Wilfred Owen: Representation Of War In Poems

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War is pointless, as it means the death of innocent men and unbearable suffering, with no happy endings. Wilfred Owen was widely recognised as one of the greatest poets of the First World War. Wilfred Owen was an Englishmen who enlisted in the British Army, he then brought his war experiences into his poetry. Owen’s imagery conveys the ideas of the horrors of war, the inadequacies of religion and the validity of grief which are highlighted in his poems Dulce Et Decorum Est and Anthem for Doomed Youth.

War is a horrific event that depreciates the value of human lives. Wilfred Owen’s poem Dulce Et Decorum Est captures the graphic imagery of the victims of war and chemical warfare in a descriptive manner that conveys the horrors of war. Owen expresses that the soldiers are mentally and physically exhausted by in turn the exertions and extremities of battle. This is portrayed by the words “Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots, of tired, outstripped Five – Nines that dropped behind” Owen introduces metaphorical ways of showing the men’s physical state, implying that their tiredness has the same impact on the brain as inebri+ation and that the men are unable to hear to the shells since all their senses are numbed due to war. This exposes the reader’s understanding of the brutality that war has on one’s mind. The poem’s purpose is to illustrate as graphically as possible the abhorrent details of war and in particular a gas attack. This is shown through the words “obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud, of vile, incurable sores on innocents’ tongues”. Descriptive language is used for the reader to comprehend the realistic imagery of the soldier’s terrible mutilation. A bovine image is used that equates humans with animals, as well as conveying the acidic burning effect of the man’s blood which has been degraded by the gas inhalation. Importantly, Owen provides the reader with a clear graphic image of the intense cruelty that the soldiers faced physically and mentally in the war, the imagery illustrating the horrors of war.

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The death of young men at war is unceremonious and unnecessary. Wilfred Owen’s poem Anthem for Doomed Youth communicates the idea that death in war is improper, leaving the young men to be slaughtered like animals in combat with no pleasant ceremonies to honour their lives. The religious beliefs held by these men prior to the war are inadequate in providing them with the spiritual support they need. Sounds of gunfire and weapons are all that is heard on the battlefield, expressed with the words “Only the monstrous anger of the guns” The personification evokes the readers understanding that the only thing that marks the soldiers’ death is the human expression of anger which is given to describe gunfire, a horrific sound that juxtaposes to pleasant church bells. ‘Monstrous anger’ states that the guns are so terrible that they put regular anger to shame. The loss of a soul from this earth would have always been marked by some form of religious ritual or service, but for soldiers at war, there is nothing. This idea is reinforced by the words “Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, the shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells” The personification depicts the eerie sound of shells in unison, as it has a twisted way of sounding similar to a song. The reader is provided with the idea that there is no sound of mourning where the men fought at war, just the sound of weapons. In addition, Owen conveys the image that the young men in battle did not receive the traditional service that they deserved, communicating the inadequacies of religion for those on the battlefield.

The idea of death in war should be confronting and is accompanied by fear and sorrow. Wilfred Owen’s poem Dulce Et Decorum Est, exhibits the idea that war is wrongly communicated as a wonderful and honourable way to die for one’s country, when mass death and destruction is all that occurs in battle. This exemplifies the validity of grief for the soldiers who have had to endure this unimaginable pain and suffering. This highlighted through the words “you would not tell with such high zest, to children ardent for some desperate glory, the old lie” The punctuation reveals to the reader that ‘the old lie’, sets up an implicit comparison between personal experience and national rhetoric and how people are willing to convince young gullible children that they can find glory on the battlefield. Conflicting ideologies cause death to become a commonplace. Owen’s poem Anthem for Doomed Youth, expresses the idea of validity of grief as the soldiers come to a realisation that there is not a happy ending to war, only pain and horrific events that will leave them traumatised. Stated through the words “Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes, shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes” The emotive language ultimately gives the reader an understanding that when soldiers die in battle they are alone and far from their loved ones. Correspondingly, Owen’s imagery enunciates the soldier’s pain throughout these poems, as it is understood through the validity of grief that all they can feel is sorrow for themselves and each other.

Significantly, traumatic events such as death in war should not be dishonoured or forgotten. Through the techniques used, it represents Wilfred Owen’s graphic imagery as it conveys the ideas of the horrors of war, the inadequacies of religion and the validity of grief throughout his poems Dulce Et Decorum Est and Anthem for Doomed Youth. Owen evokes understanding of the heinous ways in which young men are affected within the theatres of war. 

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