A Comparison Between Wilfred Owen’s ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ and ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ and Siegfried Sassoon’s ‘Does It Matter?’ Essay
Wilfred Owen’s ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ are both poems that protest against and depict the subject of war. They both follow Wilfred Owen’s angst against those who encourage war and the savagery of warfare that he experienced himself. His poetry was devised to strike at the conscience of England during the World War. Owen’s mother had encouraged him to write poetry from an early age and when he was old enough he travelled to France to teach English when the war broke out.
He then went on to join the army and the horrors that he faced completely changed his life. Having being injured in battle, he met Siegfried Sassoon, also injured, in a hospital and went on to encourage each other’s poetry and Sassoon, a well educated man, helped him to improve his drafts. Wilfred Owen felt a sense of duty to inform the public of the terrible conditions and suffering taking place during the war and quoted, ‘Above all I am not concerned with Poetry. My subject is war, and the pity of war. The Poetry is in the pity. ’ (R. P. Hewett, 1989, ‘A Choice of Poets’, p. 154) This is an extraordinary statement for a poet to make as it sets aside the rules of art and poetry, and leads him to write some of his most successful poems. He became a metaphorical spokesman for all the millions of soldiers that shared his experiences and is now seen as the most influential of the many poets of the First World War. ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ is a powerful poem, which tells of the exhausted and battered troops returning from the frontline and being subject to a gas attack.
Wilfred Owen used many ugly textured words in this poem: the troops are described as “old beggars” and “fatigued” showing how tired and miserable they were as they “cursed through the sludge”. They are then alerted with the gas attack when a man cries out. This is followed by what is described as an “ecstasy of fumbling” depicting how clumsy their movements were as they were shocked into action out of their weary states. The soldiers all desperately fit their gas masks to their faces.
However, one soldier is too late and begins “floundering like a man in fire or lime” as the gas fills his lungs. Owen uses a lot of imagery in this poem. The gas is portrayed as “a green sea” as the soldier is seen to be “drowning” by his fellow soldiers. The title and the last words are from the Odes of Horace, who was a Latin poet. When translated they read “It is a sweet and seemly thing to die for ones country. ” In the poem Wilfred Owen addresses “My friend! ” who is anyone who believes in Horace’s statement.
Wilfred Owen addresses and shocks the reader by saying “if you too could pace behind the wagon that we flung him in, and watch the white eyes writhing in his face” and “if your could hear, at every jolt, the blood come gargling from his froth-corrupted lungs,” that “my friend, you would not tell which such high zest to children ardent for some desperate glory, the old lie, Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori. ” The impact that the poem has on the reader is of disgust and shame. We freely acknowledge and accept warfare from the comfort of our contented lives and speak of it without real empathy of the anguish and suffering that takes place.
Owen realises this and this poem shows his bitterness against supporters of the war. ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ is a sonnet written in prayer form offered to young men who are doomed to die in battle. Sonnets are serious poems that explore meaningful themes, and in this case, death. The poem is a comparison with a Victorian style funeral and the way in which soldiers go to their death on the battlefield. Ceremonial details have counterparts during the warfare where in example, “the pallor of girls brows shall be their pall” and “their flowers the tenderness of silent minds”.
The poem ends with “and each slow dusk a drawing down of blinds”. Implying the sun set was the drawing down of blinds to mark their death. This was, and often still is customary to draw down the blinds of a house as a mark of respect for someone’s death. The counterparts of the ceremonial details included the “monstrous anger of the guns” that represented the “passing bells”, “the demented choir of wailing shells” that represented the church choirs and “hasty orisons” that stood for the prayers spoken at the funeral.
The general effect of ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ in comparison to ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ is that of sorrow and remorse, where the readers are shocked and politically corrected regarding their views and acceptance of war. ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ gives a graphical and nightmarish insight into the horrors faced by soldiers during war whereas ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ has a sorrowful pitch and powerfully comments on war. Both poems show the suffering and immorality of war and affect the reader in a slightly different ways. ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ questions the reader’s i tegrity and draws attention to the real hardships faced by soldiers during the war. ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ does not question the reader, but has a sad and touching tone that creates an image of the way in which these soldiers ended their lives. Conclusively, both poems deliver graphic and realistic relation to war that makes them so loved and renowned throughout literature. Siegfried Sassoon’s ‘Does it Matter’ and ‘Suicide in the Trenches’ both aim to tell the truth about war. He wanted to upset the enthusiastic civilians and those that misleadingly glorified the war.
