Wilfred Owen, one of the greatest of the war poets, filled every poem he wrote with blood, fire, pain, suffering and agony. Living only until the age of 25, he had little time to develop his abilities, yet he wrote with a masterful variety of images. He easily found parallels between his own experience and that of the great Romantics. As he was a war poet, our immediate assumption is that his poems are protests, but this is not the case. The war was a human catastrophe and he himself was part of it. In “At a cavalry near the ancre” he adapts biblical images to describe the war.
The Church sends priests to the trenches to watch the soldiers die, and they also get wounded (“flesh-marked”) and take pride (“faces there is pride”) . The Beast represents Germany who is denied by Christ, as is the Devil in the Bible. The word “Golgotha” means death, being a dramatic and yet deeply spiritual reference to the site of the Crucifixion. The poem “Dulce et Decorum…. ” sounds like a nightmare, as the completely exhausted soldiers march toward a “distant rest”, and no one knows where that will be.
Owen’s use of words, such as “under”, “sludge” and “trudge”, and the constant use of the “o” letter makes the march sound as if it was a funeral. In the second verse, the gas attack suddenly wakes up everybody, and the line “in all my dreams” is symbolical of the fact that he has a recurring nightmare about the soldier who dies in the attack in his arms. He vividly describes his face, tongue, eyes and lips “like a devil’s sick of sin”. In the last lines the poet warns us not to believe in the lie of “desperate glory”, because it can only be tragic (The actual meaning of the last line is: “how sweet and grand it is to die for one’s country”).
Owen uses very similar images to describe the horrors of war in “Mental Cases”. Darkness is the twilight of hell, an image of the loneliness of the poet or of the desolation of war. In this poem he refers to the disabled and of the vision of the damned in hell. He sees men who have witnessed “multitudinous” murders and who are condemned always to see the horrors they once saw, as they suffer torment and nightmares. The sounds of “c” and “s” are dominating, suggesting the movement of the madmen. The most common subjects in the poems are faces and laughter.
Faces, especially eyes and lips, are mentioned again and again, and often they are laughing with hilarity-“set smiling corpses” . The war poems contain many images more commonly found in love poetry-roses, music, lips and eyes, voices. In the poem Dulce Et Decorum Est, Owen talks about how weak the soldiers really are. “Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,” and “Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots” are two important lines in the poem that help illustrate this point. You can see by these two lines that the soldiers in this poem are in bad shape. The whole poem in general is about the soldiers suffering at war.
It is about what they have to endure to be considered honorable. However, at the same time they are not looking very honorable. They are barley staying alive, let alone standing up, fighting, and being very brave. Anthem for Doomed Youth is another of Owen’s war poems. This poem makes war look even more depressing then the first. The first line of the poem is really powerful: “WHAT passing-bells for these who die as cattle? “. War is supposed to be about fighting for your country and dying honorably. This poem makes it sound like humans are being taken to the slaughterhouse.
No one can think of this as an honorable death of heroic fighting. There is a lot going on in the poem “The Send-Off”. I think that what this poem is trying to say is that when we go into battle we want to do out best, be our bravest, be our best. However, when we are in battle the whole scenario changes. Arguably his most famous poem, “Dulce et Decorum Est”, is a fine example of his narrative, first-person poems, written through his own eyes and based on his own experiences and views of the war. Using four clear stanzas, the poem uses standard, alternate rhyming lines.
A slow, painstaking rhythm is established at the beginning of the poem through Owen’s use of heavy, long words and end-stop lines, in order to illustrate just how slow and painstaking the war was. The pace then quickens during the final stanza (a rhythm achieved by the use of lines with fewer syllables and run-on endings), so that it contrasts with Owen’s emotional conclusion given in the last four lines, drawing our attention to this particular point, the whole meaning of the poem as far as the poet is concerned: “If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, bitter as the cud. In contrast, another of Owen’s poems, “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, can be easily distinguished from many of his other works, as it is, in fact, a sonnet. Like all sonnets, this one has fourteen lines, divided up into two movements, with an initial, alternate line rhyme scheme used, changing to a more unusual sextet in the final movement. In this movement, the first and fourth lines rhyme, as do the second and third, and it ends on a couplet.
