The way two poems by Wilfred Owen show the real horrors of war

On the 1st August 1914: Germany declared war on Great Britain. The war was to end at Christmas, with a clear victory for Britain. However, it was soon apparent that this was not true and the severity of war was ever growing into what seemed an un-realistic triumph against the advancing German troops. Christmas had come and gone and attitudes towards the war were slowly beginning to deteriorate. The government answered the crisis with a huge propaganda machine which continuously pumped bravura images of war into the British people’s minds. War was portrayed to seem glorious and enjoyable.

At the start of the First World War, war was exposed as a glorious and credible cause. Fighting for your country was deemed as the duty of any credible man. Being able to represent your country on the battlefield was the greatest honor a man could have. Through the intervention of war, there was an outcry of patriotism. Men were engulfed with idea of being able to fight for their country’s future. People even began to think that governing their country came before themselves. Men used to fall over themselves when signing up to fight for their country. Even women used to force their husband and sons to go and do their duty, which was to fight.

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Patriotism is when you show love, affection and pride towards your country when you are ready to die for your country. At this time poetry was written to encourage men to go and fight, propagandist poets like Jessie Pope wrote persuasive and fun war poetry to enforce this glorified view of war. The image, views and attitudes towards war depleted somewhat over the course of time. The patriotic ideals and the concept of war were all dismantled when soldiers returned from war and spoke of the horrors of it contained. People’s attitudes slowly began to change.

Poets like Wilfred Owen wrote horrific war poetry to reveal his experience of war and also to bring people out of the disillusionment that war was magnificent. He also wanted to obliterate the image of war created by war propaganda. Wilfred Owen was an English poet who specialized in writing war poetry, mainly because he endured war and its consequences. He joined the Army in October 1915. Most likely expectant of glory and recognition. Little did he know he would eventually fight in the Battle of the Somme? He was put in hospital only two years after he joined in 1917 because of horrendous shell shock.

This was caused by the explosions from shells and the content of war in general. When in hospital he became acquainted with Siegfried Sassoon, who was also a war poet. Each poet was strongly against the war and all it stood for. When in hospital (and in contact with on another) they greatly contributed to each other’s poetry. Wilfred Owen decided to rejoin the Armed Forces in 1819. Unfortunately he died soon before armistices. It was only when the war and his life came to an end that his poetry was truly recognized. Wilfred Owens poetry examines and portrays a graphical and more truthful tale of war.

As he felt that those who were not in the conflict should not be shielded from the awful truth of war. He once said “The poetry is in the pity. ” These words really exaggerate his empathy for those who had lost their lives and those whose lives had been tragically altered as a result of war. Owen really strives to depict the horror of war by using extremely graphic images, both mentally and physically. A famous Wilfred Owen poem is ‘Disabled. ‘ It is about a young soldier who joins the army hoping for respect and a glorious and victorious experience but returns home with only a mutilated torso to show for his efforts.

The poems describes the young mans physical and emotional turmoil before and after his injury. It describes how he is looked upon as revolting and how no one respects what he did for his country. His disablement is an obvious point in this poem. But there is a strong mental aspect also included. The man is young. He had a whole life ahead of him, with women and money perhaps. But he is now looked upon as vile by women. And his chances of any job are now dashed. ‘

Perhaps an even more famous poem of Wilfred Owens is ‘Dolce et Decorum est. This poem describes the ruthless, repulsive, filthy and disease ridden life of the trenches very graphically. Owen uses strong mental images to achieve this. I have chosen these two poems as they are each very different and use different linguistic devices to achieve their goal. But each succeeds very effectively. ‘Disabled’: This poem gradually makes the reader feel pity for the character in question. The rhyme scheme plays a large part in this poem. The first verse introduces the main character. He is a young man who has been reduced to a torso by war and has seemingly no prospects in life. The character is never given a name.

