Wilfred Owen is a twentieth century poetry writer who was born in Oswestry in Shropshire. In 1915 he enlisted fighting on the western front. During a spell in the Craglockhart hospital he met Seigfried Sassoon who encouraged him to develop his poetry. Owens’s poems are amongst the most famous and poignant of the war.
He died in1918 trying to cross the Sambre canal.
From his work I will analyse and study two poems. The poems which I have chosen are Dulce Et Decorum Est and Disabled.
The reason why I decided to analyse these poems is because I felt that they both told a catastrophic and heartbreaking story of what war was really like. Both of these poems were written at a time when Wilfred Owen seemed to be bitter, some may say disenchanted by the whole situation.
Arguably his most famous poem, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, is a fine example of his narrative, first-person poems, written through his own eyes and based on his own experiences and views of the war. I have chosen to describe Dulce Et because it shows the struggle of a group of people who have to overcome the most extraordinary events day in day out.
I have chosen Disabled because it shows the struggle of one man who everyday contemplates his wasted life. All he has are the memories but they seem to become more distant as the days go on.
Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Patri Mori translated in to English means It Is Sweet And Honourable To Die For Ones Country.
If someone is reading the poem for the first time and learns of the English meaning of the title before reading the poem they may feel it is a poem that represents the army in a positive way. However this assumption could not be further from the truth. After reading the poem a number of times I have come to a conclusion that Owen has titled this poem Dulce Et Decorum Est because of the strong statement that he makes in the poem. In a way I get the feeling that Owen was mocking the saying but I do not think he was mocking the army as a whole just that single principal.
The soldiers are weighed down by all the things that they are carrying, perhaps they are even weighed down by the expectation of their country.
” Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs”
The soldiers are exhausted and so tired that even when the flares go off behind them they do not have the energy to or even feel like turning around to see them.
Owen describes the soldiers as being
“Drunk with fatigue”
He is saying that the soldiers are so tired that it is as though they are drunk. Owen is trying to say that the soldiers are as though they do not know entirely what they are doing. They are just being led along like zombies because they are inexperience and have no clue to what is happening.
These men are but mere shadows of the bright vibrant people that started on this epic journey.
The pace of the poem quickens in the second stanza. The soldiers are awoken by a gas attack. This effectively shatters the mood that Owen has told of us in the opening stanza. The soldiers are now awoken by the fact that their lives are in extreme danger and they now have to be fully aware of all their surroundings.
” Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning”
The green light Owen talks of is the sight of toxic gas which they can see through their gas masks. Owen uses a simile saying that the man is drowning in a green sea. The reality of this is that the man is drowning in a sea of his own toxic blood. He tells us how this memory has stayed with him. The sickening sight of a man plunging at him.
Owen seems to have a great fear of the gas attacks when he talks about them. He talks of all of the nightmares he has had because of the war and this event in particular
“In all my dreams before my helpless sight”
The word ‘helpless’ shows that he could not do nothing to help that man apart from stare at him and feel sorry for him. He describes how the man was taken away and the narrator Owen walked behind and saw his face. Owen is still haunted by the nightmare.
“We flung him in”
The dead bodies are treated like meat there are so many deaths it becomes like a routine thing. He realises the horror that is standing behind the man who has been gassed to death.
“My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory.”
Owen is saying that if you could see the horrific events he had seen then you would not believe the lie. By saying this he is expressing the bitterness he has not only for the army but the situation as a whole. He believes that the army has portrayed the life of a soldier at war as being heroic and exciting but in real life it is the complete opposite.
Owen adds more examples of this throughout the last stanza for example he says,
“If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth coming-corrupted lungs,”
In this quote he describes the situation that the men where in and how their lungs were pumping out blood instead of air. Owen is trying to make the reader understand that the war was told to be very fascinating and an intriguing experience but in reality that is far from the truth.
Owens main question to the reader in the last stanza is before going into the army think carefully about what you are doing as you might experience something in great contrast to what you may have imagined.
The poem is describing a terrible shocking death by gas, how can it be sweet and honourable to die for ones country if you die like this. This is the country that sold him the old lie.
“Dulce et decorum Est pro patri mori.”
In the poem ‘Disabled’ Owen is describing someone that he knew in the army. This man was in the Scottish regiment, He has had his leg blown up when he was fighting in the war. His disability is extremely severe, because he has no legs and his arms are sewn at the elbow. He has to be dependant on other people to feed him, clothe him and wash him. He is in an institute, a nursing home of some sort.
He wants very much to be in the dark because then everything will be quiet. He is sick and tired with life and is waiting to die. He hears voices of boys singing, these are voices of people playing just as he had once played.
He talks about the evenings. He says that at this time the towns atmosphere was fun and happy everyone is dancing having fun. He is very sad that he will never again experience this. He says the girls look upon him like he has some kind of disease. He talks of how he will never again feel the waist of a woman, he also talks about how he, “threw away his knees in the war”.
