Owens attitude to war is justified by the title and the language used in the poem, he is anti-war, he uses the Latin title ironically to show his aim, that the translation of:
“Dulce Et Decorum Est”
Is a false saying it is not good and proper or sweet and fitting to die for those fighting to die for their country, this lie as he points out in the final 3 lines:
“To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce Et Decorum Est
Pro Patria mori”
He tries to teach those that in turn teach their young to fight and that dying for their country, their Queen isn’t right, he shows how the eager children, :
“Desperate for some ardent glory”
are actually excited and fuelled by the dreams put into their minds, fame, heroism and power, these children absorb these stories, the propaganda spoon fed to them as fuel, it fuels the idealist mind of a child, this would lead them to further believe and trust in those stories and never reject the lie growing within them till they enlist for the army and discover the truth hidden from them for so long, that war is hopeless, war is horrid, war is mankind’s creation, they will grow to learn the frightening effects and results of a war.
Latin in this poem is extremely significant, the phrase is the idea behind Owens poem, the lesson he sets out to teach. Latin is a dead language but was spoken by, many countries during the times of the Roman Empire, Owen for the sake of this poem revives it in my view he is using the Latin as a metaphor for war, Latin is dead presenting you with, what they are saying is only an attempt to gain support for wars, listen only to those who know war, have experienced it not those who sit in there manors and mansions writing inexplicably false stories with no real truth behind them, Owen is angry at those who would do this even if they have a good intention or if they are under orders to do so, to put in a little truth because constantly feeding lies wont help them if they are eventually confronted by those who know the truth and want the truth to be heard, Owen puts this message out and he is un biased he tells it from his view and not someone else’s, he is believable and those that read his work know that, I know that I haven’t experienced war but in my view Owen is as straight forward as anyone could be when telling a story of war.
The first 2 lines of Owens help to establish the mood of the poem, its very sombre, sad and dreary this is supported by the words:
the dreary and sombre mood is set by sludge, sludge being the muddy ground on which they have to tread, sludge is a strong word because it can have a dark evil quality to it as if it could swallow them up, Knock kneed is a word of pain they cant walk without banging there knees together which shows how they are having trouble getting through the sludge, bent double and cursed meaning how they have been overworked and cursed to this land of unspeakable conditions and terror, they are haunted by the ever closing threat of attack, gas or shells. The tone in the first 2 lines is slow, gloomy and very sad it is also shown by the words used for the mood and is mainly conveyed by the words cursed through sludge and old beggars, the slow would be shown by how they are wounded, tired and probably dying, they are only thinking of one thing rest and even a chance to die in peace, they are desperate but they wont get what they want as said before they are faced with the ever present threat of attack.
Owens views are juxtaposed to that of Tennysons in a manner of truth, Owen is telling the story from the first person he makes sure to include every detail possible to make his point valid whilst Tennyson is writing in the third person with no real evidence to make his points valid he’s really only writing from what little information he can find whilst constantly lying and presenting the reader with a voyeurs view on war a piece of propaganda with no backing, no evidence to support his points and no truth whatsoever in the poems content. Owen and Tennysons poems are completely opposite in ever possible way, even by way of the writer, Tennyson poet laureate for Britain at home writing propaganda for his Queen and Owen out there on the front line fighting for his country recording the details he is witness to, that’s what makes Owens the better choice for a poem to be analysed and commented on its inspirational and true.
Owen from the start gives us an image not glorified, not a roaring ferocious charge but a slow-paced struggle. He uses words like “hags” and “cursed” showing how like witches they were cursed to this domain of suffering and fighting. Their way, not through battle but through the sludge, the muddy ground torn up by shells and the soldiers who went before them, the tone is sombre, sad and gloomy which is conveyed by these words:
Bent double and knock kneed both convey an exhausted, over worked meaning and sludge is a word that is very dank and gloomy.
In stanza 2 there is sibilance. The constant use of the “s” to back up the hissing of the gas as it silently made out to kill those only wanting food and rest, Owen very effectively includes this example of onomatopoeia and he recreates for us one of the most horrid sounds of WW1:
“deaf even to the hoots
of gas shells dropping softly behind”
The soldiers didn’t know it was coming. The gas could be compared to a snake hiding in grass, no one will notice it until it has attacked or if it’s hissing is heard or even until it has killed someone.
Stanza 2 shows how someone’s quick reaction to the gas alerts the rest, the pace is fast and clumsy, the “ecstasy of fumbling” could be described as the rush they are experiencing, they after simply “trudging” through a muddy landscape and making their way back with no excitement and completely exhausted this sudden burst of adrenaline helping them to race for their stored masks and run as far as they could to get away from a certainly painful and excruciating death:
“And fitting the clumsy helmets just in time”
Shows how they were not far from being consumed by the gas and how some narrowly escaped it.
