Wilfred Owen

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Wilfred Edward Salter Owen, born 1893, was a British poet during the First World War, He wrote poetry from an early age and was inspired by religion. In 1913 he went to France to teach English and on returning he decided to enlist in the army to fight in the World War. He entered the war in 1917 and fought in the battle of the Somme but was hospitalized for shell shock and met Siegfreid Sassoon (a poet) and his works were in harmony with Owen’s concerns. In the poem ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ the soldiers are marching hopelessly and desperately back to their ‘distant rest’.

The men are positioned amongst the bombardment of German flares and shells dropping as they suffer a gas attack. Owen describes the men’s panicking as one of the men fails to put on his gas mask in time. Owen uses this incident to challenge the suffering in the war. Shown in ; “Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots of tired outstripped five-nines that dropped behind” The opening of ‘Dulce et decorum est’ instantly brings an image of tired soldiers; “Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,” The men are no longer fit and full of enthusiasm instead Owen describes a group of men which have been broken down by excruciating pain and mental trauma, they have become ‘old beggars’ and coughing ‘hags’.

The exhaustion, which the men suffer, is shown by the heavy rhyme in ‘sludge’ and ‘trudge’ which really emphasizes the lack of determination and captures the slow movement of the men’s feet through the stick mud. The opening of the second stanza is very dramatic and expeditious; ‘Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! This captures the panic-stricken men who are trying to overcome stress.

Stanza 2 captures the feeling of confusion and disorganization in the use of rhyme in words such as drowning and stumbling. Owen poses the question whether it is in a dream or reality, and suggests the re-creation and disturbing imagery which he experienced while he was there during the war. He tries to give the reader an experience of being ‘Behind the wagon that we flung him in’ At the end of the poem Owen challenges ‘the old lie’; ‘Dulce et decorum est’ which is written in latin which describes that it is sweet and becoming to die for ones country.

Owen does not wan the war to be told passionately to children for the sake of ‘desperate glory’. During this time in the war Owen wrote many other poems one of which was ‘Exposure’. In the poem ‘Exposure’ soldiers are out on the front line and suffer the freezing weather and powerfull winds. The soldiers are dying of exposure as the weather wears the men down physically but also mentally. In the first stanza of the poem; “Our brains ache, in the merciless iced east winds that knive us…

Wearied we keep awake because the night is silent…. ” Showing that the soldiers are ‘knifed’ by the winds and ‘wearied’ because the night is silent. In the first sentence the clustered ‘s’ sound gives the feeling of a sharp wind. The soldiers are kept ‘awake because the night is silent’ and they are haunted due to the abnormal conditions because they are normally aware of bombardment. This means they become ‘worried by the silence sentries whisper, curious, nervous.

In the second stanza the soldiers hear the gunnery rumbling in the distance ‘like a rumour of some other war’ which portrays the circumstances that they are in, and has nothing to d with fighting instead Owen personifies which is killing them rather than the opposing German army. The weather again dramatically suggests in the third stanza that is the enemy, ‘The poignant misery of dawn begins to grow… ‘ This means that as the ‘dawn begins to grow’ so does its ‘poignant misery’.

The soldiers are not worried by the Germans they are more worried by the ‘dawn massing in the east’. The soldiers have not even seen any sight of the Germans over this period due to the horrific weather conditions and atrocious living situation which leads the soldiers to become ignorant, as suggested in ‘We only know war lasts, rain soaks, and clouds sag stormy’. Owen repeats the phrase ‘but nothing happens’ after describing the exposure and extreme attack of weather faced, but still there is silence, which gradually is killing them.

In the forth stanza the “sudden successive flight of bullets streak the silence’ giving the stanza alliteration. The constantans are crammed together giving no real rhythm creating a feeling of exposure and frantic streaks of bullets. The ‘flight of bullets’ ends in silence as demoralizing as bullets themselves. This stanza also comes to a halt when the ‘sidelong flowing flakes that flock, pause, and renew’ but still ‘nothing happens’ as the soldiers are hypnotized by the snow.

The soldier’s minds look for reality but instead are ‘snowdazed’ as the ‘fingering stealth come feeling for our faces’ The men have no where to go so they ‘cringe in holes, back on forgotten dreams’ they are defenseless and are near to death. Owen demonstrates this in the rhyme in ‘snowdazed/sundozed as the men suffer exposure more and more. The soldiers begin to pray for god even more however there ‘love of god seems dying’. ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ and ‘Exposure’ are linked through a use of dream like images. In Exposure the death is the result of weather than war however also questions religion.

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