This adds to the feeling of worthlessness and meaningless of his life. “… Waiting for dark… ” The first line, exaggerates his loneliness and his pointless life. The word dark however, is often associated with death. So not only could this man be waiting for dark so he could sleep and find a safe place away from the outside. He could be waiting for his death, to end his suffering, his pain and his anguish. The character is said to shiver, automatically one thinks “cold”, but shivering is also associated with fear. He has a grey suit. This implies dimness and lifelessness. ‘Legless, sewn short at elbow… ‘

The quote above has been written in very quick short parts. This helps to get the severity across to the reader. But also the usage of short, quick and succinct lines once again reinforces the idea of a worthless man who can now not do anything due to his disablement. The short sentences also imply how small and crippled he actually is due to his deformed state. There is a reference in the poem to young boys playing in the park. This adds to the contrast between his former active self to his now inadequate, crippled state. ‘Voices of boys rang… ‘ The quote illustrates bitterness felt be the lonely character.

Obviously as a young boy he used to play in the park himself so the further use of contrasts ensures the reader feels yet more pity for the man who’s childhood and active life is now gone. Owen uses this comparison as it also highlights how innocent youth is, yet as the reader we get a sense that the deformed man can now never be thought of as an innocent being again because he has been involved in war. It’s like his injury is a constant reminder of war and the images he saw have not only stripped him of his freedom but also of his innocence and purity. Hymns are mentioned in the poem.

This makes one think of churches. Churches are thought of as quiet solemn places where the dead go to rest. ‘… saddening like a hymn. ‘ By using religious related words and phrases, Owen makes the reader listen and pay more attention, as we often associate religion with importance. Owen also uses religious expressions to convey imagery of death. Owen allows the reader to believe that the crippled man is already dead as he has lost the ability to live. Owen does this to simply emphasize the mans insignificance. The last line in the first stanza is longer than any of the other sentences present in the verse.

Also the words Owen uses are much longer. ‘Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him. ‘ By using longer lines and words, Owen slows the pace of the poem down a little and adds a feeling of peace to the verse. This feeling of peace felt by the reader can be related to death, so the last line is almost like a closing line or a closing chapter in his life. The second stanza emphasizes his disability and adds on this hyperbole of what the man could once do. ‘… Town used to swing so gay… ‘ The quote above makes the reader feel yet more pity for the subject.

It exaggerates the contrast between his former self and his current disability. An even further reference to his former life is the line; “And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim… ” The reference to the opposite sex once again adds further pity on the subject and allows the reader to make a comparison with his former life. It also illustrates to the reader the crippled mans inability to socialize with others. This once again builds on this image of meaninglessness. The reader is latter shocked by the verse, when Owen speaks of the man throwing away his own knees; “… before he threw away his knees. ”

The line arouses curiosity from the reader as it is a paradoxical because you can not physically throw away your knees. The quote outlined above gives the impression that the deformed mans war efforts are sacrificial in a way. This time the reader is made to feel pity for the man as Owen creates a sense of regret felt by the man. We feel as though the man feels as if it is soul responsibility that he has lost his legs and therefore the ability to live a normal life. Yet, we know we know as the reader that it was probably not this mans fault at all but the fault of the propagandists that knowingly persuaded him to enroll into the British army.

The third verse speaks of his time when he lost his legs. In this stanza, Owen openly disapproves the adage that it is good to fight for your country. The language Owen uses to describe the loss of the mans legs is emotive and evokes sympathy and understanding from the reader. “Poured it down shell holes till the veins ran dry, And half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race, And leap of purple spurted from his thigh. ” These lines refer to his memories of battle and scenes on the field. Color is a word which Owen uses to help the reader, relate to the man’s color. For now he has none, no blood, no life, and no essence.

Losing blood is referred to in the second line, “… Poured it down shell holes till the veins ran dry… ” This infers that the man has not only been wounded, but most disturbingly his blood was knowingly poured down the shell holes. This creates a very hostile atmosphere from the reader because we once again feel this sense of regret felt by the man and we also feel that war not only injures men physically but also mentally by stripping them of their pride and dignity. The loss of this mans limbs is also depicted as valiant, glorious and perhaps something he should be remembered for.

But of course, we know as the reader he never is. This is shown by the depiction of the man’s bleeding i. e. the last line of this verse, “… leap of purple… ” The use of the color makes the experience and situation sound more heroic and valiant. But purple is also a very solemn, dark lifeless color. So this could also mean that the blood (being not only his blood but his life) could be worthless and desolate. Perhaps this injury is the one that cost him his legs; it also contributes to the subject losing his energy.

