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When I say ‘War’, we often think of concepts such as militarism, policies, propaganda, cultures and whatsoever. But one thing that we all are aware of and we must be aware of war is the horrific consequences and the aftermath of this disaster.
Certainly, there were thousands and millions of deaths followed ever since war broke out. But have you ever thought about the survived ones who had to suffer from the aftereffects of war? Soldiers who had to fight in the blood-stained battlefield, who had to watch their fellow soldiers sinking into ground… For them, coming home was not the end of the war. Because they now suffer from ceaseless traumas, fears, nightmares for decades. The level of physical and mental disability that they are enduring is just indescribable. So, it is important for us to directly empathize and feel their emotional suffering and hardship. And by doing so, question yourself again. Is war really that worth to sacrifice thousands and millions of innocent beings?
The following poem that I will be analyzing is “Dolce et Decorum Est” written by Wilfred Owen. The poet Wilfred Owen himself was a soldier of the First World War and was a leading anti-war poet who stood up against the public perception of war at that time, to truly expose the horrific realities of the war. This anti-war poem successfully reveals the cruel aspects of war through the poignant depiction of the impacts of war on soldiers in particular.
One of Owen’s masterpiece written during WWI, the title of the poem “Dulce et Decorum Est” is a famous line taken from the Roman poet Horace’s ode, meaning that ‘it is sweet and fitting it is to die for your country’. This line was commonly used by the British government during WWI, to convince the youth to enlist the army. But today, rather than focusing on the aspects of war propaganda, I will be analyzing how poetic devices and language choices are deliberately used in this poem to depict the soldiers ’physical and mental torment in particular.
In the first two lines of the first stanza, the poet’s effective use of metaphor and simile is noticeable. The soldiers who are most likely to be teens are described as “bent double”, “old beggars” and “coughing like hags”. Through employing such words that much resemble an image of an ‘old men’, the poet clearly denotes the soldiers’ ravaged physical state, showing their sickness and exhaustion. The words “March asleep” also suggest how the brutality of the wartime experience has deadened the soldiers that they are extremely desensitized, seemed to be sleeping while walking. The poet’s deliberate language choice of “blood-shod” in line 7 is so powerful that it invites us to create an image of soldiers wearing ‘blood-covered feet’ as if they were wearing a pair of leather shoes to protect themselves. But in fact, the only protection that they had was the ‘dried blood’ on their feet.
The tone of this poem suddenly changes in stanza 2, by using the poetic device of repetition. By repeating the same word ‘gas’ twice, the poet clearly captures the terror and a sense of confusion of soldiers who had to face the poisonous gas attack. The poet further intensifies the tension, through the depiction of one particular soldier who was unable to wear his helmet on time, ending up “drowning” under a “green sea”. This metaphorical portrayal of soldier’s deaths and suffering, effectively put the readers inside the experience of that soldier’s physical agony, making us to witness the awful aspects of war.
The third stanza of this poem is very short, but it clearly reveals the aftereffect of war on soldiers; that even survived ones suffer from eternal future torment. The beginning sentence “In all my drams” is a manifestation of the speaker’s mental trauma that he is permanently tortured by the nightmares of death he has seen. By portraying this trauma in the present tense, the poet clearly indicates that these dreams of the fellow soldier ‘guttering’, chocking’ and ‘drowning’, will never fade and will forever last in his life.
Following the third stanza, the last stanza of this poem is filled with full of vivid and dynamic imageries that are used to describe the agony of the dying soldier in particular.
The poem “Dulce et Decorum Est” is a great anti-war poem which clearly illustrates a realistic experience of WWI soldiers and reveals the cruel realities of war through effective poetic devices and language choices. The poet successfully invites the reader to witness how soldiers lived through, died in it and survived it.
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