Owen explores the truths of war in these poems through themes such as; war as the horrific and savage scene it is, the disparity between reality of the battlefield and the perception of what war is at home. Owen shows the devastation of war on the human being and soul, not only the physical but the mental effects of war. The soldiers are influenced by government propaganda, they are ‘told’ to die for their country; the betrayal, conspiracy and devastating loss of innocent youth. Owen is able to portray these truths through his powerful poetry. Throughout his poems he uses allusions, guttural consonants, onomatopoeia and other techniques to create powerful messages that war is, to quote Owen himself, “to hell and back”.
Dulce et Decorum Est brings the realisation that war is not as it is portrayed to the public, but the allusion that the government gives to the country. This is shown through the title “Dulce et Decorum Est”. This title means that it is ‘sweet and honorable to die for ones country’ this allusion throughout the poem shows through irony and sarcasm that it is the ‘The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori.’ This shows how war is everything but sweet and honorable it is about the death and horror brought into people’s lives. War equals death. The description of the soldier drowning in the blood of his froth corrupted lungs certainly negates this.
Owen shows the unknown fact that men are dying for their country in a horrible way. Owen is hiding it in another language, just as the government was hiding the truth from their country, letting people kill themselves. This is very different to the poets during Owens time, as he was not glorifying war, but exposing the devastating affect war had on humankind. This is used in conjunction with the disparity between war on the battlefront and the corruption of the perception of a courageous and glorious place to be.
In the poem ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’, Owen illustrates his theme of the devastating loss of youth. The title to brings to mind the hope of a song of praise, but Owen uses this to his advantage. He emphasises his theme through the words “Anthem”, “Doomed” & “Youth” in the title of the poem are juxtaposed to highlight the brutality & reality of war. The word “Youth” normally brings to mind happiness and joy.
Owen places “Youth” next to the word “Doomed” which illustrates to the audience the stress and hopelessness of the youth during war. The word “Anthem” usually associates with a patriotic song or song of praise, Owen draws to mind the fact that these boys have nothing to sing about during the chaos of war. Owen effects the thoughts and feelings of people that have not experienced war for what it is, the major loss of innocent lives. Owen shows the significance of his poetry through the title, giving the audience a sense of feeling for the poem.
Owen uses visual representations in Dulce to show the mental and physical effects on the soldiers going through the punishment of war and how this changes the young soldiers. The harshness of the simile “bent double like old beggars” illustrates how the soldiers look, showing them as crestfallen and disheartened, “bent”. This is not how soldiers are normally depicted they should have their heads held high and marching tall.
Owen shows how the young men of war have now become old beggars; they have aged and are begging for their lives; lives that may be taken away from them at any time. This along with “an ecstasy of fumbling” shows the urgent need for the salvation of one’s life. The ecstasy of fumbling to put on their gas masks shows the audience how the soldiers have been forced into the bent and begging state to save their lives. The soldiers are beyond exhaustion, they have to find the energy to put on their gas mask or they will face death. The innocence of youth has been lost. Some have lost their lives; others have lost their mental state.
Owen also shows the mental effects on the young soldiers as they are killed and thrown away to die through the poem “Anthem for Doomed Youth”. Owens main theme is the fact that the young soldiers do not get the proper funeral they deserve. The opening line “What passing bells for those who die as cattle?” the use of this rhetorical question illustrates numbers of soldiers massacred as if they were cattle, shredding the blood of youth, their pain, and death in large numbers. Owen uses onomatopoeia and personification in the bombs to represent the harshness of the battlefield, as the soldiers had to endure the sounds of “wailing shells” as they brutally diminish the soldiers mind.
Owen compares the funeral at home compared to the funeral on the battlefield. The “holy glimmers” interpreted as tears, in the eyes of the soldiers, and funeral bells are replaced with the sounds of weapons firing. Owen shows that during war soldiers’ deaths are seen to be insignificant. Owen shows the insignificance of human life and the mental horrors as young men are brought to tears, the devastation of war and the savage mean to kill people.
The use of Guttural consonants throughout Owens poem Dulce et Decorum Est are shown through words such as “guttering, choking, drowning” the use of “t” “k” and “d” emphasise the harshness of war. These words describe how a young soldier is dies in war; there is nothing smooth and flowing about the death of a soldier. It tells of the death of a young soldier just because he wasn’t quick enough to put on his gas mask. The harsh sound when these words are spoken help set the theme of a pointless death in war.
This coupled with the present participle, “…ing” make the poem powerful to the reader showing that the scene is not in the past, it’s happening now, putting the reader at the scene of the horror and illustrates the urgency and death of the battlefield. Owen used this to convey his message to the home front, to show the effects of war through the harshness of his language, depicted with the loss of innocent life within our society.
Owen uses onomatopoeia in Anthem through “stuttering rifles rapid rattle” this line demonstrates the continuing slaughter of men. The use of the word ‘rapid’ infers not only the speed of the guns but the speed of which lives are being taken away. The use of onomatopoeia is also used in conjunction with alliteration in the “rifles rapid rattle”. This line depicts the sound of the guns. Also how the line not easily orated, and this implies that it is a hard time, a time of disparity.
The sounds of guns fire also replaces the grieving people you would normally find when a death occurs. Owen significantly changes the audience’s opinion of the war showing that there is no time to grieve when people are dying quicker than a gun can fire. Through the use of harsh consonants in his language, Owen conveys his message of hardship for soldiers during war, the loss of innocent lives, the reality of the battlefield and the horror and savagery of war.
In conclusion Wilfred Owen uses many complex themes that show the world the significant horrors of war, major losses of war and the disparity of the battlefield and the effects of war at home. Throughout “Dulce et Decorum Est” and “Anthem for Doomed Youth” Owen has shown several techniques to justify his arguments to the audience and what has just been illustrated to you. Based on the crux of the arguments presented, I trust that Wilfred Owen will be included into the War Poet’s Hall of Fame.