They were devised from newspaper hints and memories from his own experiences. Siegfried Sassoon’s style is very direct and plain using the slang of soldiers at the time. He uses a pattern of blunt lines which lead to a shocking last verse that effectively astonishes the reader. Like Wilfred Owen, he felt it was his duty to inform the public of the terrible conditions and suffering taking place in the war. Having come from a wealthy family and study at Cambridge University, he lived without a profession and spent a lot of time writing poetry that he occasionally was able to publish.
He volunteered to become an Officer in the First World War and recorded his experiences in a diary that were later used in his poetry. After being injured he was taken to a Hospital in Scotland where he met Wilfred Owen and helped him with his poetry drafts. Unlike Wilfred Owen, he went back to fight in the war, which shows that he did not have the same great detestation Owen had. This therefore, reflects why his poems were more directed at the “blood thirsty” public and horrific outcomes of war.
Owen’s illustrated in greater detail the appalling circumstances that soldiers faced during the war. ‘Does it matter? ’ is a striking and sarcastic poem that speaks to the reader and questions their honest opinions of war. It asks a rhetorical question “does it matter” to be mutilated and psychologically harmed by war. He uses sarcasm saying that “people will always be kind” and “there is such splendid work for the blind”. Sassoon really means that it does matter. The most striking line of this is “For they’ll know that you’ve fought for your country and no one will worry a bit. This tells the reader that people will presume you are content that you have done your duties and they will not need to worry. You are obviously happy in knowing that you have fought for your country.
Sassoon shows that this is not the case as “you sit on the terrace remembering and turn your face to the light”, providing the reader with imagery of a traumatised and battered man sitting at home, squinting at the sun as he remembers the horrors he suffered. Sassoon uses “those dreams from the pit” as the hopes and ambitions of the soldier after the war and asks “do they matter? He is attacking the attitudes of the people that do not think of the horrible injuries caused by war and do not wish to know of them. ‘Suicide in the Trenches’ is a simple and precise poem. It tells of a young soldier living in the trenches “cowed and glum” and committing suicide. The soldier is described as “a simple soldier boy” promoting his innocence and youth. Although this poem has only three quatrain stanzas, the reader still gets a vivid insight into how horrendous and vile the conditions the soldiers were in really were. And conclusively, the young boy results to “putting a bullet in his brain”.
The vivid insight comes from the use of language such as “with crumps and lice and lack of rum” and “lonesome dark” that portrays their terrible suffering and inability to sedate them from reality with the consumption of rum. These conditions therefore contributed to the soldier boy’s collapse and break down. Sassoon writes “no one spoke of him again” which tells us that these kinds of events were kept quite as to not discourage further soldiers or men from joining the war or allowing the government to be hit with ridicule of the way in which these men were sent to fight.
In the last verse Sassoon targets the public angrily and addresses “you” the reader calling them “smug faced crows with kindling eye” meaning that they are arrogant and self-righteous with bright eyes as if they are excited. They are said to “cheer when soldier lads march by” implying that they encourage the war. They are said to “sneak home and pray you’ll never know the hell where youth and laughter go” which is incredibly forceful as the words “youth” and “laughter” are associated with children.
Sassoon therefore wanted the public to feel guilty that the men they are cheering into battle were once children and many were still in adolescence. This language is powerfully contrasted against the “hell” that they are said to go to which also shocks the reader and summarises in one word the awful situation that the “simple soldier boy” was said to be in. The marked pause before the final stanza extends the effect that the imagery used has on the reader. This adds to the intensity of the lines “He put a bullet through his brain. No one spoke of him again. ” and gives them a greater impact.
In essence, ‘Does it Matter’ and ‘Suicide in the Trenches’ are poems that convey the anger felt towards those who encourage war and they express sympathy for those who have been injured and traumatised as a result of warfare. The writings of both Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon have certain similarities: they were obviously both pacifists (I believe this is due to their roles as soldiers) and abhorred the violence of war. I also believe that through their poems they were both trying to communicate the reality of war, which goes against the popular opinion in that time that war was glorious and honourable.
They also both used vivid imagery to convey their meanings and add weight to their meanings. There are also several differences in the two poets’ approaches: the language used by Owen is much more florid and is full of metaphor and analogy. In contrast, Sassoon’s language was much simpler, precise and to the point and his imagery was much more literal. I believe that the most important point made by both Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon is that there is no glory in war. To many people of that time, reading their poems was possibly the first time they could associate with the horror that millions of soldiers experienced.