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“Dulce et Decorum est” and “Anthem for Doomed Youth” are two poems written by Wilfred Owen during the First World War. Owen, like most soldiers, joined up after being convinced that war was fun by propagandistic posters, poems and stories, and once he had realised that the truth was quite the opposite of this, he decided that it was his responsibility to oppose and protest against poets like Jessie Pope through poetry itself. People were not prepared for the sheer scale and manner of death and the mechanised nature of trench warfare, and had false expectations of the heroic endeavour, but little awareness of the realities.
However, compared to “Dulce”, the anger portrayed is dramatically understated. “Dulce” is an outrageous protest, displaying the “haunting” and “bitter” effects of war, and after describing in great detail the horrific story of a soldier “drowning” and “choking” in gas, Owen reveals his passionate hatred for the false and misleading idealisms of heroism in war using particularly emphatic imagery in “cancer” and “froth corrupted lungs”.
The fact that “Anthem” is a sonnet, is ironic in that they are usually about love, and because it is actually about grief, it somewhat lulls the reader into a false sense of security, therefore making the poem more effective. Both poems seem to talk about the vile and painful conditions in war, “Dulce” using onomatopoeia in “trudge”, giving the impression that war is truly appalling, immediately going against the common belief that it is a game from poems like “Who’s for the game?”.
Also, true to both poems is the idea of undignified and casual death, rather than the heroic, glorious death promised by governmental propaganda. For example, in “Dulce”, Owen talks about the way they “flung [the dead soldier] in a wagon” with such brutal nonchalance.
Furthermore, “Anthem” introduces a typical Victorian funeral with singing “choirs”, and juxtaposes it with the “shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells” on the battlefield, and with the constant end-stopped lines, this conveys a sense of solemn grief rather than the vicious anger in “Dulce”, which tends to use enjambment more frequently. Also, “Anthem” discusses the lack of ceremony and dignity in which people are “honoured” after their death on the battlefield, and Owen reveals his anger for this using the powerful, hyperbolic alliteration in “rifles’ rapid rattle”. In addition, the fact that the sound of machine gun fire is reflected in the phrase “rifles’ rapid rattle” presents to the reader that the harsh realities of war are indeed more than just frightening.
In addition, a sense of urgency and immediacy is portrayed in the second stanza of “Dulce”, when Owen uses direct speech and exclamations in “Gas! Gas!”, while the epizeuxis and use of the present continuous tense gives further emphasis to this desperate urgency .On the other hand, “Anthem” has a strong sense of sympathy and general tranquillity throughout the second stanza, which is juxtaposed by something quite the opposite in the first. As well as this, the light lexis used in words such as “glimmers” and “tenderness” in the second stanza, give the impression that it is a poem of mourning and respect rather than anger and hate.
In general, “Dulce” uses fairly vulgar and crude language, conveying his disrespect for propagandistic poets, as well as his anger at the unawareness of the dangers of war of the British public:
“He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.”
Owen’s use of the words “guttering, choking [and] drowning”, has numerous implications and effects. Firstly, a “gutter…” represents the bottom of society, and therefore shows how soldiers dying is in fact not a respectable act, but rather an act that is hardly noticed by society. Also, the onomatopoeic sounds of “guttering” and “choking”, give an even more emphatic image of death on the battlefield, portraying Owen’s desire for the awareness of the harsh realities of war in youth culture as well as in everyday men. Finally, the fact that Owen uses three separate adjectives to describe the horrific scene, in addition to the tri-conic feel it gives, the phrase implies that Owen could not put what he was seeing into words, and therefore persuading the reader that war is simply a catastrophic, desperate excuse for a fight, sacrificing millions of men in the process.
Unlike “Dulce”, “Anthem” brings out the mournful, respectful side of Wilfred Owen through the melancholy atmosphere he creates through the modulation of harsh imagery to a more resigned tone:
“The monstrous anger of the guns…
…but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.”
This dramatic contrast between coarse and frightening imagery in “monstrous anger of the guns” and the solemn melancholy in “the holy glimmers of goodbyes” is a very moving one. This is not only because the phrase refers to tears in young men’s eyes, which in itself is a saddening image, but also because it refers to “goodbyes”, forcing a more personal image of saying “goodbye” to close friends or relatives as they go to war upon the mind of the reader, again, creating a sombre mood. In addition, the end-stopped line following “goodbyes” is very effective in that it makes the “goodbye” seem all the more sudden, harsh, and hurtful.
In conclusion, “Dulce” and “Anthem”, although they are both written in protest against the deceiving propaganda made by various people, they go about it in different ways. “Dulce” is an outright outrage at individuals, which we know from Owen’s draft that it was targeted at Jessie Pope, using coarse and harsh language to do so. “Anthem” on the other hand is a more solemn and moving poem, although it starts as if it were to be an outrage, before we learn that in fact, it is only grieving for the dead and their lack of ceremony, and it becomes literally, an anthem for doomed youth.
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