Dulce et decorum est and Disabled
- Pages: 13
- Word count: 3074
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The two poems I have chosen are “Dulce et decorum est” and “Disabled”, both by Wilfred Owen. I have chosen these two poems because they give two views of the horrors of the First World War. Disabled is about a war veteran that has lost his limbs as a result of the war. Dulce et decorum est is about Owens own experience of a man dieing when he loses his gas mask during a gas attack, the man dies at Owens feet. The First World War was horrific, it was referred to as the Great War, the war to end all wars.
This is because unlike any war before it, it involved the whole world in some way. Wars before this were between two countries and it was, in a sense, organised. Two sides met at the battlefield and set up camp and at an agreed time the two lined up and went into battle. After the battle had ended both sides collected their dead, if the conflict was not resolved then the next morning they would start again. This war was different, all changed. One major difference between this war and the rest was that nearly everyone was affected.
People from all walks of life joined together and went into battle as one. The whole of the British empire entered the war, Canada, Africa, Australia, India and many more all fought against the Germans. This war was fought over different reasons as well. It was no longer fought primarily over land; this war was a war of attrition. The enemy’s objective was to kill as many men as possible. The war was also very technologically advanced, for the time that is. One such advance was the gun. Most wars before then were fought with swords and spears hand-to-hand combat and such like.
This war was fought much farther away and the only hand-to-hand combat used would have been with one’s bayonet if you were out of ammo or up against a close enemy. Soldiers had very little training. They were given a three-week course with a gun and sent over the channel to fight in the trenches. One new advance was the machine gun. This was the most useful defensive weapon of the war. Compared to the rifle it was a mass killer. It fired 400-600 rounds per minute constantly; this was nearly doubled towards the end of the war. The rifle only fired 1 round before it needed cocking again.
This meant that it could decimate any advance by the enemy towards them. They had a weakness though. They were extremely heavy and were not very good for an advance only as a defensive weapon. They weighed around 50kg not including the supplies and ammo that went with them. They also were not very reliable for a long time. Some were known to overheat after only two minutes of constant firing. This problem was combated towards the end of the war. Two other terrors entered the war. The first of these was the tank. This colossal metal box on tracks was feared the small number that survived an encounter with it.
With mounted guns on either side of it and an enormous cannon atop it. The tank intimidated the enemy; it could cross barbed wire dips, the tank overcame any obstacle. The tank was not the most feared by the soldiers. It was unreliable and they were expensive to produce. The thing most feared was the gas attacks. The French first experimented with chemical warfare by firing tear gas over the German trenches. The misconception made by many is that the Germans were the first to experiment with chemicals. They were not but they took its development to the extreme and poured money into its production.
There most feared and frequently used chemical was chlorine gas. The Germans found that when the wind came from behind them it went on towards the allied trenches. By opening canisters containing the gas it would cover the allied trenches. This gas is what Owen describes in Dulce et decorum est. the green sea that his friend is drowning is actually the product of his lungs reacting with the chlorine gas. The gas when inhaled reacted with the inhalants lungs and turned them into mush. It took the allies some time to realise this and finally issued the gas mask to its soldiers.
This is also described in the poem. These masks were large and bulky and impaired the vision of the person behind its thick glass eyes. This prevented the gas from entering the lungs and it was filtered out. The problem that occurred both in the poem and throughout the war was if you lost or broke your mask you were dead if an attack occurred. This is what happens to the man in Dulce et decorum est. People say that Owens poems were anti-war and were meant to discourage war. This is very the wrong impression and is not what Owen was portraying.
Dulce et decorum est was published in 1921 over three years after the end of the war and Owen died 1 week before the end of the war. Owen was very patriotic but he wanted to stop people joining the war for the wrong reasons. One thing in particular he wanted stop was “children ardent for some desperate glory” from joining the war in hope of glory and a better life. Dulce et decorum est means it is sweet and fitting. He is trying to denounce the line so frequently used by war propagandists and recruiters. The recruiters told this to young men to persuade them to join up for their country.
