Trace the History of the “Old Lie” by Wilfred Owen Essay Sample

Trace the History of the “Old Lie” by Wilfred Owen Pages
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The term the “Old Lie” was used by Wilfred Owen in his poem “Dulce et Decorum Est” to describe what he thought of the motto “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” which translates litteraly as “it is sweet and honourable to die for ones country”. This motto was written by a famous roman poet called Horace in a poem called Odes. When Horace wrote his poem war was fought with hand to hand combat and so the best soldier would normally win. By the time that Owen wrote his poems it was a new era of warfare and it was possible for the best-trained soldier to be killed by a gas shell fired from many miles away by an enemy who could not even see him. Because of this war had become unfair.

When Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote his poem “The Charge Of The Light Brigade” the attitude to war was that it was honourable to die for your country and that it was every individuals duty to do something for their country and that fighting for their country was part of that duty.

In this essay I will consider five poems that relate to warfare from a time period of 200 years.

The charge of the light brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson shows the classic pre WW1 attitude to war and that Horace motto was still accepted at that time. Tennyson was a believer of war and death for your country being an honourable thing. In the light of a massive military disaster he portrayed it as a military success and a great achievement for England. The rhyme and rhythm of the poem add to the drama and intensity of this poem by having a very jumpy beat that bounces with the flow of the battle.

This poem shows the classic view of the time stating that war was a very honourable thing and also shows that troops were regarded as high members of society.

The rhyme scheme of the poem is A, B, C, B, E, F; C. throughout the poem there is capitalisation of the word death in order to emphasise this. There is also repetition of the words “Rode the six hundred”, this could be used in order to emphasise the honour of these men. In actual fact there were more like 500 cavalry but I think that Tennyson used six hundred in order to give a smother running sound to the poem.

There is onomatopoeia in the 5th stanza with the use of the words “Volleyed”, “thundered” and “Stormed” these words add a feel of being at the battle and add to the realism of the poem.

Three times in the poem a word starts three lines in a row and this is known as a rhetorical three and is used in stanza 2,3 and 5 in the lines

“Theirs not to make reply

Theirs not to reason why

Theirs but to do and die” also

“Cannon to the right of them,

Cannon to the left of them,

Cannon in front of them” and finally

“Cannon to the right of them,

Cannon to the left of them,

Cannon behind them” in the two times that cannons are part of the rhetorical three the final line changes from “Cannon in front of them” to “Cannon behind them” this gives a feeling of time moving throughout the poem and also gives the sense that the cavalry surrounded the light brigade.

There is also a rhetorical question in the poem and this is “was there a man dismayed?” This could be used in the sense that none of these men were worried about the battle and so this made them honourable and brave.

In the final stanza of the poem the poet seems to be issuing orders in the lines “O wild the charge they made!” and “Honour the charge they made! / Honour the Light Brigade” these orders seem to be saying that we should honour the deaths of these men, as they have died a valiant and honourable death.

The Soldier by Rupert Brooke was another poem that was written with the view that war was a very honourable thing and that it was good to die for your country as if you did this you would end up in heaven.

There is repetition of the word “England” in this poem and it shows that Brooke was a very nationalistic poet and was prepared personally to die for his country. This repetition shows a very romantic and idyllic view and also portrays it as a mother to whom we all owe our lives. He does this through referring to England as “her” instead of it and also links England with purity through lines such as “Gave, once her flowers to love” the diction of the poem aids this effect with use of words such as “love” and “flowers” when describing England.

Although the poem discusses a very horrific battle Brooke maintains a very serene view of war. This is done by writing the poem as a sonnet (8-line stanza, 6-line stanza and rhyming couplet to finish) which are normally used for love poems only. The sounds and rhythm of the poem aid this serenity by providing a very soft and angelic feel to the poem. Brooke also comments on the colonisation of a foreign field where an English soldier has fallen.

There are lots of semi-colons throughout the poem and these could be used in an effort to make the reader stop and think about the words that Brooke is saying.

It seems as though the poem is written from a very innocent and naive viewpoint; also it says in the first line “If I should die” this is important as it shows that Brooke was not afraid of death and that he doesn’t even think that he will die. He shows this by using “if” instead of another word such as when I should die.

Peace by Rupert Brooke is a very similar poem to that of “The Soldier” and discusses the same theme of dying for England on the battlefield. The title is ironic, as it is the opposite of the theme of the poem that is war. It is also strange as the final word of the poem is “Death” and this has been capitalised.

The form of the poem is the same as The Soldier as it contains and 8 line octet and a 6 line sestet. In the 6th and 7th lines of the first stanza Brooke seems to be saying that it is dishonourable and cowardly not to fight for your country.

“Leave the sick hearts that honour could not move,

And half men, and their dirty songs and dreary”

But after saying all this Rupert Brooke did not fight in WW1 for his country.

