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The Charge of the Light Brigade and Dulce Et Decorum Est

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In the comparison that follows, two poems about war have been selected. While the poems offer us an insight into the poet’s interpretation of war, it must be noted that a true comparison cannot be made, as the poems relate to different wars occurring in different centuries. The poems I refer to are “the charge of the light brigade” by Alfred, lord Tennyson relating to the Crimean war (1854) and “Dulce Et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen relating to the first world war (1916). The charge of the light brigade glorifies war with its overtones of heroism, bravery and unquestionable discipline.

While in contrast Dulce Et Decorum Est demonises war conjuring up the true depravity and horror injured by the combatants The charge of the light brigade, even the title sounds heroic, “all in the valley of death rode the six hundred”. It is as if these men where engaging in battle not a foreign army but death itself, yet in the second stanza the poet informs us someone had “blundered” and yet reiterates the determination to follow orders regardless of what dangers lie ahead. With cannon fire being directed from all quarters the soldiers bravely charged on horse back “into the jaws of death, into the mouth of hell”.

The poet relates to the battle as if it where a noble quest of good over evil rather than a war of attrition between sovereign states. The image of brave soldiers from the poet’s homeland attacking cannon and rifle with sabres and breaking through the lines victorious would make one think how invincible they must be. Although not all come back some did so death was defeated. The poet speaks of glory, honour and the “noble six hundred” as if they were all heroes rather than men engaged in a brutal at which they had no part in instigating.

The poem at no time refers to injuries, the deaths that occurred, the men that where shot down, hacked to pieces. No mention of the horror of war for lord Tennyson, which is in complete contrast to Wilfred Owen and his description of the horrors of war. Dulce et decorum Est, hits you in the face with an explosion of imagery and all its real, solid, gory detail. This is war in your face as it where. The men described here are not heroes fighting a quest of good over evil but merely men weary and broken by the inhumanity of war, “bent double”, “old beggars”, “knock-Kneed coughing like hags”.

No heroic Idols here, just pain and suffering of a magnitude incomprehensible to most mere mortals. The first stanza alone would be enough too put anyone off even the idea of war unlike Lord Tennyson’s, “noble six hundred”. Of course there are different methods of annihilation that Owen refers to such as the horror of the gas attack A man floundering as in fire or lime and drowning in a green sea. Owens use of similes is both poignant and profound, as a tool used to describe the reality of the horror experienced on the field of battle.

In the final stanza the poet bares witness to the very human effect of war and the suffering it incurs. His description of the man who died in the gas attack with his face “like a devils sick of sin” and the blood gargling from his mouth as a result of the gas attacking his lungs. Is in complete contrast to the heroic return of the remains of the six hundred in the charge of the light brigade. Owens’s poem takes you on roller coaster of emotions through the action of war from tired men trooping along to the panic and activity of an attack and the final bitter revelation of the outcome.

The comparison between the two poems is rather difficult to put into words. In the Crimean war of lord Tennyson’s poem press coverage was in its infancy with its emphasis on heroic deeds and victory in the face off overwhelming odds while in Owens’s first world war poem reporting was more up to date and the true horrors of war where relayed home. While Tennyson poem is a rousing, glorifying boys story of a poem I much prefer the reality and honesty of Wilfred Owen, as his poem bares statement to what war really is and the effects it can have on those participate.

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