As Latin was used more at the start of the 20th century than it is today. Sayings like Dulce et decorum est were known by most. The language that Owen uses leaves nothing to the imagination. The explicit description of the life in the trenches is most certainly distinctive in all his poems and is a very well known trademark of his work. The war was terrible and the conditions were horrific. Disease ran high through the trenches and illness, death and rot was a common site. The trenches were 10ft high and they were not drained. There were crates for them to walk on but the water level frequently rose above this.
They were more concerned about being killed by the enemy that they almost disregarded their personnel hygiene. Owen shows this: “Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge. ” This quote shows us how Owen viewed the conditions of the war. When wading through this water it put great wear and tear on their feet. This may seem less vital than being shot, but one of the things we take for granted is the ability to move. This point ties in with the next poem and will be revisited later. The boots the army used were of good quality and many of the boots would have lasted in normal damp conditions.
But without the care needed to keep their boots watertight they rotted and leaked. When skin is left for to long it starts to wrinkle, like when you are in the bath. But the soldiers were in the trenches and exposed to the disease ridden water all the time and when they weren’t they were in a far worse of the situation. The men’s feet rotted away like their boots and Owen briefly covers this. “Many had lost their boots, but limped on, blood-shod. ” This is a very brief and short representation. But to put things into prospective when one has a sprained ankle you limp and avoid moving it.
Imagine that your legs are soaked in water, what is left of your feet; the stumps are rubbing against the bottom of your boots. The wounds of your feet have little time to heal as they are trying to keep you out of danger. They are constantly being exposed to new diseases as the water is infected with new things. That is a worst-case scenario but it makes you think. Owen, as I mentioned earlier, had to watch his friend die at his feet during a gas attack. “As under a green sea, I saw him drowning” This is the one line in my opinion that sums up what Owen saw of his friend through the hazed glass eyes on his mask.
I would think that the way Owen was able to deal with the emotional pressure and strain he was put through until he died was to express himself in his poems. This is why they are so graphic and they leave nothing to the imagination. He wanted to express himself so deeply so that we would not need to imagine the horrors and I don’t feel he wanted us to. To put thing into prospective again to see a man drowning in the remnants of his own dissolved lungs would send any man mad with this ghastly sight. The amount of people that died in the war was an astonishing number.
Over eight million men died in the First World War. Compared with the Second World War this is minimal, 61 million men died in the Second World War. But this was the first of its kind and people weren’t prepared for this significant death rate. They had no choice but to burry them quickly and easily. Many people think that, like in the movies, the dead and the new soldiers came and went down the same track. This was not the case. It would have been terrible de-motivating upon the new recruits. The method used to transport the bodies was not as stylish as a Hurst but on the back of a wagon.
Owen had to throw the man that died at his feet on the back of a cart and let him be dragged off to lie with the rest awaiting burial. This would be very straining to let him go. The thing that would have been worst, and was what Owen had to do, was to walk behind the cart on their way back. “If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood come gargling from the froth corrupted lungs bitter as the cud. ” This when they are walking along behind the cart and the head flops back. And on the jolt of the wagon as it passes over a bump the remnants of his lungs come bubbling up out of his lungs.
The term bitter as the cud means that it has been regurgitated, like a bird does to it young. In my opinion Owen was very angry. He must have seen the boys that couldn’t have been 15 or more in the trenches. The thing that really bothered him must have been that the recruiters must have seen that these boys were under age and still let them in. He tells us, and the whole point of this poem is to discourage this: “to children ardent for some desperate glory, the old lie: “Dulce at decorum est pro patria mori. ” He is saying that the recruiters are telling children that it is sweet and fitting to die for ones country.
This is a patriotic saying but no noble man would urge and aim to convince a 15-year-old boy to go to war. This is sickening even to think of and this is the thing Owen is trying to say. Dulce et decorum est gives us a view of what life was like in the war and the horrors of it. Disabled gives us a different angle. It is about a boy who goes to war and comes back with one arm and no legs. He has lost his pride and has become utterly dependant upon those around him. The sad thing is he can’t remember why he joined the war. There is a very relative issue that is covered in both poems.
