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Futility of War Illustrated in Wilfred Owen’s Poems

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Wilfred Owen was a 19th century war poet who’s purpose was to inform the general public of the horrific realities of war that corrupt and influence innocent young men. Owen, having experienced war and the effect it has on humanity, explores and develops powerful ideas such as loss, which subsequently deals with the loss of life, youth and innocence. He also focuses on the overall idea of the negativity of war and its effect on society. Physical, psychological and emotional suffering is also dealt with in his poems. The poem ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ Deals with these ideas and reflects both on the ideas and characteristics of Owen’s poetry as a whole.

The idea of loss and its sub sequential ideas of the loss of youth, innocence and life used in ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ provide a grounding establishment in relation to Owen’s poetry as a whole. In the poem, the soldiers are described as desperate men. The alliteration; “knock-kneed” and simile; “coughing like hags” and “like old beggars” create the effect that the men have prematurely aged well past their youth, experiencing physical and psychological exhaustion, therefore creating a sense of loss of youth and well-being. This strongly relates to the poem ‘Disabled’, and the lines “There was an artist silly for his face, For it was younger than his youth, last year. Now, he is old; his back will never brace;” which contrasts past and present and expresses the loss of youth.

Owen also creates powerful visual imagery of his deceased comrade who was helplessly slaughtered “under a green sea” of gas, which expresses Owen’s anger and hatred towards the war and its futility. The similes “like a devils sick of sin;” and “Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud of vile,” express the corpse’s tragic appearance, with “the white eyes writhing in his face” and his “froth corrupted lungs”, and create the hyperbolic tragedy of the deceased soldier. The repetition of the word ‘you’ in the final stanza emphasises this loss as Owen is rhetorically asking the audience to experience the things that they have, with a sarcastic tone, whilst mocking “The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” meaning, ‘it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country’. This loss of life relates to all of Owen’s poetry, as a dying or deceased man is described in nearly everyone one of his poems, expressing the sacrifice of war. Powerful imagery and literary techniques develop the idea of loss and reflect on the ideas and characteristics of Owen’s poetry as whole.

‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ also deals with overall idea of the negativity of war through the use of irony. The title of the poem is ironic in itself, as the poet strongly believes the opposite of its meaning, and is in fact mocking the statement. This mocking tone is also emphasised in the final stanza as the statement is repeated, succeeding the words “The old Lie”, which expresses the poet’s belief that war is not glorious; it is inhumane and futile. The negative aspects of war are developed throughout the poem, and reflect both the ideas and characteristics of Owen’s poetry as whole, as he forcefully contradicts the negativity of war, which is expressed in his poems through the use of irony and powerful visual imagery.

The idea of suffering vividly presents itself throughout the poem, whether it is physical, psychological or emotional. In the third stanza, the pace of the poem transitions in to rushed and frantic, as the soldiers are “Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time” as they are being surrounded by poisonous gas. Owen describes the suffering of one unlucky soldier who failed to do so, through the use of strong verbs such as “guttering, choking, drowning”. The repetition of the verb ‘drowning’ when connected with the simile “as under a green sea” when describing the gas, emphasises the suffering and illustrates horrific imagery.

This idea of helpless slaughter relates to the poem ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ as the soldiers are described as boys “who die as cattle,” expressing the suffering of their feeble butchery. Figurative language such as “Drunk with fatigue;” emphasises the idea of suffering in ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ as it expresses the physical suffering of their health, and yet their psychological suffering as they are light-headed and disoriented as a result of their physical suffering. This idea of psychological suffering relates to the poem ‘Mental Cases’ as the patients cannot extricate the carnage they have witnessed and partaken in, whilst “Memory fingers in their hair of murders,” and cannot escape the suffering in their minds. Strong imagery and language techniques assist Owen in his exploration and development of suffering and reflect on his ideas and characteristics of his collection of poetry as a whole.

In conclusion, Wilfred Owen develops and explores powerful ideas and vivid concepts through the use of his broad range of literary techniques and strong imagery of war, which deals with loss, suffering and the overall negativity of war. ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ is an admirable example of one of Owen’s poems which depicts these ideas and reflects both the ideas and characteristics of his poetry as a whole.

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