Dulce Et Decorum Est and Attack
Both poems describe the horrors and tragedy that became the norm to so many solders or the First World War. What life was like in the trenches, what it was like to see so many suffering and dying people, and what it was like to know you are going to die and never see your family again, could not be shown or conveyed as well in any other way then to read some of the poems written by those who were there, and experienced everything first hand. From the way Owen has written “Dulce Et Decorum Est” we can only begin to understand these things.
The poem starts by describing the horrific way the solders were living, and the conditions they had to live in. It then moves on to tell readers about a gas attack and how one man doesn’t get his gas mask on in time. Then his disturbing death is explained in detail to show how vile it was and the irony of how war was described as “sweet and fitting”. Moving on to read Sassoon’s “Attack” these horrors are described further and an added element of atrocity is felt by hearing the same views from another writer with the same sad story of trench and war life.
Attack” also goes into greater detail of what it was like to go over the top of the trench to fight. The men are loaded down and floundering through the mud attacking the enemy lines. “Dulce Et Decorum Est” has a slow trudging pace to it, much like the soldiers, tired and struggling along, the pace speeds up with the panic of the gas attack and becomes very direct. “If you too could pace behind the wagon” “you would not tell” there is a direct emphasis towards the reader to make them think and consider, bringing the poem closer to home and making it feel more personal.
The poem does rhyme, and has a rhyming scheme of A, B, A, B. The poem is also fairly long, like the hard life of the men persistently trying to stay alive. Whereas the pace in this poem speeds up, “Attack” is pretty much the same all the way through, very slow and continuous like the “slow rise of the sun” or the “drifting smoke” There are lots of descriptive words to set the scene, adjectives like “menacing” and colours like “purple” and “dun”. It does have a rhyme scheme of A,A,B,A,C,B,D,C,D,E,F,F,E and is one verse of thirteen lines, which is nearly a sonnet.
Maybe Sassoon purposely made it nearly a sonnet as he wanted the poem to stand out and make the poem confusing like the life of the soldiers. The rhythm of the poem is uneven and broken, much like the soldiers situation, and it is shorter than “Dulce Et Decorum Est” maybe suggesting the short life of the soldiers, and only has one verse whilst the other has four, however most of Sassoon’s poems such as “The General” and “Suicide In The Trenches” are quite short, and Owens “The Send Off” and “Exposure” are quite long. Dulce Et Decorum Est” goes into quite gory detail about the conditions of the men. The poem starts by giving an image of these poor wounded men who are “bent double” and “coughing like hags” the men are tired and carrying a heavy burden. The things that they are carrying weigh them down, and perhaps they are even weighed down by the expectation of their country. Owen says “Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs”, the soldiers are fed up.
They are so tired that even when the flares go off behind them they don’t have the energy, or even feel like turning around to see them, and they are” Drunk with fatigue”. These men are just shadows of the vibrant people that started on this epic journey. They are loosing their senses “deaf even to the hoots… ” and “helpless sight”. More description of their situation follows, the land was “sludge” and the men “blood shod” giving a horrible impression of their limbs and feet covered in blood, torn and lame.
More description of the men is to follow when the gas attack arrives, “an ecstasy of fumbling” meaning a great frenzy of all these men attempting to fit their gas masks in time, very cumbersome and clumsily as they were probably very heavy and difficult to handle, and are “dim through the misty panes”, the pane is the glass part of the mask to see through, which could be misted up from condensation or just the fact that there is so much gas it is impossible to see properly. The air is thick and green. It is thick with chemicals from the gas that clogs up the air around the soldiers.
The fact that the air is green shows that the atmosphere may be alien, like the men have gone into another world. Then the surroundings of the men become uncovered,” As under a green sea” which brings images of the thick smog that was created and is a simile which links to the word “drowning” describing the lack of oxygen to the man with no helmet as he sinks and suffocates in the gas. The next two lines are set apart from the rest because the poet changes the time and forwards to the future and Owens’s memories. The lines could also be set apart to show that they are important.
