Comparison of War Poems: "Who's for the Game" and "Dulce et Decorum Est"

Categories: War

World War I was a conflict marked by immense suffering, sacrifice, and varying perceptions of the war's true nature. Two poems from this era, "Who's for the Game" by Jessie Pope and "Dulce et Decorum Est" by Wilfred Owen, present starkly contrasting views of the war. These poems serve distinct purposes: one aims to recruit and motivate young men to join the army, while the other seeks to reveal the harsh reality of warfare and discourage enlistment. This essay delves into the thematic differences, poetic techniques, and rhetorical strategies employed by these two poets to convey their respective messages.

Recruitment and Enthusiasm in "Who's for the Game"

Jessie Pope's poem, "Who's for the Game," adopts an enthusiastic and persuasive tone, aiming to entice young men to join the army with a portrayal of war as an exciting adventure. The poem presents the war as a grand sporting event, encouraging potential recruits to participate. Pope employs phrases like, "the biggest that's played, the red crashing game of a fight," to make the war seem exhilarating and unforgettable.

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This depiction is designed to appeal to young men's sense of adventure and desire for heroism.

Pope goes further in her attempt to recruit by creating an atmosphere of camaraderie. She addresses the men as "lads," fostering a sense of belonging and shared purpose. By doing so, she makes them feel personally connected to the cause and impels them to take part in the war effort, as if they would be missing out on an exciting opportunity.

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The Harsh Realities of War in "Dulce et Decorum Est"

On the contrary, Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et Decorum Est" offers a brutally realistic depiction of the horrors of World War I. Owen's poem presents an eyewitness account of a gas attack and the suffering endured by soldiers. The poem's mood is one of intense sadness and despair, as Owen vividly describes the traumatic experiences of warfare.

Owen's use of grim and graphic language is central to his objective of dissuading potential recruits. He employs similes like, "his hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin," to convey the gruesome appearance of a fellow soldier affected by the gas attack. This vivid imagery serves as a powerful deterrent, emphasizing the physical and psychological toll of war.

Furthermore, Owen directly addresses the reader as "My friend," invoking a personal connection and urging readers to confront the harsh realities of war. He asserts that if they had witnessed the horrors he describes, they would not propagate the old adage: "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" (it is sweet and honorable to die for your country). This direct appeal to the reader's conscience and empathy intensifies the poem's impact.

Poetic Techniques: Similes, Metaphors, and Rhythm

Both poems employ various poetic techniques to convey their messages effectively. "Dulce et Decorum Est" extensively utilizes similes to paint vivid and horrifying pictures for the reader. The simile, "bent double, like old beggars under sacks," illustrates the soldiers' physical deterioration and the weight of their burdens. The comparison to "hags" emphasizes the soldiers' exhausted and disfigured appearance.

Conversely, "Who's for the Game" relies more on metaphors to create a positive and enticing image of the war. The entire poem revolves around the metaphor of the war as a game. The use of metaphors like "crash" and "game of a fight" contributes to the portrayal of war as an exciting competition or sport, thus appealing to the reader's sense of adventure.

Rhythm plays a significant role in conveying the tone of each poem. "Who's for the Game" employs a lively and jaunty rhythm, mirroring the excitement and enthusiasm of a sporting event. The poem's upbeat cadence contributes to its persuasive quality, making the war sound like an exhilarating opportunity.

In contrast, "Dulce et Decorum Est" employs a slower and more deliberate rhythm, mimicking the soldiers' plodding march. This rhythm reflects the grim and somber mood of the poem, emphasizing the weight of the soldiers' experiences and the seriousness of the subject matter.

The Influence of Personal Experiences

Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et Decorum Est" is particularly poignant because it is based on his personal experiences as a soldier during World War I. Owen had firsthand knowledge of the horrors of trench warfare, which adds authenticity and emotional depth to his poem. His vivid descriptions of gas attacks, physical suffering, and the helplessness of soldiers are not mere literary devices but reflections of the brutal reality he witnessed.

Jessie Pope, on the other hand, had no direct experience of war, which becomes evident in "Who's for the Game." Her portrayal of war as an exciting game lacks the depth and authenticity found in Owen's work. This raises ethical questions about whether someone who had not experienced the horrors of war should encourage others to enlist in such a perilous endeavor.


In conclusion, "Who's for the Game" by Jessie Pope and "Dulce et Decorum Est" by Wilfred Owen offer divergent perspectives on World War I, with the former aiming to inspire recruitment and the latter seeking to expose the harsh realities of warfare. The poems employ distinct themes, poetic techniques, and rhetorical strategies to effectively convey their messages to the reader.

Updated: Nov 07, 2023
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Comparison of War Poems: "Who's for the Game" and "Dulce et Decorum Est". (2016, May 22). Retrieved from

Comparison of War Poems: "Who's for the Game" and "Dulce et Decorum Est" essay
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