In 1917 Wilfred Owen wrote two poems, both alike in subject, yet different in mood and message. These two poems were “Dulce et Decorum Est” and “Anthem for Doomed Youth”. Although both poems are about war and the pity of war, Owen chose two very different ways of portraying his message from his use of sound and imagery, to the form, rhythm and structure of these two strikingly moving poems. Dulce et Decorum Est” is a poem of great description, graphically depicting someone dying in a gas attack. I think it is written from Owen’s memory, as the details are so vivid and intense that it is hard to believe that the poem was not written from experience. “Anthem for Doomed Youth” uses the metaphor of a funeral for those who have died in war.
Owen uses strong imagery in this poem to capture all the ingredients of a funeral and replace them with lonely images of war; for example, “passing bells” are replaced by the “anger of the guns”, choirs are replaced by “wailing shells”, candles are replaced by the shining tears in the eyes of their loved ones and only the “slow dusk” at sunset is left to pay respect to them instead of the “drawing down of blinds”. “Dulce et decorum est (pro patria mori)” means “It is sweet and right (to die for your country)”.
This title alone proposes the assumption of a patriotic, pro-war poem. However, the poem begins by shocking the reader with quite the contrary. The first stanza sets a slow, heavy mood; “Men marched asleep”, “Drunk with fatigue”, which immediately contradicts the patriotism first expressed in the title. The mood is bitter and sarcastic and an angry tension is clearly built up as the poem reaches its climax. “Anthem for Doomed Youth” on the other hand immediately suggests a song or hymn of praise or loyalty for these “doomed” youths, meaning those who have died in war.
Unlike “Dulce et Decorum Est”, the title is not contradictory to the poem, as the message is continuously stressed that there is a lack of recognition for soldiers who died at war; “No mockeries for them from prayers or bells, Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs”. Owen expresses anger in the first lines of both of his poems through his use of effective metaphors or similes describing the soldiers going to war.
In “Dulce et Decorum Est” they are compared to “beggars” inferring that, like beggars, they have lost everything but their lives. Anthem for Doomed Youth” on the other hand begins by describing them as “cattle” suggesting that the soldiers are no longer individuals but merely a herd being led to the slaughter. I think that the air of sadness present in this poem seems to echo Thomas Gray’s poem “Elergy Written in a Country Churchyard”, for “The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,” and “And leaves the world to darkness and to me” seems to relate to and foreshadow “And each slow dusk a drawing down of blinds. ”
Some of the imagery used in one of Owen’s letters to his mother (written in 1916) also seems to foreshadow images in “Anthem for Doomed Youth”. For example, when writing about an army band, he describes the violins as “demented” and talks about “drums pulsing fearfully-voluptuously, as great hearts in death. ” The description of sound in his letter is later brought out in the poem, for example, “demented choirs” and “wailing shells”. I think that this shows that Owen’s anger had been subconsciously building up for a long time and “Anthem for Doomed Youth” was his way of expressing it.
However, the imagery in “Dulce et Decorum Est” seems to be more graphic and strongly depicted, and is so powerful that it influences the reader into believing that the images must be drawn from Owen’s experiences and not just his mind. This belief is also induced by the way that Owen has, unlike “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, involved himself in the poem; “In all my dreams”, “I saw him drowning”. By doing this, the poem is more personal and, to an extent, more effective.
Owen uses extreme, explicit adjectives to define his bitter anger, for example, “white eyes writhing in his face” and “froth-corrupted lungs”. He also uses grating vowels to represent the extent of suffering he witnessed, for example “gargling”, “guttering”, “choking” and “drowning”. Owen carefully depicts the difficulty of the man trying to survive in the gas by using words such as “fumbling”, “clumsy” and “stumbling”. He continues to describe this difficulty in his extraordinary image of a man drowning in a green sea; “As under a green sea, I saw him drowning”.
This image is later followed through when Owen describes the man “plunging” at him. But above all, Owen’s strongest and most horrifying image is that of a “devil sick of sin”, meaning that the face described is so hideously distorted that it resembles the devil when he is sick of sinning. “Anthem for Doomed Youth” also reveals anger, the anger seems to be far more controlled and sad than the powerful anger in “Dulce et Decorum Est”. In both of his poems, Owen makes great use of sound effects to set certain tones.
In “Anthem for Doomed Youth” he uses alliteration involving the letter ‘r’ to create a harsh sound; “rifles’ rapid rattle”. His repetition of the letter ‘t’ in onomatopoeic words also add to the speed at which the first stanza is paced; “stuttering”, “rattle” and “patter”. This speed is also defined by the word “hasty”. Owen continues to use alliteration in the second stanza but to a slowing down effect, which contrasts with the beginning of the poem. He does this by using the letter ‘d’ in his final sentence; “each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds” to conclude the image of the end of a day.
Owen uses similar techniques in “Dulce et Decorum Est”, for example, his use of language in the second stanza; “fumbling”, “clumsy”, “stumbling” and “floundering” present an awkward, yet dreamy mood. He then goes on, as in “Anthem for Doomed Youth” to use onomatopoeias, for example “choking” and “guttering”, to effectively draw out the realism of true pain and suffering. Both poems have quite regular rhythms, yet “Anthem for Doomed Youth” is a sonnet, whereas “Dulce et Decorum Est” is not.
I think that the sonnet is particularly effective because, due to its rhyming scheme and form, it brings out certain contrasts in the poem, for example, the last two lines are detached from the two main stanzas, making them stick out and linger in your mind after reading the poem. Through his use of powerful images and descriptive language, Owen clearly portrays the message that war is not to be glorified but shunned. He obviously understands “the pity of war” as his poetry expresses the anger and futility that can only be felt by someone who has lived through it.