War in Owen's Dulce et Decorum est and Sassoon's Base Details
World War I brought about a revolution in the ideas of the masses. No longer would people of warring nations apathetically back their governments and armies. A concerted and public effort on the part of a literary circle turned soldiers attacked government propaganda. Questioning the glories of war and the need for nationalism, an 'anti-war' literary genre developed in the trenches of Europe during World War I. Gruesome imagery juxtaposed with daily events brought war to the pages of literature. Despite the formation of this new 'anti-war' literary genre, few popular poets chose to tackle the theme of war and its purpose. Of the few poets, only two, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, attempted in any sincere sense to convey reactions to war in the modernist style. Sassoon and Owen both write about the glorification of life and the detestability of war; however, while Owen's "Dulce et Decorum est" depicts the universal perception of war, Sassoon's "Base Details" more subjectively intellectualizes war through his melodramatic efforts. Owen's objectivity creates an immortal image of war while Sassoon's subjectivity makes his works anachronistic.
Sassoon's and Owen's backgrounds shed light on their respective styles as poets. Unlike Sassoon, Owen only posthumously achieved a level of stature in literature. Born in 1893,Wilfred Owen experienced an almost Dickensian childhood featuring a devout mother and "rough-hewn" father. Sent for his first year of education to a harshly disciplinarian academy, Owen learned to escape into the world of literature. He later joined the British army's 5th Battalion and within a few months, fought on the battle front. During the time period between his joining the army and fighting on the front, he experienced most of the situations described in his poetry (Parsons 658). Suffering from shell-shock and the realization of the grotesque reality of war, Owen, institutionalized at Craiglockhart Military Hospital, not only composed and refined his poetic gift but also met with his more famous anti-war counterpart, Siegfried Sassoon. Returning to London, Owen spent the most productive months of his life writing poetry before returning to the war he presents in his works. During the time of recuperation, he completed "Anthem for a Doomed Youth" and "Dulce et Decorum est". With a promising career as a poet ahead of him, Owen tragically died leading his troops across Sambre Canal one week before armistice (Magill 2159).
"Dulce et Decorum est" presents the story of a gas attack in the trenches. Owen, in "Dulce et" and all of his other poems, does not exploit the war to create good poetry; rather, the war clasps him to create good poetry (Murry 325). Owen starts the poem with the grim image of a mass of soldiers moving as a unit of corpses, "bent double, like old beggars under sacks" (1). The soldiers, "coughing like hags" and "walking asleep" (2)...