Comparing Dulce et decorum est and the charge of the light Brigade
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Although both ‘Dulce et Decorum Est´ and ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade´ are about battle and the of soldiers, they portray the experience of war in different ways.
Tennyson´s poem celebrates the glory of war, despite the fact that, because of an error of judgement (‘Someone had blundered´), six hundred soldiers were sent to their .
Owen´s poem, on the other hand, might almost have been written as a challenge to Tennyson´s rousing and jingoistic sentiments. He presents the horror of senseless in the trenches and shows us how the famous line from the Roman poet Horace, ‘it is sweet and becoming to die for your country´, is a lie.
We are told that Tennyson wrote ‘Light Brigade´ in a few minutes after reading the description in The Times of the Battle of Balaclava in 1854. He was a civilian poet, as opposed to a soldier poet like Owen. His poem ‘Light Brigade´ increased the morale of the British soldiers fighting in the Crimean War and of the people at home, but Tennyson had not been an eyewitness to the battle he describes.
Wilfred Owen wrote ‘Dulce´ towards the end of the First World War. He was killed in action a week before the war ended in 1918. He wanted to end the glorification of war. Owen was against the propaganda and lies that were being told at the time. He had first-hand experience of war and wanted to tell people back at home the truth. Owen was an officer and often had to send men to their s and ‘Dulce´ gives a personal account of what the war was like. Many patriotic poems had been written at the time. Owen knew that they lied.
Tennyson´s poem is a celebration of the bravery of the six hundred British troops who went into battle against all odds, even though they knew that they would be killed. The poem starts in the middle of the action. ‘Light Brigade´ is written in dactylic feet (one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables) and this gives a sense of the excitement of the galloping horses in the cavalry charge:
‘Half a league, half a league
Half a league onward´
Tennyson creates a vivid impression of the bravery of the soldiers with many ‘verbs of action:
‘Flash’d all their sabres bare,
Flash’d as they turn’d in air,
Sabring the gunners there´
The heroic command in stanza 1, which is repeated for effect in stanza 2, sweeps the reader along without time to question the futility of the gesture:
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!
‘Charge for the guns!´
He uses noble sounding euphemisms like ‘the valley of ´, ‘the jaws of ´, ‘the mouth of Hell to describe the fate that awaits these men. He does not convey the gory reality of the slaughter.
Tennyson creates a feeling of exhilaration, of the nobility of warfare with his use of poetic devices, such as rhetorical repetition:
‘Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them´,
‘Stormed at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell´
Tennyson celebrates the ideal of unquestioning obedience of the soldiers in the face of :
‘Their’s not to make reply,
Their’s not to reason why,
Their’s but to do and die´
In the final stanza Tennyson creates a sense of the immortality of the soldiers´ bravery with a rhetorical question and commands:
‘When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made! …
Honor the charge they made,
Honor the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!´
The repetition of ‘the six hundred´ at the end of each stanza reminds the reader of the enormous loss of life, but at the end of the poem they have become the ‘Noble six hundred´ and are celebrated as heroes.
Wilfred Owen in his poem is asking us to question all the certainties that Tennyson is celebrating. The theme of ‘Dulce´ is that war and dying for one´s country are not at all not glorious. This message is echoed throughout the poem from the first stanza to the last line. In the opening stanza you get a very different image of the soldiers from what you might expect from the title. One thinks of soldiers as smart, proud, marching, and fighting, but Owen´s picture is based on his personal experience of the battlefield. There is nothing romantic about Owen´s soldiers. They are
‘Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge´
Owen presents the reader with details of what people looked like and how they felt.
‘Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, -shod.´
The men are not really marching, or if they are it is a march. These men are so tired that they are like old women and beggars floundering through the mud. They are the opposite of Tennyson´s ‘Noble six hundred´. Owen´s picture is not glorious at all and the very first line would shock people at home who imagined the men gallantly charging forward to attack. Owen catches the mood of the scene very well. The first stanza is very slow and inactive and such words like ‘trudge´ capture the atmosphere. He says ‘we´ when he´s talking about the men´s actions so we are reminded that he was there. The second stanza is very active and frantic in comparison. This shows the agonizing tedium the men had to put up with and then suddenly they could be killed instantly after a rush of adrenaline.
‘GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!– An of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time´
The contrast of ‘ecstasy´ and ‘fumbling´ is an effective way of showing this. At first, the reader is relieved that the gas masks are on, but then we realize that someone hasn´t got his on yet. A man is helplessly stumbling and Owen can´t save him. This is not a glorious . By using vivid imagery Owen gives the reader the feelings of horror and disgust that he wants them to feel at the sight of the sight of the soldier poisoned by gas:
‘In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.´
This not only shows how the soldier is suffering, but that he is in terrible pain. The reader can imagine the soldier´s life flickering away.
In Owen´s poem is vividly presented as the opposite of glorious:
‘…the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin´
It is as if he is filling the poem with as many ugly images as he can:
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on tongues´.
During the man´s it is as if you are reliving his .
Owen gives us a detailed picture of the war: he talks in the first person, ‘I saw him drowning´, and describes one dying man, in contrast to Tennyson´s rather impersonal ‘six hundred´. He wants us to imagine that we are actually there on the battlefield so we get an idea of what it was like. This poem is the closest we will get to experiencing such atrocities and if we had, Owen tells us in the final lines, then we would not try to glorify the war any more. In the Preface to his poems, published after his , Owen wrote, ‘All a poet can do today is warn. That is why true poets must be truthful´. This why he criticizes ‘the high zest´ that some people have for ‘the old Lie´ of the glory of war, and why I think that ‘Dulce´ is the more powerful poem of the two.