This quote is a metaphor and it means that his leg got blown up during the war and it does not mean that he literally threw his knees in the war. This type of literary device is used so that the poet could compare one object with another directly instead of using like and as.
In the third verse Owen describes the effects after war and how your appearance could change drastically. He says,
“For it was younger than his youth, last year.
Now, he is old; his back will never brace.”
Owen is trying to show that this person went to the war very young and now as he has came back he is so old that he can not even support his own back. Owen is showing the truth about war and that you do not become heroes when you come back from war instead you become unpopular and hated by people.
His negative opinion about war becomes even more apparent when he mentions the blood lost by many soldiers during war.
“He’s lost his colour very far from here,
Poured down shell-holes till the veins ran dry.”
Owen portrays the war in a pessimistic way and tries to influence people to listen to what he is saying and that war is horrible because it could ruin many people’s lives
He feels that he has given so much for his country and he does not get anything back in return instead many people do not even want to know him.
“And leap of purple spurted from his thigh.”
He loved his youth. When his leg had blown away a massive part of him was now missing.
One time he saw blood down his leg from a football injury, he thought this was great. Now he has no leg.
He wonders why he joined the army. He tries to impress people as they told him he would do well in the army. There were a couple of reasons why he signed up the first reason was that his dear Meg would be pleased of him and the second reason was that in those days men thought that if they went to fight in a war the ladies back home would find them more attractive and think of them as heroes.
At the time he was not frightened of being afraid.
“And no fears of fear have come yet”
He had thoughts of all the swords and other weaponry that he would receive in the army. He felt very happy in handling all the sophisticated machinery. He had great thoughts of wearing the smart uniform and making those proud salutes. At this moment he had no worries about the war and what he would face but instead he imagines all the enjoyable aspects of war. This quote shows that the war in those days was portrayed as exciting and pleasurable and that no one was told about the injuries that happen during war. So I think this is why the person in this poem had no worries because he did not know the disastrous affects that could scare him for life.
He thought that playing football was great, the buzz he got from the cheering. People thought of him as hero. He thought that people would cheer for him in the army, he wanted to be a hero in the army.
He thinks of the army spirit, the pride in his unit. He tells about how he was given cheers and the noise of the drums as he leaves. He is so very optimistic.
When he is brought back the cheers were not like the ones before the cheers are in contrast to what he imagined. This is ironic to him because he thought everyone will be proud of him and greet him with honour but it was the opposite of what he had expected.
Only a few people cheered when he came back only one man inquired this man was the priest. This makes him feel in a way betrayed because he was told that you would become a hero after the war and that your family and friends will be proud and thrilled that you fought for your country. As you can see this is not true and many people ignore him because of his appearance. The man feels that what he has done has been of no use because nobody appreciates that he risked his life for the sake of his country.
His final thought in the poem is one of total depression. He thinks that life is pointless.
He is so helpless he can not go to bed without someone there to help him. He feels as though he only has a few years left. He wants to be put to death as he feels like he has and can do nothing that he feels will make his life tolerable and he feels as though nothing that he does or feels will make him feel his life is worth it. He feels as if he has been demoralised and disheartened by the people that he used to once know.
As you can see from both poems they are very powerful. Each of the two poems make a statement. One difference between the poems is that Dulce Est. is a view on the army as a whole and describes the effects of the soldiers. With Disabled it is just a description of the turmoil of one person. One issue that I feel both poems, have in common is that they both talk about how the soldiers were lied to and how they were sold a lie. This is more true of Dulce Et because it shows that all the soldiers where told the lie but with Disabled it just shows that one man was told the lie. Because of this lie many soldiers were affected in Dulce Et and only one person from Disabled was affected by it.
If a person wanted an example of army life was like for a platoon at its worst I would show them Dulce Et Decorum. If I was asked about a poem that describes a poem where a person can see how the war affected people. I would recommend the poem Disabled because as you can see, it has devastating after effects.
Disabled is in my opinion the most emotional of the stories as it represents a mans struggle for his life. This man can offer nothing to his country now. He can not even offer himself something. His life is in total disarray and nothing in his life is worth living for. While the people in Dulce Et are still alive this mans souls has in effect died. He has lost his colour and can not get used to the fact of being unpopular.
I find Dulce Et Decorum to be the most powerful of the two poems. My reasons are as follows, although Disabled is a very good, very powerful poem in it’s own right it only describes the view of one person in the army. I think that what makes Dulce Et so powerful is that Owen speaks for the masses in the army when he talks of the daily horrifying sights and regular attempts by the Germans to gas them. This poem realistically showed the horrifying events which occurred during war.
Reading these poems can enlighten a person. At the moment many people around the world must be thinking that their lives are so stressful and are under extreme pressure. But their life is no way as stressful and pressurising as these young men must have gone through. These events can put many social problems into perspective. Everyday this man had to battle through endless pain and suffering in sake of their nation but is it worth it? Is risking your life worth it for your country? I believe that war should never be the solution to any problem and that many people should discourage war instead of encouraging it.