This poem, unlike “Dulce et Decorum Est”, starts off at a quicker pace, then continues to decelerate throughout the poem, drawing to a slow sombre close; another, equally effective way to really drive home Owen’s point to the poem in the final few lines. The slowing down of the rhythm is aided by syllabic variation along the lines, before settling on a steady, ten per line for the last couple of lines. But these technical formats alone did not make Owen’s war poems as believable and empathetic as they actually are.
To express his views and notions, he could escape from the frowning public who disagreed with his controversial stance on the war, and put them on paper. And it is perhaps this real hatred towards the war that he felt, and the real belief that he was right, that spurred Owen into some of the most heartfelt poems that he ever wrote. But the personal feel of his poems alone would not create the final result Owen wanted, it is his use of cunning poetic techniques that have made his poems believable and realistic enough for the reader. Take “Dulce et Decorum Est” for example.
Immediately, in the first stanza, Owen uses similes to introduce an intense atmospheric feel to the poem, with onomatopoeic words like “trudge” and “sludge” making it an interesting and entertaining piece of work: “Bent double like old beggars under sacks, knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through the sludge,”. The way Owen captures the appearance of the soldiers as cripples, just makes them seem even more alienated and distant to us, and the disjointed, monotonous way they are seen, echoes this particular group of men, their disorderly fashion, and their dull, repetitive journey.
The alliterative “knock-kneed” phrase also slows and dulls down the tempo greatly: “Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots, but limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind”. And then the gas attack, put incredibly realistically into words by Owen here. The “guttering, choking, drowning,” phrase showing the repetitive, prolonged anguish of the soldier as he “plunges” towards his death. In fact, throughout “Dulce et Decorum Est”, a surreal feel to the poem is established by Owen’s continual use of metaphors when describing the atrocious scenes: “As under a green sea, I saw him drowning,”.
Anthem for Doomed Youth”, however, uses real, physical objects, linked in with heavily descriptive words, as a different way of representing the action. These two techniques both result in a similar effect, by creating a real atmosphere in the poems, whilst delivering a believable, yet dramatic account. The vivid imagery in these poems makes the reader think, whilst Owen’s imagination can run wild. The first movement of “Anthem for Doomed Youth” shows clearly how Owen intends to use some of his poetic techniques, even if they aren’t particularly tasteful in the context that they are used: “What passing bells for those who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns. Only the stuttering rifles rapid rattle can patter out their hasty orisons. ” Owen’s distinct combination of the loud noises of war, with the quiet sombre feel of a funeral is one of the main effects in the poem, but the personification of the dead soldiers as cattle, (as opposed to the cripples in “Dulce et Decorum Est”) as well as the alliterative and also onomatopoeic “stuttering rifles rapid rattle,” seem somewhat inappropriate.
A lot of the religious aspects in all of his war poems, may well stem from his past, and his time working in his local parish church, a time when religion was very important to him. Although by this stage, his views on religion may well have changed, his views on the ruthless murdering taking place in the fields were clearly very strong still. The very title “Anthem for Doomed Youth,” with anthems usually being associated with love and passion, is very deliberately ironic, a way Owen shows how ridiculous he really thought the war was.
The fact that the ‘cattle’ he speaks of aren’t actually getting proper burials, just horrific mass burials, if any, just shows how Owen’s irony in giving them their only real burial, only highlights the huge, and, in Owen’s opinion, crazy sacrifice that the soldiers gave. But why did Owen write both of these poems? Some argue that all of Owen’s war poems are extremely opinionated, and even, in extreme cases, of a propagandist nature, but most people agree that although Owen’s poetry was very opinionated, he was just expressing his views, and showing those at home what the war was actually like.
