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The use of imagery is what makes some poems stick out from others. There are those poems that make the readers feel as if they are actually sitting there, talking to the narrator themselves. Wording is a big part of making the connection between reader and author. If the right words are not used at the right time, the reader may not achieve the engrossing feeling of being with the author as he/she tells their tale. The story may fall flat. Poets have to be careful about which words to use and when to use them. The words have to fit in with the poem’s tone and time-piece to work effectively. One author that does a good job at keeping the reader engrossed within his work by using the right words for the moment is Wilfred Owen in one of his most famous pieces, “Dulce et Decorum Est.” The words used in this poem keep the feeling of terror alive throughout the story, and give the poem just the right punch to keep it memorable in the minds of readers.
One of the first times Owen uses words to paint a picture of exactly what he wants to convey to the reader is in the first line, “Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,” (Owen 802). Within this piece of a sentence, the word “beggars” sticks out to the readers. When people think of beggars, they usually think of homeless people or people in the streets of cities, asking for change or food. In older days, beggars used to carry sacks that were filled with whatever possessions they owned at the time. Owen is trying to convey to the reader the image of these soldiers, slowly making their way towards rest, bent over by the weight of both their equipment and the exhaustion of being in war. The word beggars help the reader to understand this image. Owen could have used other words to describe the same thing, but no other word would fit with the tone of the rest of the poem. The tone is dark and the picture of old “beggars” trudging down a road is darker than if Owen had used the word “paupers” instead. In this case, the words used help to keep the tone of the poem smooth and consistent.
Another prime example of excellent wording can be found only a few lines down. “Men marched asleep, many had lost their boots/â€¦/Drunk with fatigue; deaf event to the hoots,” (Owen 802). The use of “asleep” and “drunk” both paint a clear image in the reader’s head. Men marching half asleep, so tired that they can barely keep going. The word “drunk” reinforces the idea that these men are barely making it. They can’t really go on for much longer. The fatigue has made them sluggish. This adds to the picture of the old beggars marching, half asleep and almost falling over. The poem would not have the same effect if “tired” or a word such as “tipsy” had been used instead of “asleep” and “drunk.” These words add to the story and keep the tone from lapsing.
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“An ecstasy of fumbling,” (Owen 802). What is the first thing that comes to people’s minds when they hear the word “ecstasy?” Many people say that ecstasy means an intense and euphoric experience of joy. Owen uses the word to describe the intense rush the soldiers felt as they attempted to put on their gas masks. It describes not a sense of extreme joy, but a sense of terror as the reader realizes that not all of the soldiers will get their mask on in time. Some definitions will say that ecstasy is a time where a person’s sense of time and reality are suspended and this agrees with Owen’s use of the word. The soldiers are frozen in time, racing against time and the gas to get their masks on. The word works in this poem because it implies the rush the soldiers felt during the gas attack.
One final word that Owen used just at the right time can be found in the following line: “As under a green sea, I saw him drowning,” (Owen 802). This line describing what the narrator saw as he watched a fellow soldier die in the gas attack is especially unnerving because the description of watching as someone drowns and not being able to save them is terrifying. The word is used because, in a sense, the soldier is drowning in the gas as a person would drown under water. This word keeps the tone alive through the end of the second stanza and all the way to the end.
As one can see, the right words can do marvels for a story or poem. Owen is a master of choosing these words for just the right moments. His poem “Dulce et Decorum Est.” never falters or lapses in tone or quality due to his excellent choice of words. The feeling of dread and terror is plain throughout the story and the word choice has such an impact that it is enough to stay in reader’s minds for a long time after they read it.
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