like one would want and expect, but are buried to the sound of machine gun fire. Owen adds that only the “stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle can patter out their hasty orisons.” Owen puts an emphasis on the sound of the gun as he says “rifles’ rapid rattle.” Owen uses alliteration to get this firmly across to the reader. It is also an onomatopoeia, which makes the war come alive to the reader through sound. Owen exposes how dead soldiers receive orisons but they aren’t real. The truth is that inn the war, there isn’t enough time for prayers to be said for the dead. That gives a very negative view of the war as it reveals how people don’t even have time to give the dead a proper funeral. In the next line Owen continues to say, “No mockeries for them from prayers or bells,” which suggests that Owen doesn’t entirely agree with big funerals and it doesn’t matter because they won’t get one of these big funerals at the front line. Owen tries to tell us that the important thing us that these men lived and are remembered.
The next few lines continue to say “Nor any voice of mourning” which is Owen’s way of saying this man has just died and is being buried but there are no mourners “save the choirs, The shrill demented choirs of wailing shells”. Which is obviously being said in a sarcastic tone but also quite seriously states that the shells are the choirs. I think this is Owen’s way of telling the people how awful the conditions really are during this war and how the men don’t even receive a proper funeral after dedicating their lives to their country.
In the last few lines of the final stanza Owen says the “pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall; Their flowers the tenderness of silent minds, And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds”. This means that the expression on the girls’ forehead when you hear the news back at home will be the soldiers’ pall and the silence in their minds shall be their flowers and this is the most fitting way to remember the dead soldiers. Owen is directly addressing the reader like he does in “Dulce et Decorum Est” and saying I tried to warn you how bad it was but you didn’t listen and now look what has happened. He concludes the poem saying that when dusk falls, it is nature’s way of drawing the blinds and thus nature is mourning the youth.
I believe that both “Dulce et Decorum Est” and “Anthem for Doomed Youth” expose the truth about the conditions during the First World War very well. Owen believed that his poetry was a way for him to tell the truth about the conditions of the First World War for others who couldn’t speak up for themselves for example, the man who died in “Anthem for Doomed Youth.” Owen knew it was very difficult for people to speak up and to contradict the voice of authority and to challenge the official story of the war, but he, through his poetry, was able to just this.