Wilfred Owen’s poem is an intensely thought-provoking poem that consist of various techniques to assert a meaningful matter. “Dulce et decorum est – pro patria mori” is Latin translated, “it is sweet and proper to die for one’s country.” Ironically ‘mori’ means death, implying the predictable finish for the soldiers. Reflecting the rich, suggests Owen’s target audience are well educated. He portrays war as a degrading experience using graphic imageries. He illustrates this tragedy of deceived soldiers in surrendering their lives for their country.
Owen’s manner is formal, he exposes realities through descriptions of militaries returning from the war. Contextually, an emotive atmosphere is created where Owen tries convey a message to his reader. The militaries try to escape, but their health conditions terminate them from quick actions. “Bent double, like old beggars under sacks”, unexpectedly the army cadets are pictured as sturdy and solid men, however the poet here removes this fake portrayal of a robust fighter substituted as” beggar” and “hag”, implying the war had caused the soldiers to cultivate hastily.
Owen sees himself as present, “towards our distant rest begun to trudge”, the onomatopoeic “trudge” connotes being wobbled, slowing the pace in which they were almost dragged themselves in these terrible circumstances towards a “distant.” Owen’s message is clear, the monstrosity of war was apparent due to the soldier’s treatment.
Owen’s choice of words creates a dramatic atmosphere. He uses subject specific nouns like, “flares” and “gas shells” to recognise the military context. Using the noun, “men” rather than ‘soldiers’ emphasises ordinary individuals. “Lame”, “blind”, “deaf”, these emotive modifiers build up a disturbing picture of men due to these adjectives, suggesting these men are isolated from realism, all their awareness have been overwhelmed by horrendous experiences of war. The verb modifiers, “bent double”, “Knock Kneed” and “coughing” develop the reader’s awareness of the men’s physical condition. Their state of health does not reflect the stereotypical strength of soldiers. “Haunting” becomes symbolic of the whole experience from which they are retreating from but cannot escape mentally. The dynamic verb “marched” is used to describe the soldiers, used in conjunction of the adverbial “asleep”, which is verily disturbing.
Other verbs describing their movements are more emotive and less expected, “trudge” and “limped” imply the physical and emotional weariness of the men as “cursed” conveying the oaths literally and metaphorically the way their movements are hindered by mud. “If in some smothering dreams you too could pace”, verb ‘smother’ suggests Owen’s visions and memories are slowly killing him, also referring to how the soldier died by fumes, suffocating. Owen knows that we as readers cannot entirely relate to him about this matter, they can only imagine this. This cautious estrangement of the speaker from “you” suggesting that we cannot know about this war unless if we were present, we should not “dream.” The verb ‘flung’ desensitises the soldiers, connoting a heartless nature. Further accentuating the many deaths, they encountered throughout their battles and for them to not expressively devote themselves of the pointlessness occurred in war.
Past tense is used throughout, made up of reminiscences of one of the soldiers. “We” this plural pronoun reveals he was part of the soldier’s group. This inclusive pronoun references makes them sound more dreadful, “we cursed through sledge.” The soil of the battlefield was heavily cut by shells and the rain turned it to mud. The soldiers are curse trudging through the unpleasant mud. The slow pace of this phrase, with its consonant clusters and long vowels, imitate the slow pace of their progress. “Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time”, the epithet of transporting “in time” shows they find it challenging to put on gas masks. Owen uses first person singular and the second person plural, shows how Owen experienced his journey. For example, “we”, “I”, “my” and “me.” The second person singular make the reader think of the nasty reality of wars, for example, “if you could hear.”
The sentence structures are varied, Owen uses a mixture of simple, complex and compound sentences appropriate to the poem’s shape; he is recounting his personal experiences using descriptive narrative styles. The first 8 lines are stern, “men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots, but limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;” through physical positioning and figurative language, they are distraught in the routine. The simple, “men marched asleep” and compound sentence, “many had lost their boots, but limped on, blood-shood” feels forceful, stating facts unemotionally of what is being interpreted as cruel. The coordination linker, “but” makes this appearance feel worse than expected. Parallelism is then used, “All went lame, all blind”, the vivid image of the troops marching is moderately powerful minor than what Owen provided. Parallelism suggests desolation as a holistic state in that no one escapes from this. The tone is vicious, Owen’s own voice makes the message sound harsh, he uses this in dark ironic manner to picture the deceit of idealised representations of war. He abides on specific details of misery to exaggerate the impression he wishes to have on those who tell the “old lie”, he uses the mode of address, “my friend” which post modifies the ironic statement.
l, m, and b these alliterative consonants have a fuller mellow sound, slowing the reading, displaying exhaustion. The plosive b sound repetition has a vibrating effect to the contrasting between sounds is illustrative of the group’s slow hike punctuated by the pain. Owen uses a complex sentence which includes many adverbials to provide details. “Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs and towards our distant rest began to trudge”, omitting the grammatical function words, intensify the effect leaving the reader emotional, “turned our backs.” “Haunting flares” effectively hang in the air like ghosts, reminding armed forces that those flares may lead to deaths. “Haunting” begins with the consonant ‘h’ followed by the long diphthong ‘au’, this has a lasting impact.