For much of Owen’s work was not published until after the war, and indeed his death, so the only rewards Owen could possibly gain were to satisfy his own need to clear his mind of the horrors he had witnessed on the battlefield. And although “Dulce et Decorum Est” is possibly the finest piece of war poetry ever written, it is only a detailed account of war life, not forcing the reader into believing his view of the war. It merely offers the reader the chance in his final stanza, to have a long hard think about how they would feel if placed in the same situation as Owen was: “If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace”
In “Anthem for Doomed Youth” Owen again asks questions of the reader, in order to make them think more about the poem, but this time, the questions are deliberately easy to answer, and perhaps rhetorical, as Owen goes on to answer them in graphic detail, just to drive home how obviously stupid the war actually was. This more subtly used technique does exactly the same job, offering the reader to step into his, or any other soldier’s shoes, just for a moment, in order to encounter the tragedy that he encountered: “What passing bells who die as cattle? What candles may be held to speed them all? These questions may well be questions that he has already asked himself, and although he has found the answers to them, he feels the British public (to whom he is addressing the poem) have yet to come to terms with the horror that took place in those far-off lands. While “Dulce et Decorum Est” is a first person narrative of something similar to what happened to him during his service, “Anthem for Doomed Youth” shows a more mature side to his writing, a more complex form, but also a different way to make the reader think, as he shows his views with retrospect.
The personal feel that Owen creates with “Dulce et Decorum Est” makes the reader empathise with the soldiers involved, and comes mainly from the fact that it is a narrative, a real-life encounter that seems to be here and now. In “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, Owen has deliberately distanced himself from the poem, giving a descriptive account, not a narrative, but more of a philosophical viewpoint. Although these poems are all based on war, they both use entirely different ways to end up at a similar conclusion. Dulce et Decorum Est” allows the reader a glimpse into how the war really was, out there at the front. A real action poem, the gas attack shows a common, and thoroughly gory scenario from his experiences, but that which seems very unreal to the reader. ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ however, looks at the consequences of war, not at a scene from the war, and although much of the gore is not present, Owen’s clever metaphors and vivid sounds are enough to make any reader see his point of view.
It is the fluid, flexible language that really makes Owen’s poems stand out, and it is the language alone that allows him to so easily adapt his works to just how he requires them in order to make his intended audience think. Take “Dulce et Decorum Est” for example. The haunting adaptation of the soldiers into horrific cripples in the first stanza quickly erupts into the panic and confusion of the gas attack: “Dim through the misty panes and thick green light, as under a green sea, I saw him drowning. The nameless soldier, may have seemed like just another unlucky colleague to Owen, but to the reader, a truth is uncovered here that was not touched upon before by the British public, and it carries great shock-effect. “Dulce et Decorum Est” is a poem full of visual objects that Owen describes very graphically, and it is these visual aids that helps the reader look at the poem in a far more intimate, empathetic way.
The ‘thick green light’, the “white eyes”, and the “haunting flares”, just some of the keywords that Owen uses to enable him to create the intense imagery that he achieves in this poem. On the other hand, “Anthem for Doomed Youth” is much less of a visual poem, and all to do with Owen’s subtle use of loud words, full of noise and body. Although this creates less imagery in the poem, we can still visualise the scenes captured in the poem by imagining the sounds Owen describes at great length: “The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells, and bugles calling for them from sad shires. Both pieces offer a conclusion to the poems, a final moral to the story if you like. In “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, Owen drags the sonnet to a close, almost trailing off, but not, for the words are too important and too full of meaning for any reader to scan over. The funeral is over, and the rhetorical question that the poet asked at the beginning of the final stanza has been answered, and the noise has vanished. All is now quiet: “And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds. ”
The long, heavy, alliterative “d” sounds really do drag the ending on, and draw the poem to a deliberate close. So these poems of Wilfred Owen are not completely contrasting, but are very different in many ways, and even if those differences are extremely subtle, without them the poems would never be able to fulfil their purpose. Whether it be to argue a case, or simply to enlighten the reader, neither would be possible without Owen’s extensive knowledge and use of various poetical techniques and the context that he puts them in.