Compare two poems by Wilfred Owen, showing how they reflected contemporary attitudes to the ‘Great War’. Refer closely to language and poetic techniques.
World War 1 broke out in 1914. At the beginning of the war, there was a great feeling of patriotism and enthusiasm. Young men were eager to join the armed forces, as they thought the glory and heroism of war would be enjoyable. Fighting in France was expected to be an exciting adventure. Thousands of men joined so they would have the honor of serving their Queen and country. Underage age boys lied about their age in order to join, which showed that the English people thought the war would be won and over quickly. Many patriotic poems and songs were written which encouraged the war effort even more. However, by 1917 the true horror and cruelty of fighting in the war was unveiled. The soldiers experienced true pain, hardship and psychological damage. For those who were left in England, there was huge grief for the loss of life, and people’s attitudes to the war changed dramatically.
Wilfred Owen was a teacher who fought from the begging of the ‘Great War’. Owen himself displayed a contrasting attitude as the war progressed through his poems. Before he signed up, he shared the view of the British public, and wrote ‘Ballad of Peace and war’ in 1914. He thought that peace was good but it was better to fight for the country. By 1917, his poetry had changed from blind patriotic disillusion and encouragement, to bitterness and anger. “Dulce et Decorum Est’, and “Disabled” were poems he wrote during his time in Craig Lockheart hospital, where he was suffering from shell shock. He had seen the tragedy and graphic brutality of trench warfare, and the trauma he had seen and experienced had sunk in.
Both the poems focus on one main person or event. Wilfred Owen wrote these poems to highlight the reality of war, they were ‘protest poems’ to propaganda declaring fighting for soldiers as an honor.
‘Disabled’ focuses on a dingle victim of war, now disabled and in a wheelchair, spending his life in an institute, lonely and unloved. The emphasis of the poem is the tragic consequences of war, and the man’s pain and suffering evokes great empathy for the disabled man in the reader. Losing his legs in the war has robbed him of his masculinity and youth forever. The message of this poem is that the man wasted his life and that he joined for the wrong reasons ‘He thought he’d better join. He wonders why.’
‘Dulce et Decorum est’ focuses on one specific incident, a soldier who dies during a gas attack. The reader is shown the reality of war, and the poem is directed at the reader ‘If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood’. This technique immediately involves the reader and grabs attention. The reader imagines how bad the reality of trench warfare really was, and if they experienced it then their attitude would have changed. This kind of death is not ‘sweet’ or ‘fitting’ is the...