It is written with longer words to make it sound harsher, almost like a warning to others. The fourth verse concentrates more on the physical aspect of his disability and his distorted, malformed state. The first line speaks of his past life. Once again emphasizing the contrast between his comparatively physical active life to his now completely isolated inactive life. The poem also for the first time, talks of the young mans age. “Smiling they wrote his lie; aged nineteen years… ” We are shocked as the reader because morally we know lying is wrong.

We are also shocked because we do not assume that people would knowingly and smile while lying to a young chaste boy. Also we learn that the cripple is in fact a boy not a man like we automatically assume. This adds a further sense of empathy felt by the reader for the young boy whose life is now ruined. Verse four focuses more on the fact that the thousands of eager young men that signed up to the army in search of glory, returned home injured and scared by the experience.

Owen is trying to inform the reader of the truth that men do not return home as heroes but as marred forgotten soldiers. He thought he’d better join. He wonders why. ” This line gives the impression that this boy joined up (like so many others) solely to impress his friends and women. It once again ponders on this sense of regret. This time however, we are given the sense that he felt it necessary to join up. He felt it almost as a duty to join the army. This builds on the empathy felt by the reader because we feel like it actually wasn’t his fault but the propagandists which glorified the image of war and all it contained.

The lines”… his Meg… and because, “Someone had said he’d look a god in kilts… ” Both build on the empathy felt from the two previous lines. The quotes imply that impressing his girlfriend seemed to be at the top of his agenda and looking good for friends and family and his country perhaps also played a role in his reason for joining. The reasons however are all very petit and rather poor. So it seems that if it wasn’t for his vanity he could have lived a normal life. However we question whether his vanity was purposely targeted by propagandists to give the young boy an incentive to join the British army.

The first lines of the fifth verse try to compare the honor of football with the supposed honor of life as a soldier. Also, the football matches mentioned are used to compare to the vicious conflict that is war to the fun and exciting game of football. Football matches are supposed to be fun, friendly and light hearted. Where as war is anything but “After the matches, carried shoulder high. ” This quote reveals to the reader that the boy used to be involved in football matches, but not only that but afterwards he was the hero of the match which everyone carried shoulder high.

This evokes sympathy from the reader because we feel that he joined the army so that he was part of a team because as this line implies he thoroughly enjoyed being one of the lads. Conversely we know that the army only led to the boy being crippled, so that he can know longer be part of a team. Owen uses this comparison to provoke a sympathetic response from the reader because the quote once again strengthens this idea that the boy is now alone. From when the boy decided to join up to the army, the realization that his actions where mistake, begin to show. “And no fears Of Fear came yet. The word ‘fear’ is used twice here and in the same laconic line and the second time the word appears it is written in capitals. This clearly makes the word seem more prominent and more significant than the last word. As the reader we get a sense that Owen has used the word ‘Fear’ twice because he wants us to question why he has done it.

When Owen uses the word ‘fear’ for the second time I feel that this fear is perhaps the boy’s ultimate fear, the fear of ones own death or the fear of what may happen. Owen once again uses the comparison of football and war. Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal. ” Owen makes use of this seemingly unimaginable comparison to show the contrast between his former active life and his new life of total and utter solitude. Owen uses this comparison to show the friendly feud that is football and the ultimately competitive battle that is war. It also reminds you of his youth before the war and his decrepit state after it. The impression that the majority of readers will obtain from this poem is that the boy has not only lost his limbs at war but his life and future also.

Most of the lines in the poem are meant to make the reader feel pity for the subject. Owen goes on to describe his life in the nursing home and peoples lack off appreciation for what the boy did for his country in the Battle of the Somme as well as his social rejection, especially from the opposite sex. “To-night he noticed how the women’s eyes… ” “Passed from him to the strong men… ” The quotes above show how lonesome the boy is. These quotes shock the reader because we would think that a soldier would receive the best care and be given abundance of attention.