This scene has a considerable effect on the reader, it shows how the torment of war is constant, already fighting to stay alive, struggling, desperately making their way back to their trenches, but its not that easy they are faced by muddy terrain, the threat of a rear attack and gas, these threats all take their toll on the soldiers, they are obviously faced with their own paranoia, when will they attack?, will they attack?, Will I die out here?, will my family ever know?
These questions would of riddled there minds and they would always be conscious of there surroundings, war affects the mind in such a way that sometimes people never recover their memories are so intense so horrible they never forget, the reader quite obviously sees this how the soldiers aren’t fighting one battle but 3, one with their enemy, one with their wounds and one with their minds, trying to keep hold of their sanity trying to keep back all the thoughts the rotten smells and the sights they see which flood their minds and lead them away from what they are doing, the thoughts that might lead them to give up all hope, lead them to just sit in the mud and die or wait for some enemy attack to ravage him, because sometimes in a war situation most injured tired soldiers just want to sit there and wait to die because they believe it better to struggle back to their base and probably be killed by enemy fire just as they reach there sanctuary.
The paradox of the “Ecstasy of fumbling” isn’t directly related to their situation, the ecstasy is the rush the soldiers are feeling the sudden burst of energy and adrenaline which immediately have them reaching for their helmets, the noting of:
“Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time”
is the fumbling despite this rush there are still deeply fatigued and even a simple task can become complicated, the fumbling could also be related to their terrain as they try to run from the gas they could be falling over bodies, rocks and muddy outcrops showing how they would not of had an easy time getting away.
The ecstasy is also related to how their minds suddenly wake up from single track thoughts of food sleep and peace, their minds wake into action immediately triggering the fear which leads them to run and protect themselves from the gas.
Stanza 3 and 4 we see Owen using his facts to their best, he portrays to us just how horrible the scene was, how the one unfortunate soldier unable to fit their mask has to suffer from the gas which his friends, comrades managed so sharply to escape. Owen using descriptive words, words with a deeper meaning to portray the situation his friend is facing, he firstly compares the gas to fire or lime, and he says he was “floundering” witch means he was almost like a fish out of water he was desperately trying to move away but wherever he turned those flames where burning and the other soldiers could do nothing to help him. Owen next portrays the gas as if it were a translucent pane of glass:
“Dim through the misty panes”
Barely able to see him through it the “thick green light” clouds his vision; Owen lastly portrays the gas as:
“As under a green sea I saw him drowning.”
The use of drowning is closely related to his imagery of the fire, because fire is fuelled by oxygen and we breathe oxygen so as if in the sea Owens friend is losing oxygen, the gas filling his lungs he try’s not to breathe but he has to, he is forced into his own death, the imagery of water also relates to when Owen personalises the situation:
“He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.”
The use of plunging is related to the water, as if he plunges into this sea of green, of gas and the use of the words “guttering, choking, drowning.” Also relate to the water, when someone’s lungs fill with water they choke they cough violently and the almost plead to get through it, which can look back to the use of plunges as if he is ‘plunging’ at Owen, he’s throwing himself at Owen, he’s begging him, pleading for his help but Owen cant do anything because to help him would have him sacrifice his own life.
In stanza 4 Owen suddenly turns to involving himself more seriously in this scene, he sets himself as an example of what war doing to the human mind, the psyche, in the line:
“In all my dreams before my helpless sight”
He shows the reader how in all his dreams he never wished to see this happen, for someone close to him, a friend of war to die in front of his eyes and for him to be helpless to do anything but watch him, choking, reeling and dying. The tones he uses to support his personalisation are harsh, cynical and almost angered, he really wants to tell the reader, this wasn’t what I signed up for, I didn’t sign up to watch people die before me this is what war is really about losing those that you might come to be friends with, losing those you serve with.
Owen uses the personification to the utmost advantage they are effective because he uses them in the right context that will affect the reader, the context of loss, guilt and sorrow, Owen is suffering from survivor guilt, the fact that he could do nothing to help his friend and that it couldn’t of been him and not his friend, loss, sorrow and guilt are all emotions and feeling that hit the mind hard they trigger other emotions that never come to surface some people can even feel another pain by relating to that situation or have experienced it themselves, Owen directly speaks to the reader he compares his situation to us he wants us to try to imagine that we are him, that we are also witnessing this scene so that we might understand the pain, the sadness, the guilt he is feeling.
“The Wagon” in stanza 4 is an interesting part of Owens poem it has many interpretations my own being that it is a total opposition to Tennysons glorification of the soldiers, Tennysons poem has the soldiers epitomised in such a way that death would bring them a glorious and honourable burial, something that would have them forever carved into the history of Britain’s armed forces but no, this is not what Owen shows us, Owen shows us that there is no glory in death on the battlefield, that your body wont be presented to a burial of honour, but that it will be flung into a wagon, and dumped in a hole probably not far from the trenches, and that no you wont be forever remember by your countrymen, in fact they wont even know you existed, this disrespect for the dead is a major influence for Owen as those who read would probably notice it immediately, this influence is strong against Tennyson when comparing the 2 poems because of the real truth that is being told.
