Dulce et decorum est War Poetry Wilfred Owen Wilfred Owen Over the coming lessons we will be studying the poem Dulce et Decorum Est but before we read the poem we need to find out a little bit about the author. Wilfred Owen, a British poet and soldier, was one of the leading poets of World War One. His shocking, realistic war poetry on the horrors of trench life and gas warfare was in stark contrast to both the public perception of war at the time, and to the patriotic verses written by war poets such as Rupert Brooke. Owen was killed in action a week before the war ended. Click the picture to watch a short film about Wilfred Owen World War One Historical Context Wilfred Owen is one of the most famous war poets. He was born in 1893 and died in 1918, just one week from the end of World War One. His poetry is characterised by powerful descriptions of the conditions faced by soldiers in the trenches. World War One took place between 1914 and 1918 and is remembered particularly for trench warfare, the use of gas and the appalling and senseless slaughter of millions of men, many as young as 15 years old. Owen’s poems are often violent and realistic, challenging earlier poetry which communicated a pro-war message. The first-hand experience of war is arguably one reason why there is such a shift in the attitude of poets towards war. Recruiting Dulce et Decorum Est Pro patria mori is a Latin phrase used at the end of the poem which means 'It is sweet and honourable to die for your country’. It was a phrase used by recruiting posters and other forms of war propaganda which attempted to persuade young men to ‘join up’ and go to war. When war first broke out thousands of men volunteered but the slaughter of soldiers on a massive scale meant that new men were constantly needed. To persuade young men to sign up as soldiers war was glorified and romanticised in books, posters, films and poetry. Such propaganda promised adventure, excitement and glory to those who volunteered to fight but the reality of life on the front line turned out to be very different. Recruiting Posters Recruiting Posters Recruiting Poets The British government needed millions of volunteers and, until conscription was introduced in 1916, young men were under incredible social pressure from the government, the local community and their friends and families to join the army. Newspapers printed dozens of poems which were designed to persuade young men to sign up. Harold Begbie, Matilda Betham-Edwards and Jessie Pope wrote crude war verses aimed at those who had not yet signed up to fight. Jessie Pope Wilfred Owen particularly detested Jessie Pope who composed verses for the Daily Mail. Pope was a civilian with no experience of conflict who supported the war from the safety of the Home Front. Owen dedicates ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ to her. Who’s for the Game? Who’s for the game, the biggest that’s played, The red crashing game of a fight? Who’ll grip and tackle the job unafraid? And who thinks he’d rather sit tight? Who’ll toe the line for the signal to ‘Go!’? Who’ll give his country a hand? Who wants a turn to himself in the show? And who wants a seat in the stand? Who knows it won’t be a picnic – not muchYet eagerly shoulders a gun? Who would much rather come back with a crutch Than lie low and be out of the fun? Come along, lads – But you’ll come on all right – For there’s only one course to pursue, Your country is up to her neck in a fight, And she’s looking and calling for you. Jessie Pope Relevance Recruiting was essential before the days of conscription and everything was done to persuade young men to join the army. The posters and poems we have looked at give us some idea of how much pressure young men were under to ‘join up’. The war itself was described as a game and an adventure; exciting and glamorous. Can you think of any modern day examples of how war is romanticised and glorified? Do you think such things could influence a person’s decision to become a soldier? Dulce et Decorum Est 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 tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind. Dulce et Decorum Est Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!–An ecstasy of fumbling, Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time; But someone still was yelling out and stumbling And flound'ring 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. Dulce et Decorum Est 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. What is it about? The poem is made up of four stanzas. Can you work out what is happening in each? Complete the table below: Stanza Stanza 1 Stanza 2 Stanza 3 Stanza 4 What is happening The poet describes... Consolidate Understanding What are your first impressions of this poem? Below are a few sentence starters to help you write a paragraph about it. Dulce et Decorum Est ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ by _____ is about … In the first stanza the poet describes… The second stanza begins with… Stanza three is… In the final stanza Owen is saying… Consolidation The poem describes a gas attack on a trench in World War One. The poem reveals to the reader the terrible consequences of a gas attack: 'the blood / Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs'. It also presents the unglamorous reality of trench life, with the soldiers described