As a result we feel deceived because we believe that soldiers are looked after once they return from fighting. Owen highlights here, how easily one can be deceived, this adds on the progression of the empathy felt by the reader for the boy. We feel that he has been betrayed by his country because the propagandists told him that he would never have to be lonely again. However, now no women will look or interact with him. This also builds on the tension felt by the reader because the boy has now been rejected, and we almost feel like he has been abandoned by everyone.

The boy’s rejection is highlighted when Owen speaks of the boys visitors. At the nursing home, the man’s only visitor is; “… a solemn man… ” We automatically assume that the solemn man mentioned is a vicar. This adds to the thought that the boy is waiting to die and almost as if his death is lingering. Owen is openly opposing and stressing upon the lies told by the propagandists, as the reader we are once again stunned by Owen because we would normally presume that soldiers would die a heroic death. The visitor is not said to take any real notice of the boy dying, there is no evidence of praise or pity.

It is as if the man (vicar) is there out of duty and nothing more. The image of the vicar also, makes one think of churches and services. A service which could easily be his funeral. The closing stanza is again about the subject of the boy dying. The verse is morbid and blunt. The last verse again tries to make the reader pity the subject. “Now he will spend a few sick years in institutes… ” The use of the word few suggests he has little time, and the use of the word sick implies those years will almost not be worth living. Owen is once again highlighting the boys need to die.

The use of the word institute, gives the reader a feeling of tradition and routine. But we know that the routine is clearly because he cannot look and take of himself. This provokes sympathy from the reader because we feel empathy for the boy. The idea of routine is stressed upon again in the following lines, “And do what things the rules consider wise, And take whatever pity they may dole. ” In these lines, the idea of an institution where one must follow a regime is clearly stated; we feel here that he has absolutely no life whatsoever.

The boy instead must follow this regime as he has no choice as to what he does anymore. Owen here depicts the horrors of war but not as the reader would assume because as the general public we do not understand the mental effects war can have on a certain person, especially a young boy. The idea of self pity is shown in the second line . The line infers that the subject should take any pity he comes across, even if it has to come from himself.

This simply produces further concern felt by the reader for the young boy. The last lines describe his want of peace (death) and his dependency. How cold and late it is! Why don’t they come? ” “And put him to bed? Why don’t they come? ” The quotes above imply the need of the young boy, yet no-one seems to come and help him. Once again though we get this un-ease that he is actually waiting for death. Owen really strives here to depict the horrors war can lead to, the sense of a life ended before it had even begun. After reading this poem the reader is left with the tale of a destroyed life. A boy with so many prospects transformed to a decrepit cripple who is totally dependent on others and cut of from any form of social activity.

In the poem ‘Disabled’ Owen describes the terrors war can enforce on those who take part in it. Owen tells us of the physical injuries it can leave on a person, but he also informs us of the mental aspect that the memories of war can have on people. ‘Dulce et Decorum est’. This poem is like an account of the things, which Wilfred Owen saw and went through. Wilfred Owen talks about how harsh war is and also how hard it is. The poem isn’t has intensely graphic as the poem “Disabled”. There is much more reference to the subjects physical state also. The poem talks of the entire army; of everyone at war.

The first line gets straight to the point .”Bent double, like old beggars under sacks… ” “Beggar” is a very derogative phrase, when used it instantly takes way any sense of power or valor that one may have. So the soldiers instantly become dirty and worthless. Therefore this line has an immediate impact on the reader because it challenges the common, perceived view of war. By doing this Owen straight away captures the interest of the reader because he describes the true and real physical state of soldiers instead of the lies that we are told.

The second line does much the same thing, Knock-kneed, coughing like hags… ” Coughing conjures up an image of death and illness, not an image one would usually associate with soldiers. Owen uses this contrast to shed light on the fact the soldiers were not as we thought and believed heroic, they were however ill and old before their time. This shares the image we were earlier told in the poem when the soldiers are described to have become decrepit and ill. Here, Owen suggests the physical horrors of war. The next line in the poem, Owen talks of walking to the battle field, “… we curse through sludge… ”

This quote had a great impact on the reader as it makes the reader imagine the soldiers to be literally cursing the day they joined the army. Also the words ‘Curse’ and ‘Sludge’ are difficult to say and cannot be said quickly. This ensures the reader understands the difficulty of war and just how horrifying war is. The next line which shows how horrendous war is the following, “Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs… ” This line gives the impression that hope is lost, and that the flares mean nothing, it conveys imagery that the soldiers have seen the flares so many times already that they had lost their meaning.

