This poem was written by Wifred Owen, who was a soldier in the First World War. He therefore gives a very vivd account of what it was like to be there, as he has had first- hand experience. The title of the poem means ‘it is sweet and hounourable’,,,and the phrase is continued at the end of the poem… ‘to die for your country. ‘ Just before this is stated at the end of the poem, Wilfred Owen chooses to write’The Old Lie. ‘ This tells us he does not believe this statement to be true.
Calling the poem by this name is very ironic, as the poem is filled with horrible stories about what really happened, and so Wilfred Owen is saying how can all of this suffering be sweet and proper? The irony begins in the first line, where the soldiers are compared in a similie to old beggars. This implies that they look shabby, which is not the image of soldiers in bright shiny uniforms which would be in keeping with the glorious image of war. The line has a slow pace with no sound described, which is also a contarst to the image of war, as people at home might expect the soldiers to be marching along at a brisk pace.
The second line continues this them as it compares the soldiers to hags, which are very like beggars. It tells you that the soldiers are knock kneeded and coughing, which implies a very low morale. To add to the atmosphereof depression, the ‘haunting flares’ inply that the scene is taking place at night, as flares are not visible in the daytime. The fact that the flares are’haunting’ adds to the misery of the soldiers, as it could be that they are remembering past horrific incidents involving the flares that haunt them.
The ‘distant rest’ in line four could mean the the soldiers are going to sleep for the night, but they will not be able to sleep beacuase of the conditions. or it could be referring to the end of the war when they will be able to rest properly, although they cannot see this coming – hence the distance. The word’ trudge’ implies that thry are walking with difficulty, and slows down the line, which indicates the slowness of the soldiers’ walk. The aliteration in the fifth line emphasises what Wilfred Owen is saying.
It makes the meataphor ‘men marched asleep’ seem more real and holds the line together over the full stop. Men limping blood shod emphasises their predicament and how differnet it is to the glorious battle they had expected. The two lines in this verse create the impression that the soldiers are somehow in a daze and do not hear sounds fully. It is as if they have become isolated within themselves. The next verse illustares another side of war. It is the confusion and panic which arises whrn the soldiers’ lives are in immediate danger.
The pace of this verse is a lot quicker in order to demonstrate this, and also provides a contrast to the previous vers as it is written in the present tense to make it seem more real, whereas the first verse is written in the perfect tense which makes it seem more distant. The word ‘ecstasy’ means an extreme feeling, so it makes the scene seem more vivid and frantic. The fact that one man is not able to put on his gas mask and chokes gives an example of one man dying in a way that could not possible be described as sweet or honourable.
The last verse is a plea to the reader to renounce their opinion that dying for your country is seew and honourable. Wifred Owen is sayin ghtat if the reader was there, and saw this man dying in the back of the wagon then they would not tell the old Lie. Owen , by his graphic description of the man’s death, is intending to shock the reader into believing they have been tricked by the old Lie and make them think more deeply about the values of war.