as being 'like old beggars'. The Latin used at the end of the poem means 'It is sweet and honourable to die for your country', a concept Owen is strongly denying. Imagery Imagery Look at the imagery used by Owen in this poem. What words and phrases are used to paint a picture of life in the trenches? What two surprising things are the soldiers compared to in stanza one? Pick out unpleasant or ugly words. When the gas spreads around them in verse two, what unusual comparison is used to describe the men? What happens to one of the men? What horrific images are used by Owen in the final stanza? Imagery Look at the imagery used in the first stanza. Why does the poet use these particular images? The Images Bent double, like old beggars under sacks Coughing like hags The haunting flares Men marched asleep Many had lost their boots/But limped on, blood-shod All went lame; all blind Drunk with fatigue What the image conveys Imagery Look at the imagery used in the second stanza. Why does the poet use these particular images? The Images Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! An ecstasy of fumbling 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 What the image conveys Imagery Look at the imagery used in the third stanza. Why does the poet use these particular images? The Images Before my helpless sight He plunges at me Guttering, choking, drowning What the image conveys Imagery Look at the imagery used in the fourth stanza. Why does the poet use these particular images? The Images We flung him in White eyes writing in his face His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin You could hear, at every jolt, the blood/Come gargling from the frothcorrupted lungs Obscene as cancer Bitter as the cud/Of vile incurable sores on innocent tongues Children ardent for some desperate glory What the image conveys The opening verse is full of words about 'fatigue': the soldiers Imagery and'marched asleep', they 'trudge', and 'limped on'. They are 'deaf', 'lame' language and 'blind'; all rather pathetic images intended to reveal the reality of life in the war. The narrator describes a gas victim 'guttering, choking, drowning'. The verbs used by Owen are associated with suffocation and death. The language used conveys both the agony of the victim of the gas attack as well as the effect on those disturbed by what they have witnessed: 'watch the white eyes writhing in his face, / His hanging face'. Structure There is not a clearly defined structure to the poem, although Owen does make use of rhyme, mostly on alternate line endings. The first stanza has a slow steady rhythm, why would this be? In the second stanza comes the gas attack. How and why does Owen change the pace of the poem here? How and why is verse three different? What effect is created by switching to the second person in stanza four? Who do you think Owen is addressing here? Poetic Techniques Copy down the table below. Find examples in the poem and write down the effect created. Technique Evidence simile ‘Bent, double, like old beggars under sacks,’ metaphor ‘Drunk with fatigue’ alliteration repetition Effect Poetic Devices How does Owen use structure and poetic devices to convey the reality of life in the trenches? Use the sentence starters below to help you write a paragraph about it. Dulce et Decorum est In ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ Wilfred Owen uses a number of poetic devices… The simile… Metaphors such as…… Alliteration is used to.. Point, Evidence, Explain Look at how Owen uses language in the poem. Make three good points about the poem, select three quotations to back up your points then explain the quotations in detail. Point The men are exhausted as they march back from the front line. Evidence ‘Bent double, like old beggars under sacks’ Explain Owen uses language here to convey the soldier’s extreme fatigue. The shocking simile, comparing the soldiers, to beggars is a far cry from the glamorous images of life in the army presented to the public by the recruiting campaign. Plenary Read your paragraph about ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ to the rest of the group. Ask your peers how it could be improved. Themes and Links Themes The opening verse reveals to the reader the dreadful and wretched state to which the soldiers have fallen. Instead of young, strong troops they are 'Bent double', ‘ like beggars’, 'Knock-kneed’ and ‘coughing like hags'. Owen's imagery presents the soldiers as broken and damaged old men. War has broken down these men, and they are described in the most unglamorous, inglorious manner. Owen's anger at this is obvious. Themes Owen feels utter disillusionment with war. Following the horrific gas attack he directly addresses the reader: 'My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie' Owen condemns the idea that serving your country in war is glorious. He is highly critical of the 'high zest', or great enthusiasm, used to convince men to go to war. His experience has shown him the truth. War is brutal and a destroyer of young lives. His use of the word 'children' is very significant. Many of the soldiers in World War One were only 16 and 17 years old. Such impressionable young men were fed ‘The old Lie’ (notice the capitalisation of ‘Lie’) that war was glorious and glamorous. Owen’s experience on the battlefield told him that this was not true.