The use of the word “haunting” suggests that the flares were warning the soldiers of possible dangers and this is what the soldiers feared. Also Owen talks of the soldiers turning their backs on the battle fields. This confronts the image we hold of war, because we do not imagine that a soldier would turn their back on their country. This arouses curiosity from the reader because we wonder and question what could be so bad that the soldiers would want to return home. By arousing the reader’s curiosity, Owen allows them to reflect upon horrors they might think of.

The next line makes use of the word trudge. And towards our distant rest began to trudge. ” This word suggests a slow, painful and undignified form of marching. Also once again, Owen uses the word because it cannot be said quickly; this guarantees the reader reflects upon the word and its meaning. The reader then realizes how improper war is. The next line again shows the tiredness and depression of the subjects. “Men marched asleep… ” An obvious reference of tiredness. Owen implies in this quote above how brave the soldiers had to be to survive this horrific predicament which has been conveniently named war.

The reader is once again left shocked because Owen destroys the view that soldiers were gallant and heroic, he shows that soldiers were not prepared for war as they marched asleep. The next few lines further build on the awfulness of war, “… Many had lost their boots… ” To lose your boots when walking miles on end would be a tragic loss. But to any man not involved in the war, this would be a problem easily overcome. Here, Owen suggests that the soldiers were not correctly fitted out with equipment and supplies. This implies chaos and disorder because men would probably fight for equipment they didn’t have and needed.

The reader gets a sense that war was a survival of the fittest mentally and physically. The next set of lines refers to the soldiers personally. “But limped on blood-shod. All went lame, all blind; Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots. ” The word “Limped” implies injury and fatigue. Not words one would usually and commonly associate with soldiers. The next line refers to the soldiers as “drunk with fatigue. ” This suggests that the soldiers had been drinking spirits to try and block the fear out, or that the fatigue they are experiencing is so severe they feel drunk.

By writing these lines Owen informs the reader that soldiers had little rights and freedom, they instead no matter how tired or ill had to continue the journey. This builds anger and frustration from the reader because we feel that it is wrong to force someone especially young soldiers to do things to the point were it drives them drunk with tiredness. Owen portrays that war doesn’t in fact bring freewill and liberty only enforces and oppresses more people into doing things they do not want to do.

Gas is mentioned in the poem on two occasions and in both the reader is left shocked. “… gas shells dropping softly behind” This gives the reader the impression of a paratrooper landing behind enemy lines; it gives the gas a personal feel. He also tells us how men went deaf after the continuous gas shells explosions. Owen says the gas shells dropped softly behind because they were unable to hear the full impact, as they had become deaf. This once again reinforces the idea that soldiers were stripped of personal belongings and in this case something as important as hearing.

When we think of a soldier we think of a hero and a typical born leader with many exaggerated characteristics, not deaf men who march asleep. Owen is trying it shed awareness that war did not make heroes only destroyed young men’s lives. The second time gas is mentioned in the poem the language is more graphical and conveys more ghastly imagery. “Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! ” This short sentence is a dramatic change from the slow pace of the last lines. The use of short words really ups the tempo and gives an image of confusion and fumbling. The words Owen uses are monosyllabic and as a result stress the alarm.

Also the quick and dramatic change in tempo, symbolizes how unexpectedly things happened on the battlefield such as the gas shells exploding and how important it was for the soldiers to be on guard. Owen continues to describe the gas attack on the soldiers. “An ecstasy of fumbling… ” The word ecstasy could really be referring to the soldier’s unimaginable emotions, the terror, the excitement and the adrenalin. The fumbling really gives an image of panic and terror. It conjures an image of the soldiers desperately reaching for their masks. “… lumsy helmets… ” “… yelling out and stumbling… ” “And floundering… ” These lines give an impression of terror among the soldiers as they become consumed by the gas, because of the gas the soldiers panic and become clumsier. Owen really strives to depict the horror the soldiers faced. The next line describes the last few minutes of a soldiers life as he is drowned by gas. “… floundering like a man in fire or lime… ” The use of the word fire makes one think of hell. This man could be slipping from his life and experiencing “hell” as it were.