This is one that Owen feels very strongly about. The man who the poem describes was underage when he joined the war. “Smiling they wrote his lie: aged nineteen years. ” The distressing point is the fact that the man is smiling as he sends the boy off to war knowingly. It disturbs me to see, fictional though the character may have been, a boy sent knowingly to war under-aged. A young dynamic boy is sent to war and is striped of his youth and sent back legless and with one arm. If the boy had been nineteen then if he joined at the beginning and his injuries occurred at the end that would make him 23 years old.
It is evident that he is under aged. So if he was 16 years old, 1-year under-age, he would be at the most 20 when he lost his limbs. This is shocking. It is evident from the poem that the man described has become vary dependant upon those around him. This is shown in the first line. The fact that “he sat in a wheeled chair” implies that it was not only a chair with wheels but also it is wheeled for him. This gives us the impression from this line that the man is disabled and unable to move the chair himself.
We already know the extent of his injuries from this line. One can make the assumption that a man with legs does not need a wheel chair as he can stand on his own. We also know that he has lost the ability to move the chair by himself. So we know that he has lost his limbs. The last two lines tell us a lot about the sadness of the man “why don’t they come” he is sitting outside on the porch waiting in vain for someone to take him from the sadness and put him to bed. One other noticeable point is not mentioned in the poem and has been extracted.
It is ironic that he is now dependant upon a young woman to put him to bed, in contrast with his pre-war virile manhood when he could expect to take a woman to bed. The previous point brings up another more concealed point hidden and disguised amongst the poem is the issue of sex. In his state it obvious that he cannot participate in any sexual intercourse with a woman. This does not rely solely that he has lost his legs and an arm but from the poem we can see that women don’t want him. “Tonight he noticed how the women’s eyes passed from him to the strong men that were whole. This shows us the way the man must feel about himself.
He has lost all of his pride at such a young age and wishes to be normal and lead a normal life. He misses the feelings he would have felt had he been able. “Now he will never feel again how slim girls’ waists are. ” We take for granted these simple things he longs for. The fact that he cannot touch a girl again is not only showing his physical loss of his arm, but also the psychological scars as the soldier knows he will be rejected by women forever. One more controversial point that I have interpreted is this sexual reference “spurted from his thigh. This in my opinion is clearly a parody of sexual ejaculation.
He uses erotic language at this point but referring to blood instead of semen. The irony being that here we have the loss of life, in the sense of his limbs and feelings, as opposed to the creation of life. This plays on the point that his injuries, as a result of urges from his girlfriend, have caused him to become repulsive to women. The man has not only lost the ability to make children but he has lost the sexual magnetism that he had as a boy, as a result of this he has lost his pride as well.
Pride plays a major part in a young boys life. He will go on to remember days when he won something or triumphed in some way. His pride will live on throughout his years. The thing that he remembers is a football match. He remembers, “A blood smear down his leg, after the matches, carried shoulder-high. ” He remembers the pride he got from wearing his wound as a token of a great achievement. The thing that makes him saddened is that he had gone and bore a great achievement, from the war, and has returned bearing his wound and instead of the pride he got at the game. Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer goal. ”
This shows us that the life where he would wear his wounds proud as a token of a small achievement was given in for a life where he mourns for the small achievement and the wound that came with it, rather than the wound that came with the great achievement and left him sad and bare. The reason he joined the war was because of his girlfriend, Meg, and this he remembers was because he’d look “a god in kilts. ” This is because he is most probably Scottish and they said he would look good in uniform.
He said that it was ” to please the giddy jilts,” this was a Scottish term give to women. The two poems I have covered are very similar. They cover the same points but from different angles and perspectives, this gives us a wider and more in-depth view of Owen beliefs. The first poem seems more like a poem to me, as it is rhythmical and follows through in pattern. Disabled does not follow this pattern although it rhymes it doesn’t have the same consistency as the first. The first poem is more graphic and in my opinion is meant to scare the reader.
I had trouble keeping the graphic images and imaginations out of my head as they lead your mind to the situation and you feel slightly bewildered by it realism and depth. The second poem is not as leading as the first. You are feeling sorry for the man but not in the same way as in the first. The second poem shows how the sadness and mistakes of a young boy leads to him being bitter and upset. The first poem however is quick and graphic and puts you almost in the horrors of the trench life and this is what Owen was trying to do and he certainly succeeded.