Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen are both poets who fought for England in the First World War and both base their poetic material almost entirely on the situation they were in. However, distinct differences can be seen in their individual approaches to their common theme of war. An example of this difference can be seen in the two poems The Soldier and Dulce et Decorum Est, by Rupert Brook and Wilfred Owen respectively. They are both concerned with the theme of war, but each gives out a completely different message to the reader as their own morals and interpretations of this theme oppose each other. The Soldier gives out an optimistic tone, making war out to be a peaceful and heroic act, whilst in Dulce et Decorum Est, the tone is more sombre and angry, making out the same war and situation that Dulce et Decorum Est is in, to be a grim and insufferable disease.
Both the poets, Brooke and Owen, wrote in the First World War and were some of the fathers of World War poetry. Both the men entered the war at a very young age and both being strongly patriotic towards England. The Soldier was written in 1914, a year before Brook died, and Owen wrote Dulce et Decorum Est in 1917, three years after the First World War had started. In these dates we may find the reasons behind the conflicting ideology the two men gained. Brook wrote his poem at the beginning of the war, and so the ideas and perceptions of war and fighting for one’s country as being noble and heroic were still fresh in his mind. Owen on the other hand wrote his poem three years into the war and in that time was able to see and accept the realities of war, so his perception of war was changed to bitterness and this was reflected in his many poems such as Anthem for Doomed Youth in which he reveals the same feelings on war as he does in Dulce et Decorum Est. In one of his previous poems, The Ballad of Peace and War, he himself had supported the idea of ‘oh it is sweet and it is meet to live in peace with others/but sweeter still far more meet to die in war with brothers.’
The Latin words used in the title of the poem Dulce et Decorum Est mean, ‘it is a sweet and fitting thing to die for ones country’ and are ironic of Wilfred Owen as throughout the poem, he gives the reader a negative picture of war and towards the end of the poem, calls his title ‘the old lie’. This is because as the war had started the Latin phrase had somewhat become a motto which was used in supporting patriotic statements about war and to encourage other young men to become soldiers. But Owen himself had been at the front lines for three years and so by now knew what war had really meant and so he uses his poetry as a means to express the views of soldiers of war to people who have no
experience of it; namely the public. He uses the analogy of war as being like a plague or a lethal disease that is highly contagious and can cause mass destruction, in order to emphasise the harsh reality. This is shown when he writes, ‘like a man in fire or lime’; as in the days of plague lime was used as a substance to decompose dead bodies, and in saying this, he says that those who enter war, those who actually participate and experience war at its worst, for them there is no return to normality, or indeed humanity.
Wilfred Owen begins his poem with the description soldiers describing them as ‘old beggars under sacks coughing like hags’. This is strange coming from a soldier himself and directly opposes the stereotypical soldier. Throughout, his choice of words describing soldiers of war, his experience and war itself, Wilfred Owen puts the reader under a state of shock and disillusion. He writes about a soldier who had died of poisonous gas inhalation and describes it vividly, trying to make the reader imagine the scenes before him using the present progressive verb form ending with ‘-ing’. For example, ‘guttering’, ‘choking’ and ‘drowning’.
This gives the sense of immediacy, that the reader is actually witnessing the soldier’s death. A direct address to the readers is also used, using a persuasive technique, especially in the last stanza, for example in line 21, ‘If you could hear…’ and in line 25, ‘My friend, you would not tell…’ This is so that the reader would feel sympathetic towards him and the soldiers. It is almost as if Owen is begging the reader to understand. Through describing this man’s tragic death and his burial, Wilfred Owen tries to change the views of the public. The use of fricatives symbolizes the harsh reality of war as by using fricatives, for example a hard ‘c’ is used in words such as ‘corrupted’ and ‘cud’, it becomes as though the reader can actually hear the person dying and so writes in a very vivid form.
This soldier died by breathing in poisonous gas which resulted in him ‘guttering, chocking and drowning.’ Then Owen describes of how the man’s dead body was treated no better than an animals as he was ‘flung’ into a wagon and they watched his ‘white eyes writhing in his face.’ This shows the pain he was in, as he was in the brink of death.
The evil of war is also shown in line 20, where it says, ‘like a devil sick of sin!’ This is to illustrate that as devil is destined to commit evil until the end of time, it has come to the extent that even the devil is sick of the amount of evil and torture around it. The religious diction used here symbolizes the relationship between war and the devil and that they too, are playing on the same grounds as the devil.
In the last few sentences he makes his final message clear, ‘My friend, you would not tell with such high zest to children ardent for some desperate glory, the old lie: Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori.’ Again he makes a personal plea to the reader telling them not to tell children that war is a patriotic act and the only answer to the world’s problems. It is in fact the worst possible answer, that there can never be honour as a result of war and there are only dire consequences.
The Soldier, written by Rupert Brooke, is written in the form of a Petrarchan sonnet, which is traditionally used to express personal thoughts and feelings but also maybe used as an epitaph on a tombstone. This could have been the reason behind why Rupert Brooke chose to write this poem. It is also an autobiographical poem in which the author expresses a personal viewpoint on war and his love for his country. Rupert Brooke also makes use of iambic pentameters, which is a line containing five stresses. It gives his written words authority by using this classical verse form which stretches back to the days of Milton. It also provides a rhythm, which reminds the reader of a heartbeat or a ‘pulse’. This helps in making his argument more convincing. The stanzas are separated into two. The octave talks about the possibility of death while the sestet talks about death itself and what his sacrifice will mean for England.
This poem is a complete contrast to Dulce et Decorum Est as it gives the traditional, naive and biased view of war. It also gives a pastoral description yet a biased view of England as he blatantly ignores the negative side of England only mentioning its best side. He uses a religious diction, for example the last line reads, ‘In hearts at peace, under an English heaven’. It is stated in line 10 ‘A pulse in the eternal mind’ which reveals Brooke’s belief in God which Wilfred Owen once shared but seemed to have lost; Brooke describes Heaven whereas Owen describes Hell. This is what makes the poem sound somewhat like a sermon.
The poet’s love for England is shown throughout the poem. Like in Dulce et Decorum Est repetition and alliteration is used. The words England and English are repeated many times to show his love for his country and alliteration such as, ‘Her sights and sounds’ magnify the beauty of England. It is also used to mask the horrors of death on a battlefield as it states, ‘That there’s some corner of a foreign field’. He also believes that heaven will look much similar to England by stating ‘under an English heaven’ and therefore also believes in the superiority of the English, ‘a richer dust concealed’. Unlike Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke expresses patriotism. He claims his conviction that England is
worth fighting for as he also claims that God is on England’s side by saying ‘blest by the suns of home’. By believing in this, Rupert Brooke makes himself believe that he should sacrifice his own life for England and by doing this he would be returning a favour of being born British and so believes it is an honour to go to war, and an even greater honour to die in battle for one’s country and in return, portrays in his poem an image of one dying a painless death.
Such a view is in the Victorian tradition of war which viewed it as a glorious and noble enterprise, with such poems as Tennyson’s ‘Change of the Light Brigade’. This patriotic fever was simply carried on by Brooke who still saw warfare in terms of duels and honour. Owen on the other hand witnessed twentieth century war in all its cruel destructiveness and as a consequence brought war poetry into the modern era.
Therefore, it would be concluded that the only reason why the two poets have conflicting ideologies of war, is time. Brooke had died early on in the war and so wrote his poetry during the beginning of the war and his ideas of patriotism and honour in battle were still fresh. As for Owen, he lived to see most of the war, and saw the reality. The veil was lifted from his eyes. What he wrote, many could argue, was what should be known of war, but is perhaps best forgotten.