Wilfred Owen Poem Analysis
One is to think of war as one of the most honorable and noble services that a man can attend to for his country, it is seen as one of the most heroic ways to die for the best cause. The idea of this is stripped down and made a complete mockery of throughout both of Wilfred Owen’s poems “Dulce Et Decorum Est” and “Anthem for Doomed Youth”. Through his use of quickly shifting tones, horrific descriptive and emotive language and paradoxical metaphors, Owen contradicts the use of war and amount of glamour given towards the idea of it.
The very title itself, “Anthem for Doomed Youth” already mocks the idea of war. An anthem is seen as a song sung out of honor and patriotism for one’s country, yet the addition of “Doomed Youth” contradicts this already, making it seem as if everyone is cheering for the inevitable and untimely death of the country’s young men. In the very first line of the very first stanza, Owen asks “What passing bells for these who die as cattle? ” This is seen as both a rhetorical question, already engaging the interest of the reader, and provoking contradictory thoughts.
Yet it also portrays an ironic, dehumanized and desensitized version of the boys. His use of a metaphor likens the men to useless cattle, animals who have no means and may be ‘slaughtered’ without any sensitivity. The very first line itself connects with the audiences’ pathos, invoking them to become empathetic with the soldiers and realize the lack of emotions given to them by those within the government. The second and third lines within the first stanza, “ – only the monstrous anger of the guns. Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid battle” both addresses the fast and frantic pace of the soldiers’ deaths.
The use of anaphora and repetition add emphasis and attention to the terrified, yet hasty pave of the soldiers in the war and onomatopoeia such as “stuttering rifles” and “rapid rattle” allow for the reader to almost visualize the horrific, yet incredibly fast paced action throughout the war, the cut-throat and relentless danger faced by the soldiers. This all aims at promoting the emotion of pity, to empathize upon the suffering forced upon the soldiers that Owen wishes the audience to feel, to recognize the irony on the glorification of war.
The soldiers who had attended the war were shown to have died brutally, like “cattle”, yet when reaching the home front, it is seen that they are laid to rest in a much more civil and dignified manner. The concept of this can be seen as an extended metaphor throughout the entire poem, with the battle front seen as a world filled with violence, fear and destruction, where as the home front is perceived as a place marked by order and ritual, a civilized world.
The second sonnet opens with “What candles may be held to speed them all? , invoking a more softer and compassionate tone towards the audience, more specifically through Owen’s use of a rhetorical question. It captures the readers’ attention, engaging them to feel empathetic and notice the shift of energy from anger and bitterness to a sadder and more somber tone. Owen’s use of descriptive language, as simple as it seems, such as ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ provokes the audience to view the horrors of the war as if they had been placed onto children, because in reality the ‘men; who had signed themselves into war to fight in glory for their country had really only just been boys themselves.
This confronting imagery perfectly exemplifies the vulnerability, naivety and youth of the soldiers, causing the audience to invoke empathy and pity towards the sufferings of the ‘doomed youth’. Just like “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, “Dulce Et Decorum Est” begins with irony within the poem’s title. Translated from Latin into English, ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ simply means “It is sweet and decorous to die for one’s country”. There is irony in the fact that, for a poem which has such a noble title, it starts off with somber, agonizing and bitter tones.
Owen portrays the soldiers as prematurely aged, “Bent double like old beggars under sacks” and “coughing like hags”. These similes give an unpleasant, lethargic image to the reader, the idea that all the horrors and terrors of the war cause them to age far beyond their initial physical appearances. The entire first stanza itself is slow paced, with a rhyming scheme of ABAB to give it a dreary, monotonous flow.
Visual imagery such as “limped on”, “blood shod” and “drunk with fatigue” promotes the idea of weary and lethargic soldiers, orcefully trying to situate themselves away from the impending dangers of war. The whole point of the somber tone throughout the first stanza is starkly contrasted against with the second stanza. The use of repetition and exclamation marks in “Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! ” exemplifies the frantic terror faces by the soldiers due to the enemy’s gas attack; causing the short, sharp words to draw in the readers attention to the sudden change in pace.
Owen describes the gas throughout his use of metaphors as being “under a green sea” and the poisonous gases as the “froth”. The audience can almost visualize the soldiers’ impending deaths as a thick, dark, suffocating cloud engulfing them slowly, killing the soldiers with it’s thick, poisonous gas. This projects how Owen wishes to show the audience the unjustifiable and frantic deaths of the soldiers, his use of disturbing and confronting graphic imagery even as he quotes “I saw him drowning” and “guttering, choking, drowning”.
His unabashed language forces the audience to come to terms with and understand the extremities dealt with during the war and the horrific experiences faced by the soldiers. “Dulce Et Decorum Est” and “Anthem for Doomed Youth” contain similar concepts and poetic structures. Throughout the octet of AFDY, it is bitter and filled with a low-simmering rage, talking on the useless deaths on the warfront. It speaks on the carelessness given towards the soldiers, and the frantic terror they must face to keep themselves alive.
Filled with onomatopoeia and alliteration such as “rapid rattles” and stuttering rifles” it allows the audience to depict the soldiers as almost lonesome on the battlefield, hasty to stay away from the cries of weapons and ammunition, only to have “nor prayers nor bells. Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,” alienated from the civilized and orderly society depicted throughout the sestet. The second stanza views their deaths as a somber, saddened and honorable act, yet the audience is clearly able to notice the clear irony and juxtaposition between the two stanzas. Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds” and “holy glimmers of good-byes” and a tone of prayer and gentle mourning through Owen’s use of personification amongst the quotes. It is ironic for one to picture that the soldiers were to die a noble death, serving their country, when in the first stanza their deaths were likened to the uselessness of cattle. DEDE has also used its separation in stanzas to show the clear distinctions in circumstances of the war.
The first stanza is slow, dreary and trudging, projecting the exhaustion faced by the solders whilst attending the war. Owens use of similes, “like old beggars under sacks” and “coughing like hags” liken the soldiers to elderly men, worn and wrung out like aged clothes, allowing the readers to connect with the relentless danger placed onto the soldiers, causing them to mature and physically age far more than their healthy capacity.
Yet, just like in AFDY, it changes pace to become amore frantic and fast paced situation. The rhyming scheme changes from ABAB to CDCD, still keeping a similar pace, but changing the words to fit in with the dangerous and hasty hazards. His use of distinctive visual imagery, such as “misty planes”, “thick green light” and “green sea” portray the disastrous gas as a slowly creeping, yet poisonous and suffocating death that is inevitable for the soldiers.
The distinct change between stanzas, throughout both poems, exemplifies the paradox and juxtapositions of war. In one world, there is a civilized, mourning society yet on the other side of the world soldiers are dying constant, insignificant deaths. Within DEDE, a similar type of irony and juxtaposition is portrayed, what was once a weary, bitter and lethargic atmosphere of soldiers is now filled with utter terror and the hasty, desperate need keep themselves alive
The veil of propaganda used by the government to cover up the horrors and terrors of war is ripped off and displayed for the whole world to see throughout Wilfred Owen’s poems “Anthem for Doomed Youth” and “Dulce Et Decorum Est”, his use of various poetic techniques and themes of terror, horror and bitter irony engage the reader to fully understand and empathize with the message of suffering faced by soldiers throughout their experiences in the war.