It is Owen’s personal account of how the event has changed him and how he still remembers what happened on that fateful night. “In all my dreams, before my helpless sight. He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. ” Owen is haunted by the memory of the man dying. It haunts all his dreams. The emphasis on ALL his dreams, not some of them, all of them, adds to the pain Owen must feel at reminiscing these times. The use of commas in this line suggests Owen watching the dreams again in slow motion. He seems to have a great fear of the gas attacks when he talks of them.
Owen uses bitter language, he doesn’t use today’s language, but harsh words (example: choking, drowning, blood-shod etc. )No detail is too gruesome. The body of the dead man is flung into a wagon. The dead bodies are treated like meat. There are so many deaths it becomes like a routine thing. Owen can see the horror that is standing behind the man who has been gassed to death. The description of the dead mans “froth corrupted lungs” “obscene” and “bitter” is by no means pleasant, but very true, it adds to the crude tone and images of the poem.
Owen also compares the victim’s face to “the devil, sick of sin” seeming corrupted and painful. A metaphor even more effective is one that compares “vile, incurable sores… ” with the memories of the troops. It not only tells the reader how the troops will never forget the experience, but also how they are frightening tales, ones that will the troops will never be able to tell without remembering the extremely painful experience. “My friend, you would not tell with such high zest to children or ardent for some desperate glory. ” Owen is saying that if you could see the things he had seen then you would not believe the lie.
By saying this he is expressing the bitterness he has not only for the army but the whole situation. The poem is describing a terrible shocking death by gas, the irony to how it could be a sweet and honourable to die for ones country. This is the country that sold him the old lie. Maybe the lie is old because it has been mentioned so often or because it is Latin, an old language, or because it is an old tradition of beauty and honour to die for ones country. The words “ardent” and “zest” suggest a passionate burning desire of eagerness towards the lie.
The effect of the last verse being one sentence makes it hard for a reader to breath and you can become trapped in the fast pace, just like the solders’ continuous nightmare at war, being trapped in a continuous situation. Another of Owens’s main points to the reader in the last stanza could be, before going into the army think carefully of what you are doing as you might get and see something in great contrast to what you may have imagined, the complete irony of “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” “Attack” is a fairly short poem but full with descriptions of how life was.
It describes the trenches and conditions of the men. The poem is set in the early morning, at dawn, and the men are going over the top of the trenches. The sun is “glow’ring” and seems against the men, its glowing wild and purple already, giving a negative darkened attitude to the start of the poem. Descriptive words like “smouldering” and “menacing” also add to this. There are also uses of alliteration “smouldering through spouts” and “smoke that shroud”. It has a slow pace with slow words like “creep” and “topple” and contrasts the loud bangs of the guns with the silence that follows “The barrage roars and lifts”.
The solders are described as “clumsily bowed” and carrying bombs and battle gear probably making them weighed down and proving walking difficult. They “jostle” and “climb” showing the struggle they faced as they climbed to meet the “bristling fire” which is a use of onomatopoeia meaning the gunfire. As the men go over the top of the trench their faces are “masked with fear” and “time ticks blank on their wrists” meaning that time still goes on but it doesn’t matter as the men are most probably going to die whatever.
Personification is used in “hope, with furtive eyes” giving hope personal qualities, and showing the great desire for hope. The word “Flounder” appears in both of the poems I have chosen to look at. In “Attack”- “Flounders in mud” and in “Dulce Et Decorum Est”- “Floundering like a man in fire or lime”. This is a strong word meaning a great struggle, and is also has a harsh disturbing sting to it. The poem ends with a plea, a heartfelt prayer, “O Jesus, make it stop! This makes readers see more and understand more of this tragic war and what feelings the soldiers felt.
As mentioned, both poems describe the horrors and tragedy that became the norm to so many solders or the First World War. Owens’s poem is an account of what he saw and he is telling us a story, where as Owen is written in a more factual way, telling readers how trench life was like. The poems bring across the true story and atmosphere of how life was for the solders and how grateful we should be to them for fighting for us and keeping our country alive.