Owen was an English poet whose work was characterised by his anger at the cruelty and waste of war, which he experienced during service on the Western Front. Edited by Sassoon and published in 1920, Owen’s single volume of poems contain some of the most poignant English poetry of World War One, including ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’.
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One way Owen conveys the experience of war is by making people aware that the actual horrors of war were hidden behind propaganda. He conveys this very well in ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ “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.” This is one of the most memorable lines of Owen’s poetry. It translates from Latin to: “It is sweet and right to die for one’s country”. This was a phrase repeated in schools and churches and homes and political circles to entice young men to embrace patriotic fervour and enlist in the military. The true nature of war was concealed and they went off to war like the soldier in “Disabled” – young, naive, full of dreams and completely unprepared for the carnage and complexity, “half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race”. This completely dismantles the myth that war is glorious and young men should die on their nation’s behalf. The verses before the last lines of ‘Dulce et decorum est’ implies that the war was a surreal war of horror, nightmare, and pain. This single poem of Owen’s is enough to convey to the reader just how terrible WWI was, and how far removed the actuality of battle was from idealism and heroism. ‘The Falling Leaves’ Margaret Cole says “I saw the brown leaves dropping from their tree” by connecting the leaves to the soldiers she is linking the inevitability of the soldiers’ deaths to the inevitability of the leaves falling from the tree. This shows that, like Owen, Margaret believes that the propaganda is misleading and although she thinks the soldiers are brave “gallant multitude” she thinks they are being brave for the wrong reasons, just like Owen. Owen, again, reveals the lies of propaganda in ‘Disabled’ “Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal” Owen is implying that no one appreciates the protagonist and his work, Owen implies that he is forgotten and that he is not the hero he thought he would be and the propaganda misled him completely.
Another way Owen conveys the experience of war is by highlighting how the soldiers are not appreciated as there are loads of soldiers and an individual is not going to be remembered for what a vast mass has done even if that individual has lost a part of him for the war. One of the reasons why ‘Disabled’ is such a strong and memorable poem is how much it resonates with the reader. The young protagonist is realistic, relatable. He could be any one of the young men who joined the war for glory and did not stop to contemplate the sacrifices required, and who returned home very different physically or psychologically from his former self. He spends much of the poem reminiscing about the days before the war when he was heroic and beloved, as well as physically whole. He joined the war for seemingly silly reasons, and Owen condemns how easy it was for such a naive boy to lie about his age and enlist. “Now he will never feel again how slim Girls’ waists are, or how warm their subtle hands, All of them touch him like some queer disease.” The quote shows how the boy’s greatest regret now is that he will not be attractive to women. He does not lament his lack of glory or awards, but that his life back at home will be incomplete and unfulfilling. This is a pitifully sad and universal fear for young men of all wars and all eras. The protagonist doesn’t think he is a whole person “men that were whole” he is abandoned, uncared for, isolated, forgotten as he is not really a man. Margaret Cole similarly writes about this issue in ‘The Falling Leaves’ “I saw the brown leaves dropping from their tree” this implies that the soldiers’ deaths are trivial, just like Owen did, as she is implying that in this poem the leaves are soldiers and not many people care if a multitude of leaves fall off a tree they just carry on with their lives as if nothing happened. Margaret Cole is implying that the after effects of the soldiers are trivial to society. Anna Gordon-Keown differs in the way she conveys the experience of war. In ‘Reported Missing’ Anna writes about a mother who has recently received news that her son has been reported missing while he was fighting in the war. Anna conveys the mother to be grieving heavily, and also in denial of the son’s death, “This heart would never beat if you were dead.”. The fact that the mother is in so much distress really implies that the death of one soldier can mean the emotional death of many.
Owen also highlights how the soldiers are being controlled in ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ “What passing-bells for those who die as cattle?Â Only the monstrous anger of the guns.”. This poem suggests that the young men fighting in the war die nameless and faceless – like animals. They are denied the dignity of proper funerals and burials in many cases, and are not afforded the rituals and traditions of those who die under normal circumstances. They must be content with the sounds of guns and rifles as their bells and choirs. Owen also expresses sympathy with the women back at home who mourn their fallen sons, husbands, and brothers, but has little to comfort them. War disrupts the patterns and norms of life, and, clearly, of death. Owen also highlights how soldiers are being controlled in ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ where Owen says “Men marched asleep” this implies that the soldiers are simply going to war for the sake of it and are being blinded by their false hope of being a hero not rationally thinking of the consequences to soon follow.
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In conclusion, Owen is (rightfully) very infuriated with practically everything to do with war and he didn’t like how it was portrayed. He has first-hand experience with the horrors of war but the women writers don’t so they can only write about what they have heard (or have been fed) so the ways they convey war are sometimes quite different.
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