It is unusual at this time when war is looming in Iraq that we would be comparing a War Poem and speech King Henry V made before the battle of Agincourt. Wilfred Owen said, “The Poetry is in the Pity.” The main purpose of his poems was to show people the reality of war, and he would be turning in his grave with the thought of another major war. Wilfred Owen was killed on the 4th November 1918, aged 25, a week before the end of the War. Wilfred Owen didn’t write poems to become famous or make money like Shakespeare. In this poem, Dulce et Decorum est, Owen describes the scene of the soldiers trudging back through the mud from a battle when suddenly there is a gas attack and one soldier is too late in putting on his gas mask and is gassed. I will now look at the poem in more detail.
In the opening two lines we are unaware that these are male soldiers. They are “bent double” and described as “old beggars” and “coughing hags” not young soldiers but as old men or women deprived of all humanity. The tone is bitter. They would have left home being waved off by their loved ones proud to be going to fight for their country, but now they are wrecked “bent double”, “Knock-kneed” struggling just to keep going. The phrases “Men marched asleep” and “Drunk with fatigue” shows us just how exhausted they really are, and “distant rest” tells us that they have many miles still to walk before they see a friendly face. Owen attempts to portray the men as completely immascalinated with the statement, “Many had lost their boots, But limped on” and he describes their feet as being covered in blood with the word “blood-shod” a word which doesn’t exist. “Lame”, “blind”, “drunk” and “deaf” show how all the sense of the soldiers are gone, and they show no reaction to the bombs that are dropping behind them.
The second verse opens very loudly with a human voice, “Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!” in comparison to the slow and tiresome movements in the first verse. There is a huge surge in awareness with “An ecstasy of fumbling” as the men try to fit their “clumsy helmets.” The word ecstasy is usually associated with happy feelings whereas here it is used to describe the importance of getting the helmets on in time. “Fumbling”, “stumbling” and “clumsy” emphasize the difficulty the soldiers have in getting their masks on. Then comes the cries of one soldier who was unable to get his helmet on in time. He is described as “a man on fire or lime.” The chlorine gas is seen as “a green sea” through the windows of the gas mask the writer is wearing and the word ‘ I ‘ is used for the first time as Owen sees the soldier drowning, this is a suitable word to use as the man is not able to breathe.
In the next short verse Owen tells of his nightmares of the soldier’s last desperate attempt for help as “He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.” The writer feels guilty that he could not save him, that all he could do was watch the soldier die in front of his eyes.
The final verse turns on the reader and asks if, “you too could pace behind the wagon that we flung him in.” The solder is seen to be valueless, we can see their emotions are so desensitised with the way he is just “flung” into the back of the wagon. The writer is testing your senses, asking if you could watch or if you could hear the blood “come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs.” The soldier’s eyes “writhing” suggest uncontrollable movement in response to pain.
Owen describes how the ugliness of the soldier’s face is so bad that its “like a Devil sick of sin.” Then comes the grotesque image of the blood being gargling from the “froth-corrupted lungs” which is described by Owen as being “bitter as cud.” Cud is appropriate for the image of blood gargled up as cud is an animal routine were they bring food back up from their stomach. Owen is sarcastic in the line, “You would not tell with such high zest to children, “meaning that you wouldn’t go home and tell children who want to fight or join the army. Owen challenges that it is not fitting to die for your country and mocks the old Latin phrases saying that it has tricked many young men for many years to join the army. He finishes with “the old lie: Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori ” It is sweet and fitting to die for your native land.
Shakespeare’s speech before the battle of Agincourt is completely different to the Owen poem. In the Shakespeare speech it is about glorifying war and building up the soldiers’ hopes and willing them on to go out and fight, compared to the Owen war poem where it is about a soldier who dies a violent death and about turning young men away from the army and the war and saying it is not sweet and fitting to die for your country.
The men doubt Henry’s commitment to the battle so he must make a speech to get them ready for the battle and tell them why they would want to fight. Before Henry speaks Westmoreland says if we had “But one ten thousand of those men in England that do no work to-day.” Westmoreland wishes that he had more men, even one ten thousandth of the men that aren’t working today as it is the feast of Crispian. But then Henry enters and challenges the speaker, then realises it’s his cousin Westmoreland. What Henry means in the next few lines, when he is speaking to Westmoreland and the other soldiers that are listening, is that if we are going to die here today then don’t let any more men die but if we win the fewer men the greater the share of honour, this is the first time he says the word honour. Henry then goes on to say that he isn’t fighting for money, nor does he care if he is ransomed.
He doesn’t care for his clothes, his body or anything that can decay. He is convinced, passionate and committed towards his cause and goes on to say, “If it be a sin to covet honour, I am the most offending soul alive.” The only thing he is looking for is victory. Henry says for the fourth time in line sixteen that he doesn’t want any more men, the victory is theirs, nobody else’s. In line seventeen Henry says, “That he which hath no stomach to this fight, let him depart; his passport shall be made, And crowns for convoy put into his purse.” What he means here is that anyone who doesn’t have the stomach to fight, he will be given money to go home. This is not a logical statement but it makes the men want to stay and fight if everyone else is. They wouldn’t want to be the only one to put up their hand and say I want to leave because they didn’t have the guts or the courage to fight.
Would you? Then Henry turns to how relevant the day is that they are fighting on. He says that whoever survives this day and goes home they can stand proud when this day is named and role up their sleeves with pride and say these scars I got on Crispin’s Day. Here Henry is firing enthusiasm into the men, but never mentions blood and guts. Henry then says that you may forget what really happened but you can make it up and say you killed eight men instead of three. He calls himself Harry the King not King Henry and they are all in it together like pals. He promises them a name that will be remembered for eternity and that the feast of Crispian will only be remembered for the battle. Henry associates himself with the lowest and says they are a Band of Brothers. Henry says we can show our wounds on the feast of St Crispian while all those who weren’t here will hang their heads in shame when the are asked by the children what did you do on the feast of Crispian.
On comparing the two pieces they are both very different but with a few similarities. For example in both men are demoralised. In the Owen poem there is no sense of solidarity, no names are given, the men are barely even alive while in the Shakespeare speech unity and futernity is stressed, you’re not aware of where it takes place but there is a very clear view of what the future will be like. In both pieces the idea of the reader is to change the mind of the reader but their aims are completely different. Owen uses his poem to horrify the audience, to turn us away from war by graphically describing the death of a young soldier. Shakespeare shows no hint of death or horror and is preparing the minds of the soldiers. Owen choice of adjective and verbs all enhance the pain and suffering of the soldiers. The Latin proverb that has been honoured for years has been left exposed by Owen at the end of the poem. Shakespeare wrote his speech on a particular day for a particular event.
One thing Owen said, which was strange for a poet to say, was that, “All a poet can do today is warn, that is why a true poet must be truthful.”