Owen deliberately includes this to dismiss old propaganda that epitomised and glorified the soldiers fighting, which plays a part in his anti-war views, he discourages those who expect to fight, die for their country and be remembered, this can be directly related to his teaching a lesson to the older generation of his time, those who would teach their children that fighting for their country is good which goes back to the irony of the title, Owen teaches many lessons in this poem, it is dogmatic, he wants to put his pints across and hopefully discourage all those who would believe the lies they are told and believe the truth of the war they are probably just about to sign up for.
In stanza 5 Owen vividly describes what is happening to his dying friend, he points his view mainly at what’s happening inside him, his internal organs disintegrated and burned by the mustard gas, he uses words like:
corrupted is a strong word having a deeper meaning, it can represent the damage done to his lungs and looking back at how Owen portrays his friends face as:
“like a devils sick of sin”
which relates to the meaning of corrupt being like evil, temptation that can change people, evil that can cause inhuman effects, like:
“the white eyes writhing in his face”
as if he was possessed by something inside him causing this pain, causing his suffering, the gargling and froth being related to how the gas disintegrated his lungs causing deep froth and blood to rise from him:
“If you could hear at every jolt, the blood
this shows also how the ride on the wagon wasn’t smooth it was rough and full of outcrops making his death even more painful then it already was as he rocked side to side and jolted up and down. The vile is used to show how the internal damage was extent, vile is green and horrid normally when you vomit and there is nothing left you will start to vomit vile, it is acidic and is closely related to wounds,
Owen describes this in great detail he doesn’t leave anything out, he wants the reader to experience as fully as possible what this man is feeling, what Owen is seeing.
My friend in Owens poem is the soldier dying next to him, the man he probably served with throughout the duration of his time in service, probably someone who became close to, someone he was glad to call friend, Owen during the scenes of his dying and eventual carting off, applies to the reader a very direct involvement he is reminding us that this is really him witnessing this, not someone else, these are his feelings, his emotions and your mistakes, he constantly throughout the poem keeps up his teaching, and in the event of his friends death he points the blame at us, the reader who allowed Owen and this other man to join the army to be slaughtered and maimed in unholy battles in atrocious conditions, he is extremely forceful when he is talking to the reader he makes sure that the point he is making, the fact that a friend of war died by his side and he was unable to him but we could have, he wants us to think about it, he has suffered a loss and feels guilty over it for he couldn’t help him and it couldn’t of been him instead and he wants us to remember that, to remember that we were the ones who put him their with our views of epitome and glory for the Empire, for eternal remembrance of our soldiers.
The Latin phrase used in this poem is a remembrance of history, not only the history of the Romans but of Britain’s history, how Britain tried to become the next Romans, tried to conquer other countries but were defeated in most cases, Britain’s constant greed for power sacrificed more young lives than any other nation, they fed their youth propaganda from a young age to ensure they enlisted as soon as they had come of age, Britain never had any second thoughts about their leader either, if you were qualified you got it no questions no training nothing, they were given uniforms and assigned to a unit where they would then decide the fate of the young soldiers under their command, which can refer back to Tennysons poem:
“Not though the soldiers knew
Someone had blunder’d”
This is a pure example of how Tennyson a writer of propaganda even manages to include this one mistake made by untrained generals, lieutenants around the army, the miscalculate enemy positions and numbers resulting in the case of “The Charge Of The Light Brigade” a total and utter slaughter of innocent young men with no idea, no clue as to what they are charging into. The history behind this can be compared to one philosophers theory of the reoccurrence of time, the repetition of events of the past and how man never learns from his mistakes, this can be compared to the blunder made by the leaders, it could have happened years ago and yet they still don’t learn from it, they continue to send their men into unknown territory, places where they cant guarantee coming back alive, the lie of course is the simple saying of:
“Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori”
“It is right and proper/sweet and fitting to die for ones country”
Anyone who can truly believe is highly patriotic or is tainted by there countries propaganda campaigns, it is the lie, the lie that has cost many lives and decimated many landscapes, its old, it has been retold and taught for many generations, by grandparents, uncles & aunties and the parents themselves who were taught it also, its shouldn’t go any further, it has cost too many lives already, Owen is crying out stop the teachings, stop the slaughter of innocent young men corrupted by their countries propaganda, stop it and keep it ended because war doesn’t solve anything, families are ended in wars, innocent people and beautiful landscapes are destroyed in senseless wars with only one point, Power for the country who wins but what is greater? The cost of victory, or the survival of so many soldiers that could be future fathers or even future scientists, writers and inventors, think about it..