Brooke seems to be saying throughout the poem that if you fight for your country you will be better person mentally and spiritually in the quotes “Naught broken save this body” and “the laughing heart’s long peace there”. Brooke also uses the euphemism of describing death as sleep “but sleep has mending” in order to soften the blow of using a harsh word such as death although he does use the word in the final line of his poem but this is not in a negative context.

In the 5th line of the first stanza Brooke talks of the world in peacetime and says that “Glad from a world grown so old and cold and weary” words in this quote such as weary and cold emphasises Brookes view that not only is war good for your country but peace is bad.

At this point in the essay I will start to talk about the changing views of the public during WW1. The poems I will use to describe this are all by Wilfred Owen and show that during WW1 people changed their opinions on war because WW1 was a very long war that was costly to the U.K both in monetary terms and human lives. The soldiers who did survive told the public of the terrible conditions that the soldiers faced in the trenches and people changed their ideas of war and tried to avoid it at all costs. Wilfred Owen wrote his poems during WW1 and shows the changing view of the British public.

Anthem for Doomed youth is very similar to “The Soldier” by Rupert Brooke, as it is essentially dealing with the same theme, remembering the dead. In Tennysons poem “The Charge Of The Light Brigade” there is a line “there glory will not fade” and this contrasts directly to Owen’s poem as his says that the soldiers glory will not be remembered and that they will not go to heaven.

The title “Anthem for Doomed Youth” was originally Anthem for dead youth. Although dead is more final it does not have the same effect of fate oppressing the men that doomed has. This is different to Brookes poems (and Tennysons) as his says “if” whereas Owens is definite saying that the soldiers will definitely saying that the soldiers will die.

The Diction of the poem is very harsh and coarse to describe what Owen saw as real war (Owen signed up to fight in the war but died before he seen action). Owen uses words such as “The shrill demented choirs of wailing shells”. There is also repetition of “r” and onomatopoeia in the 3rd line of the first stanza “rifles’ rapid rattle”

The opening line of this poem is a very sickening line as it talks of the way in which some soldiers were slaughtered hundreds at a time during warfare. The line is “What passing bells for those who die as cattle?” and this refers to the way in which cattle were herded into a slaughter house with their individuality removed and all killed very quickly. This line is also a rhetorical question.

There is personification of the weapons in this poem in the 7th line as it says “the shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells”. This personification of the shells makes them seem like a crazed killer on the hunt for any victim they can find whether it is a soldier or a mother and her child caught up in the middle of a battlefield.

The first stanza seems to use a lot of aural imagery such as “wailing shells” and “bugles”. The second stanza uses more visual imagery such as “candles” and “holy glimmers”.

The final rhyming couplet of the poem makes the poem end as a traditional sonnet. And the final line “And each slow dusk a drawing down of blinds” talks of the end of a day and also the end of life on the battlefield in a stupid death without honour.

“Dulce et Decorum Est” by Owen is a very important poem in this essay as it incorporates the old lie, “Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori”. This poem details death and injury of men killed in battle by an unknown enemy in complete contrast to Tennyson’s honourable deaths in hand to hand combat. The language of the poem is very blunt and violent and in the first stanza it seems that this is the only thing that is pushing the men forward. In the second Stanza the pace quickens with the words “Gas! Gas!” as a gas attack is mounted on the soldiers.

In this poem Owen addresses the readers as “you” and this is important, as it seems to be ending a message to the readers. The diction of the poem seems to be very sickening with lines such as “froth corrupted lungs”. Owen includes Horraces moto and refers to them as the old lie as he felt that they were out of date with addition of new weaponry such as machine guns and long-range cannons.

The diction of the poem is very graphical and horrific and I think Owen is trying to put across a message of social protest in this poem with the use of language such as

“And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,

His hanging face like a devils sick of sin”

This quote is saying that the war is so bad even the devil is sick of it.

The opening 2 lines of the poem are

“Bent double like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,”

These lines describe the soldiers as won out emotionally and physically by the war in which they have fought.

In the 2nd and 3rd stanza’s Owen describes a soldier who has been killed by one of the new very powerful weapons of WW1 and WW2, gas. It describes how the young soldier seems to start burning in the gas and uses sickening imagery such as “froth corrupted lungs” to describe this soldier throwing up his lungs and dying a slow and painful death.

In the final 4 lines of the poem Owen seems to be directing sarcasm at Brooke and Tennyson and also other poets who believed in what Owen referred to as the old lie. He seems to be saying to them that if you had seen the real war then you would not be so confident telling kids Horace motto. The final 4 lines are a very strong note on which to end a poem and so this is why I think that Owen chose these as his closing lines.

Throughout this essay I have shown the changing attitudes to war through the ages from the Crimean war and Alfred Lord Tennyson through to the WW2 attitude of Wilfred Owen. The attitude of Owen is an attitude to war that is maintained today.

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