Dulce et Decorum Est,’ by Wilfred Owen and the poem ‘To Lucasta, on Going to the Wars,’ by Richard Lovelace, Essay
The two poems, “To Lucasta, going to the Wars” by Richard Lovelace and “Dulce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen are both devoted to the subject of war. Lovelace’s poem was written in the 17th century and as well as almost all the poetry of the period has romantic diction. The war is shown as something truly worthwhile, glossed and honorable for a man. The protagonist is leaving his beloved for the battlefield and his tone is pathetic and solemn. He calls the war his new mistress and asks his beloved woman not to be jealous as love to her is impossible for him without honor. In this way the overall mood of the poem is idealistic and heroic. The protagonist refers to war as a thrilling adventure and even affection. The tone of the Owen’s poem written under the impact of the World War I is of another kind. It has no trace of glory and devotion. On the contrary, Owen’s aim was to dispel that image of war, to show it as something horrifying and dehumanizing by means of vivid depiction of all the gruesome atrocities, to reflect disillusionment and disgust of war. That’s why the author sets the scene of ghastly battlefield and starkly describes a man perishing from intoxication with gas. The tone is sorrowful and passionate and makes the reader feel empathy with the warriors. The style can be also described with profound depth of emotion.
The according moods of both poems are expressed be means of form; that is to say by rhythm and structure first of all. The form of “To Lucasta” is presented by three stanzas containing four lines each. It is short and easy to read, and light and energetic rhythm is achieved by alternating from iambic tetrameter to iambic trimeter. The structure reflects dynamics of the plot, for example by the line “A sword, a horse, a shield” which itself reminds the rhythm of a march or a horse’s jogging. At the same time, the poem “Dulce et Decorum Est” is much longer and consists of four stanzas with eight, six, two and twelve lines, respectively. Different rhyme patterns can be traced here (ABAB, CDCD, BCBC and others), but on the whole they correspond to the schemes of old French ballads. As for the meter, it reminds Iambic Pentameter. Though, the conventional rhythm is broken by the author’s punctuation (exclamation points and commas as well as periods and dashes). Due to this device the poem comes closer to prose and sounds conversational.
It was probably used to avoid song music mood and to give as much contrast as possible to the heroic poems of other authors like Richard Lovelace. If in Lovelace’s case the poem is to inspire the reader, in Owen’s work the rhythm is like a war, like death itself – hard, stumbling, hopeless, fumbling, and full of suffer. The reader suffers while overcoming all those hyphens and points inside lines. In this way, the two poems are on the opposite sides by their inner and outer sense. As for the form, there are a number of poetic devices which serve to fill the poems with the necessary diction. As Lovelace’s poem is easier and lighter by tone, there are not so many devices, but still the figurative language is romantic and eloquent. The imagery is delicate and beautiful. The innocence and pureness of the protagonist’s beloved woman is described by the words “the nunnery of thy chaste breast and quiet mind”; the lover’s attitude is shown by the words “Sweet” and “Dear”; the rush and aspiration of the hero is underlined by the metaphors of “flying” and “chasing”. There is no place for regret or fear; on the contrary, it seems that the hero relishes his fortune, his obligation and the overall idea of warfare. The language of Owen is not plain either, but, as it has been underlined above, the arsenal of poetic devices is not the same as that one used by Lovelace. It is lacking its idealistic enthusiasm.
Many of the metaphors and epithets utilized by Owen are not common and look like the author’s lucky innovation. For example, the scene of a man drowning in the poisoning gas is described by the information which can be received by different senses: green dim light is compared with the smothering waters of a deep sea; the sounds are “guttering” and “choking” – stuttering and gurgling, similar to a candle flickering or a gutter with water draining through it. These similes strengthen the feeling of disgust and horror, as the air is full of monsters and fear. Powerful and uncompromising poetic devices in their rich variety help the author to depict the loathsome and brutal experience of death in war. Not only the lexical devices are working, but phonetic devices are effective as well: the attention of the reader is described and chained by alliteration. For instance, the line “And watch the white eyes writhing in his face” with sound [w] repeated reminds deafening howling and wailing of sinister wind or some insatiable beast. At the same time they assist the author in the mood of mourning and lamenting for the perished. Confronting images are stocking in the reader’s mind. Eloquent are the similes used by Owen: the face of a suffering soldier is compared with “a devil’s sick of sin”; the blood coming from “froth-corrupted lungs” is described as “obscenes cancer”, “bitter as the cud of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues.” The images are so deep that they are not easy to forget; they are evocative and exciting and create an alarming projection on the memory.
Blunt and grisly details are realistically showing all the ravages; they drastically support the sentiments and take the reader from away from their ‘zone of comfort’. Poignant grotesque is used to enforce the shocking effect of devastating outcomes of war. In the end Owen uses the inversion of famous Latin phrase “Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori.” It is used with irony as all the plot of the poem contradicts with its decorous inspiration and “high zest”. In this way the “old lie” of Horace’s instruction is shown as elaborate farce. This is how horrific and grim imagery of Owen’s poetry is created making a profound compelling and dramatic impact on readers’ minds and fully expressing the author’s anti-war protest. And if in “To Lucasta” the author appeals to imagined “Dear” and “Sweet” girl, in the “Dulce et Decorum Est” the author appeals to someone equal (“my friend”), which can be generalized and extended to the extent of his contemporaries as well as future generations.
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