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Form Of War: Content And Form Relation In Wilfred Owen's “Dulce Et Decorum Est”

686 words - 3 pages


In Wilfred Owen's “Dulce Et Decorum Est” the form mimics a Shakespearean sonnet. For example,the twelve line stanza at the back-half with the rhyme scheme ABABCDCDEFEF is similar to a Shakespearean sonnet. This clever use of form complements the content of the poem: the poem's content argues against the glorification of war, and the form of the poem matches this argument. This cohesiveness furthers the argument of the poem, and it is exemplified throughout the poem.
In the first stanza, the cohesiveness of content and form is best demonstrated by the following lines: “Bent double, like old beggars under sacks / Knock-kneed,coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge”(1-2). Those lines illustrate the aforementioned break with tradition: traditionally, one does not refer to soldiers as being like beggars. Those lines also hint at the rhythm of the poem. The meter is another jab at conventional poetry and the “war is glorious” tradition. The rhythm of the poem is akin to soldiers staggering back from the front with deliberate but wavering steps. This tone is achieved by the nominally iambic pentameter rhythm. Certain lines break the conventions of the genre: “Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge”(2). The unstressed/stressed rule is naturally broken because of the word “coughing”. How does one say coughing without emphasizing the first syllable? One could attempt to say coughing without stressing the first syllable, but they would sound peculiar,like a perturbed German. It is implausible to naturally stress the first syllable in coughing: therefore, the unstressed/stressed syllable pattern is reversed, i.e, trochaic pentameter. This change in form fits the content of the poem because an abrupt fit of coughing is disruptive.
The coughing is not the only disruption. The first line in the second stanza also disrupts the form to match the chaos of war. Men are “fumbling” for gas masks so that they can survive a gas attack(9). It's a realistic portrayal of war; it's not idealistic. This realism...

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