Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Analysis of Wilfred Owen's "Dulce Et Decorum Est"


Wilfred Owen was born on March 18, 1893. He is considered to be one of the leading WWI poets. He served in the British army during WWI. His family lived comfortably in Owen's grandfather's house until he died in 1897, then the family had to move to the poorer part of Birkenhead. He went to Birkenhead Institute and Shrewsbury Technical School. He began writing poetry when he around ten years old, and continued to write until his death. He was raised in the Anglican church of the evangelical school; he was a devout believer in his youth. He was admitted into the University of London in 1911, but due to his family's financial struggles he had to work as the lay assistant to the Vicar of Dunsden as a pupil-teacher at Wyle Cop School  for free lodging and some tuition. During his time at Dunsden parish that he became disenchanted with his religion. He was working as a private tutor at the Berlitz School of Languages in Bordeaux, France when WWI broke out. On October 21, 1915, he enlisted in the Artists' Rifles Offiers' Training Corps. On June 4, 1916 he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Manchester Regiment. Owen began the war optimistically, but after two traumatic events his mindset changed. First, he was blown high into the air by a trench mortar and landed in the remains of a fellow officer. Second, he was trapped in an old German dugout for days. He was diagnosed with shell shock and sent to the Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh. It was here that he met Siegfried Sassoon. Sassoon had a huge impact on Owen's life and poetry. Owen's poetry became dark as he portrayed the horrors of the front line as realistically as he could. His poetry went against the public perception of the war at that time; it helped to open the eyes of the non-militant people back home. He returned to light regimental duties in March of 1918 at the Northern Command Depot at Ripon. He wrote a number of poems while he was in Ripon, the most notable are "Futility" and "Strange Meeting." He returned to the front line on October 1, 1918, and led the Second Manchester. While he was trying to cross a canal, he was shot in the head and died. WWI ended one week later. He was later awarded the Military Cross, which for him validated him as a war poet. 


Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Analysis
WWI has become known as the “chemist’s war,” according to Chris Reddy. There were numerous technological advances in chemical warfare during the First World War. In 1914, the French introduced tear gas (ethyl bromoacetate). When the supplies of bromine began to dwindle they switched the active ingredient to chloroacetone. In 1915, Germany introduced chlorine gas, which “is a powerful irritant that can inflict damage to the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. At high concentrations and prolonged exposure it can cause death by asphyxiation” (Romano). In 1917, Germany introduced mustard gas, which was delivered using artillery shells. Once the gas had settled into the ground it could stay there for days, weeks, and in some cases even months. Mustard gas could be lethal if one was exposed to it for long periods of time; the effects of mustard gas on a person are: “internal and external bleeding and attacked the bronchial tubes, stripping off the mucous membrane. This was extremely painful and most soldiers had to be strapped to their beds. It usually took a person four to five weeks to die of mustard gas exposure” (Sidell). 


CLICK HERE for the rest of the analysis of Wilfred Owen's "Dulce Et Decorum Est"


Acknowledgments
Wilfred Owen image: http://www.shropshirestar.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Wilfred-Owen.jpg

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