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Poetry has the power to immensely change and morph human perspective, expression and emotion. Poets use their craft to speak to the realities, illusions and fantasies of humanity. The famous poet, Wilfred Owen, depicts the harsh realities of war through his exceptional poem, Dulce et Decorum Est. He addresses that the brutality of war outweighs the patriotism and glory gained after battle. Considering the use of sound devices, rich diction, and vivid imagery used throughout, it is safe to say that Dulce et Decorum Est is among the world’s greatest poems.
Firstly, Owen depicts a dark, desolate mood to convey his message through his use of poetic sound devices. For one, alliteration is utilized to draw the reader’s attention to the brutality of war and reinforce the message. The author highlights the horrid physical state of a soldier after an attack through the alliterations: “white eyes writhing” (line 19) and “devil’s sick of sin” (line 20). Owen uses these alliterations to create the overall haunting mood so that readers understand the dangers of war. Furthermore, the use of the letter ‘S’ in “sick of sin” creates a hissing sound reminding readers of a snake thus developing the dark mood. Additionally, a variety of caesura’s are used to further develop atmosphere. Throughout the second and third stanzas, specifically in lines 9, 12, and 24, the abrupt caesuras depict the disorganized actions and efforts of soldiers.
The sudden pauses emphasize the constant fear and surprise that is present in an unpredictable battlefield. Moreover, the author uses line-by-line assonance to immerse the reader into the setting of war. In almost every line in the poem, the ‘U’ vowel creating the ‘uh’ sound is repeated. Employment of words like, “fumbling” (line 9), “clumsy” (line 10), and “stumbling” (line 11) imitate the sound of explosions and combat in the distance. Owens highlights the destruction, stress and chaos created by war through assonance in the poem. Overall, Owens subtle but effective use of sound devices, immerse the reader in the atmosphere and evoke an emotional response to the message.
The intense diction implemented in Dulce et Decorum Est creates a detailed image of war and contributes to the development of theme. Foremost, the author depicts the poor physical and mental state of soldiers through his word choice. At the beginning of the poem, words like “beggars… sacks” (line 1), “hags” (line 2), and “limped” (line 6) indicate an impoverished state of deprivation. This highlights the toll war takes on soldiers and allows readers to sympathize with them. Owen emphasizes the injustice of war and the costly impact it has on innocent humans. In addition, the dreary, dangerous atmosphere is created using language such as, “haunting”(line 3), “writhing” (line 19), and “hanging face”(line 20). Again, the reader is meant to sympathize with soldiers living in such terrible environments because of war and allow the mood of the poem to affect their perspective. Furthermore, the use of words related to health signifies the vast danger and chaos of war. For instance, the “froth-corrupted lungs” (line 22), “incurable sores” (line 24) and the comparison to “cancer” (line 23) highlight the realities of war in a tangible sense. The mention of health concerns implies a call to action from readers to discourage behaviour or practices that cause bodily harm. All in all, the author’s masterful employment of specific language and vocabulary invoke the reader’s attention and sympathy.
Lastly, the author’s excellent applications of figurative and literal imagery reinstate the mood and meaning of the piece. First, Owen’s use of similes creates powerful, vivid descriptions to enhance the message. For instance, the similes “obscene as cancer” (line 23) and “hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin” (line 20) create the dangerous mood and intensify the message. The allusion to the devil depicts fear, mortality and conveys to the readers the evil nature of war. Secondly, metaphors depict the solemn state of soldiers in battle. For example, “bent double” (line 1) indicates that due to causalities, soldiers are accounting for the jobs of two men and are worked to their full extent. Furthermore, “drunk with fatigue” implies the damaged mental state of the soldiers. Finally, the literal imagery used to describe the unfortunate loss of a soldier during a gas attack paints a disturbing picture that the reader is unlikely to forget when considering the author’s message. The image of a soldier “guttering, choking, and drowning” (line 16) conveys the harsh reality of many brutal attacks that occurred frequently during war. Owen utilizes various types and forms of imagery to create mood, atmosphere and reinforce his message.
Conclusively, Owen’s effective use of sound devices, diction and imagery is what truly makes the poem so exceptional. The author uses every opportunity to reinstate his message, develop theme and create an unforgettable mood in the poem. The author provides insight into the realities of war and addresses society’s illusion of a patriotic, honourable war.
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