War has been a popular subject in poetry for many years. The genre covers bravery and glory as well as death and suffering. The poems we are about to look at each of these views between them, though they have a very different perspective of war.
Both ‘Dulce et Decorum EstÂ´ and ‘The Charge of the Light BrigadeÂ´ are about battle and the death of soldiers, but portray the experience of war in different ways.
TennysonÂ´s poem celebrates the glory of war, despite the fact that, because of an error of judgement ‘Someone had blunderedÂ´, six hundred soldiers were sent to their death.Order now
OwenÂ´s poem, on the other hand, might almost have been written as a challenge to TennysonÂ´s rousing and jingoistic sentiments. He presents the horror of senseless death in the trenches.
We are told that Tennyson wrote ‘Light BrigadeÂ´ in a few minutes after reading the description in The Times of the Battle of Balaclava in 1854. He was a civilian poet, as opposed to a soldier poet like Owen. His poem ‘Light BrigadeÂ´ increased the morale of the British soldiers fighting in the Crimean War and of the people at home, but Tennyson had not been an eyewitness to the battle he describes.
Wilfred Owen wrote ‘Dulce et Decorum EstÂ´ towards the end of the First World War. He was killed in action a week before the war ended in 1918. He wanted to end the glorification of war. Owen was against the propaganda and lies that were being told at the time. He had first-hand experience of war and wanted to tell people back at home the truth. Owen was an officer and often had to send men to their deaths and his poem gives a personal account of what the war was like. Many patriotic poems had been written at the time and Owen knew that they lied.
TennysonÂ´s poem is a celebration of the bravery of the six hundred British troops who went into battle against all odds, even though they knew that they would be killed. The poem starts in the middle of the action. ‘Light BrigadeÂ´ is written in dactylic feet one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables and this gives a sense of the excitement of the galloping horses in the cavalry:
‘Half a league, half a league, half a league onwardÂ´
Tennyson creates a vivid impression of the bravery of the soldiers with many ‘verbs of action’:
‘Flash”d all their sabres bare, Flash”d as they turn”d in air, Sabring the gunners thereÂ´
The heroic command in the first stanza, which is repeated for effect in the second, sweeps the reader along without time to question the futility of the gesture:
‘Forward, the Light Brigade! Charge for the guns!’
He uses noble sounding euphemisms like ‘the valley of DeathÂ´, to describe the fate that awaits these men. He then goes on to use personification:
‘The jaws of DeathÂ´ and ‘the mouth of Hell’
Do not convey the gory reality of the slaughter.
Tennyson creates a feeling of exhilaration, of the nobility of warfare with his use of poetic devices, such as repetition:
‘Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them.’
‘Stormed at with shot and shell, while horse and hero fell’
Tennyson celebrates the ideal of unquestioning obedience of the soldiers in the face of death:
‘Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and dieÂ´
In the final stanza Tennyson creates a sense of the immortality of the soldiersÂ´ bravery with a rhetorical question and commands:
‘When can their glory fade? O the wild charge they made! Honour the charge they made, Honour the Light Brigade, Noble six hundred! Â´
The repetition of ‘the six hundredÂ´ at the end of each stanza reminds the reader of the enormous loss of life, but at the end of the poem they have become the ‘Noble six hundredÂ´ and are celebrated as heroes.
Wilfred Owen in his poem is asking us to question all the certainties that Tennyson is celebrating. The theme of ‘Dulce et decorum EstÂ´ is that war and dying for one’s country are not at all glorious. This message is echoed throughout the poem from the first stanza to the last line. In the opening stanza you get a very different image of the soldiers from what you might expect from the title. One thinks of soldiers as smart, proud, marching, and fighting, but OwenÂ´s picture is based on his personal experience of the battlefield. OwenÂ´s soldiers are
‘Bent double, like old beggars under sacks’
He then goes on to say
‘Knock kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge.’
Owen presents the reader with details of what people looked like and how they felt.
‘Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. Â´
The men are not really marching, or if they are it is a death march. These men are so tired that they are like old women and beggars floundering through the mud. They are the opposite of TennysonÂ´s ‘Noble six hundredÂ´. OwenÂ´s picture is not glorious at all and the very first line would shock people at home who imagined the men gallantly charging forward to attack. Owen captures the mood of the scene very well. The first stanza is very slow and inactive and words such as ‘trudge’ capture the atmosphere. He says ‘we’ when he’s talking about the men’s actions so we are reminded that he was there. The second stanza is very active and frantic in comparison. This shows the agonizing tedium the men had to put up with and that they could be killed instantly after a rush of adrenaline.
‘GAS! Gas! Quick, boys! An ecstasy of fumbling, Fitting the clumsy helmets just in timeÂ´
The contrast of ‘ecstasyÂ´ and ‘fumblingÂ´ is an effective way of showing this. At first, the reader is relieved that the gas masks are on, but then we realize that someone hasn’t got his on yet. A man is helplessly stumbling and Owen can’t save him. This is not a glorious death. By using vivid imagery Owen gives the reader the feelings of horror and disgust that he wants them to feel at the sight of the sight of the soldier poisoned by gas:
‘In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.’
This not only shows how the soldier is suffering, but that he is in terrible pain. The reader can imagine the soldier’s life flickering away.
In OwenÂ´s poem death is vividly presented as the opposite of glorious:
‘â€¦The white eyes writhing in his face,’
‘His hanging face, like a devil”s sick of sin’
It is as if he is filling the poem with as many ugly images as he can:
‘Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues’.
During the man’s death it is as if you are reliving his torture.
Owen gives us a detailed picture of the war: he talks in the first person, ‘I saw him drowningÂ´, and describes one dying man, in contrast to TennysonÂ´s rather impersonal ‘six hundredÂ´. He wants us to imagine that we are actually there on the battlefield so we get an idea of what it was like. This poem is the closest we will get to experiencing such atrocities and if we had, Owen tells us in the final lines, then we would not try to glorify the war any more. ‘Dulce et Decorum est’- ‘It is sweet and honourable to die for one’s country’. After reading the two poems I have decided this statement is untrue.