Metaphorically, Owen graphically demonstrating gruesome details of war. “Drunk with fatigue” and “deaf even to the hoots” display physical states of men as so tired that their minds are numbed. Owen uses many similes, “to old beggars”, disadvantaged of good health like the elderly begging for life, “obscene as cancer”, the killer is cancer, “coughing like hags”, comparing men to mature women. These are shocking comparisons; the soldiers are far from being heroic but are instead mentally and physically drained. “Like devil’s sick of sin”, Owen is explaining a demon’s face which is slanted by the dishonesties of sin and that hell also is sick of the constant occurring deaths because of war. He intentionally alliterates this to strengthen the reader to hiss, almost ironically replicating a snake, representing Satan. Furthermore, Owen’s neologisms “blood-shod”, the reader gets confused of the pararhyme ‘bloodshed’. “Knock-kneed” is quite disturbing in that they have no shoes, their feet are covered with blood, this is expressed graphically. The use of the triplet verbs, “guttering, choking, drowning” accentuate how much the dying man suffered in his last stage. The parataxis at the end stress these verbs forcing us to pause and absorb the meaning.
Owen’s rhetorical patterning is effective in understanding the juxtaposition of the horrors and order of the structure as dramatic. He uses marked themes, “bent double” and list “all went lame; all blind”, “drunk (·) deaf” focuses thought on the soldier’s condition. “Deaf” is used as hyperbole to develop how these soldiers appear to be oblivious to everything around them and cut them off from normal life. The antithesis reinforces this sense of diverse worlds, “turned our backs” and “distant” are juxtaposed, modifying “haunting” signifying they cannot forget their experience by walking away towards “rest”. “Ecstasy of fumbling”, the noun ‘ecstasy’ refers to the soldiers’ heightened emotions which imply comfort and is an oxymoron of getting the gas mask on in terrible states. It connotes religious power, suggesting the high amount of fear of the men as the gas starts to envelop them.
Phonologically, the rhyme scheme links alternate rhyme, the phonemes in “sacks” and “backs”, “sludge” and “trudge”, “boots” and “hoots”, “blind and “behind”. “But someone still was yelling out and stumbling, And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime·”. “yelling”, “stumbling” and “flound’ring” are consonantly rhymed, the pace speeds up repeating of the sounds creating panic. The ellipses at the end imply a pause for imagery in which the description of the man “flound’ring” in the chaos as though he is “in fire or lime” producing an intense image of saving himself in the time he has left. While the ellipsis could mean that the events are quite private or abysmal for Owen to mention. “Like a man in fire”, this simile explains the dying man’s troubles. The man is out of his own control and his actions could be compared to “a man in fire.” This is a form of pathos; the reader feel pity towards the man due to his expressive language. “The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori”, Owen’s discussion has led to an unpleasant conclusion. “Lie” is written as a capital L to improve the power of the phrase to impart that the patriotic lie stimuluses wars as part of human history.
The poem is written in an iambic pentameter, expressing the solid beat made by the march. The rhythm is reversed by enjambment and parataxis; the irregular punctuation makes the words to be read at an irregular pace, which imitate the tired soldiers who have tripped and thrown themselves in the mud to uphold a well-ordered pace. Most lines have 10 syllables, the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables is not constantly the same, but every long and short line has 5 or 6 stresses. This draws attention to the key essentials used to build up the atmosphere. Owen structures the poem of four stanzas in uneven length, there is a regular ABAB CDCD EFEF rhyme scheme and the lines create a natural flow that imitates human speech. The third stanza comprise of two lines compared to the latter. Conveying his helplessness trying to communicate his never-ending nightmare. Owen has used an effective example of imagery, “in all my dreams, before my helpless sight”, we feel apologetic for the poet as he is accepting his fate to be like it is, therefore cultivating our feelings of compassion. This creates a paradoxical portrayal “helpless sight”, he can see the men dying yet he is powerless, “sight” purposes as a synecdoche, stepping in as Owen’s voice.
The shuffling movement of the men over the ‘sludge’ is portrayed by the caesura in line 5 to 7. From line 8, the poet changes this metre to a trochaic, declining this activity, as the shells would interrupt the trudge. “Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!” emphasise the words the soldiers use, starting off the rhythm’s interruption, due to the four, short stressed syllables and the interruption of the voice, like an alarm preparing the reader of this distressing condition. Almost an action burst matching the battleground through the change of pace. Juxtaposing the submissive pace of the march reflected in the first stanza, capturing the soldiers suffering. The capitalisation shows urgency by the repetition and exclamation marks compared to the last stanza “children ardent for some desperate glory”. “Incurable sores on innocent tongues, my friend, you would not tell with such high zest “, the dash after ‘tongues’ creates a dramatic peak. This acts as a caesura, so the reader pauses to take that in, of the present tense and address the second person ‘you’.
Due to Owen’s opposing viewpoints of war, we discover dehumanising truths of war. He fights against the original views of war and manipulates us to question the thought of war by writing about the actual reality. In this way, Owen gains a deeper knowledge than just reciting war experiences, amplifying the mind of the reader whilst reading his poem.
Cite this essay
Wilfred Owens Poem. (2019, Nov 20). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/wilfred-owens-poem-essay