Owen writes that a man was unable to put on his helmet and as a result started floundering. This word is usually used to describe fish when they jump out of the water, Owen uses the word in this context as he describes a man drowning under a green sea. Also when in the water one tends to be less coordinated and becomes clumsy. Owen further examines the sea as being green because it was full of gas, when you read this the images you get are striking as well as being ghastly. Owen goes on to describe the full extend of the gas attack. “Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. ” The color of the gas in question is “green”; the light color (green) is no doubt caused by the gas. When one is consumed by gas, they are effectively drowned. As the gas fills their lungs and burns them from the inside. So the use of the word “sea” is more affective than the word gas, as it puts the image of drowning across with a much stronger emphasis. Owen has made use of this fact in the last few lines in the stanza also. “As under a green sea I saw him drowning… ” Water plays a significant part in Owens descriptive words.

It makes the poem seem more relatable and believable. It also builds shock and disbelief from the reader because he has taken something harmless and fun and placed into a context where it is dangerous and fear-provoking. Owen is informing the reader of the effects of gas attacks. The next two lines continue with the gas attack victim, “In all my dreams before my helpless sight He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. ” The word ‘my’ gives the poem and situation a personal feel. Owen speaks of his experience; this ensures the reader knows the event is true and factual.

However, it also adds this feeling of unease from the reader because Owen seems to have memorized the disturbing situation. The reference to dreams however is intended to make one think of the mental anguish experienced by witnessing such a traumatic event. Again the word drowning is used. This is because of all the images that come with it: fumbling, clumsiness and fatigue. Owen attempts to make the reader realize the situations soldiers faced and how helpless they were. The last verse in considerably more graphic, this is to shock the reader into a sense of realism.

Owen describes how he sees a man die in front of him because he had been able to put his gas mask on in time. Owen uses words such as drowning and choking to emphasize the full impact of the gas attack. “If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace… ” The word smothering is again related to drowning. The line is for the first time directed at the reader, making the reader try and imagine how they would feel and what their emotions would be. By doing this Owen creates a relationship with the reader which makes the poem seem even more drastic because we feel like we are in a conversation with Owen.

It also allows us to become vulnerable because we question what we would do if we were placed in the situation. We begin to feel intimidated by Owen therefore we pay more attention to what we are reading. In the next lines the disposal of a dead soldier is explained. “Behind the wagon that we flung him in,” The word “flung” is used, this puts an image of routine and indignity across to the reader. It is almost like the man has become worthless, he is simply chucked behind the wagon like an animal would be disposed of.

This creates a shocked and stunned reaction from the reader because we feel that it is an improper and indecorous burial for a man which has died and fought for their country. The following line describes a dying soldier. “His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin; The four graphic and shocking lines above describe the man who had just tragically died from the gas. Owen uses words such as “devils sick of sin” to depict what the dead mans face looked like. This phrase makes one think that the soldier is tired of living his life and hopes for it to end soon so that he can live a sin free afterlife.

The devil also carries images of death and decay as opposed to a glorious death. This is emotive language used by Owen to stress how dire and appalling the conditions of war were. No metaphors are used. Just what the soldiers themselves would experience. This makes the event seem more realistic almost as if one is there. Owen does this so that we can reflect upon the situation that has just occurred in our own way and feel extra pity for the man as we feel he has been robbed of his life. “If you could hear at every jolt, the blood Come gargling forth from the froth-corrupted lungs,

Bitter as the cud Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues… ” This verse again is partly directed at the reader, the phrase “… If you could hear at every jolt… ” clearly shows this. The stanza continues to describe in graphical detail the actual death of the soldier that died due to the gas attack. The use of the word “corrupted” suggests that the froth is actually evil therefore corrupting the once good mans sole. Not only his sole but corrupting his life, his very essence. The same connotations surrounding evil are once again conjured up in the