Describe the conditions on the battlefield in of World War One as conveyed through the poems “Dulce et Decorum est”, “Anthem for Doomed Youth” both by Wilfred Owen and “from: Counter-Attack by Siegried Sassoon.
In this essay I will look at three poems “Dulce et Decorum est” by Wilfred Owen, “Anthem for Doomed Youth” also by Wilfred Owen and “from: Counter-Attack” by Siegfried Sassoon. In the above poems I will try to find different conditions that soldiers in the First World War had to suffer through on the battlefield as they fought for their beloved country.
The first condition I will look at is death in “Dulce et Decorum est” the words used to depict death are “guttering, choking, drowning” The effect of this is the contrast between the battlefield and water the soldiers are not near any water, but are drowning. However the effect of a gas attack would cause the soldiers to drown internally on their own blood so this is why these hard sounding words have been used. The words are very effective conveying the conditions on the battlefield as they show the true grim and horrific results of a gas attack.
Death is featured further down the poem in the fourth stanza “His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;” The method used here s irony; in the quote the devil is sick of sin. However the devil is supposed to cause sin. This quote is of great importance as it implies the frightful conditions soldiers are enduring as they fight and then die on the battlefield. In “Anthem for Doomed Youth” death is written in a different light it is showing the soldiers families mourning for their deaths. The first line in the poem “What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?” is using a simile to convey the conditions on the battlefield. The men are referred to as cattle being rounded up ready to fight and then be brutally killed with no concern given to any individual man. Having soldiers compared to cattle is a very good choice of language as cattle obey every command they are given, as the soldiers would have done without a second thought as they were sent to fight.
“from: Counter-attack” has death shown in its true horror “The place was rotten with dead”, Imagery is used here to give the image of masses of men slowly decomposing in the trenches and on the battlefield. The lines sound like they should say the place was rotting with dead but “The place was rotten with dead” gives the effect that the soldiers must have been lying in the trenches for some time to have rotten. Nevertheless the length of the war and terrible conditions like disease and vermin would have made the soldiers rot quicker.
Disease is found in “Dulce et Decorum est” again with results of a gas attack “If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,” The choice of words used here gives the effect ” from the froth- corrupted lungs” corrupted means polluted and infected these words are very strong and give the impression that this soldier will die without having any available cure. The poet has chosen to portray the truth, as it really was none of the poem has any romanticised features to it. “Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud” follows on from the previous quote. The simile of “Obscene as cancer” shows again the true destructive effects of the gas attack as cancer is one of the worst diseases in the world and to have used it as a likeness to a gas attack shows the horrific conditions of the First World War. Adding to this simile is another “bitter as the cud” this simile is compared to how a cow would regurgitate food. Comparing the soldiers to a cow shows the close resemblance between the gas effects and a farmyard animal.
The condition mud is used in “from: Counter-Attack” “face downward in the sucking mud” Sucking mud sounds as if the mud is alive and is absorbing the soldiers into their graves. The effect of this is that there is no care for life on the battlefield and that when you die you are immediately forgotten as the mud sucks you down. The words have been chosen for this reason. “Wallowed” and “Bulged” are also words referring to mud “Bulged” means you swell up with water or in this case with mud, this gives another ghastly view of the battlefield conditions. “Clotted heads slept in the plastering slime” clotted heads show how close the dead soldiers are together using slept in the sentence could mean that some of the bodies are still alive and that the odd few are still twitching as you would in your sleep. “Plastering slime” is the hardening mud surrounding the soldiers I think plastering is a very good choice of wording because it gives the image of the stiffening mud but also adding slime contradicts it as slime is runny and wet so the overview of this image is an uneven sea of dead soldiers.
Fatigue is featured in two of the poems in “Dulce et Decorum est” The enjambment in the first stanza is used to slow down the pace in which you read the poem. This method has been used to give the feel of tiredness that the soldiers on the battlefield are suffering. A word used to convey fatigue is “trudge” with this word you associate a very slow, dragging movement that has no thought to it. “Men marched asleep” this metaphor follows on from the use of trudge with the soldier’s movements being sluggish and the soldiers having no awareness of where they are going. “Drunk with fatigue;” this metaphor is used to convey the sheer tiredness of soldiers it is used very well as when you are drunk you are falling about and you find it hard to stand up, speak and remember where you are. All the above quotes are showing how the soldiers are absolutely exhausted but have the stamina to carry on.
In “from; Counter-attack” the soldiers are “Pallid, unshaved and thirsty, blind with smoke” The soldiers would be pale from not having sleep for days on end. They would not have been able to shave and the smoke from shells and gas would make your eyes weary and opaque. This shows how alert the soldiers must be at all times on the battlefield.
In “Dulce et Decorum est” noise is represented in the form of shells. “Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.” By saying that the shells are “tired” it shows the wearisome length of the First World War. The choice of wording for how the shells landed also shows exhaustion in the First World War. The word “dropped” has no direction or destination as you would think a shell would have. This is because of the wearisome length of the war and how everyone and everything is exhausted.
In “Anthem for Doomed Youth” noise is coming from the gunfire and shells. “Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle” Two methods are used to depict this condition. Onomatopoeia where the words used “rapid rattle” are the sound that the guns make giving a very quick reading of the words. This contrasts to the tiredness of the shells. The second being alliteration which adds to the effect of the sound by having both words starting with the same letter so the sentence it said quicker reflecting the sounds that a machine gun would make. These methods have been used to give the reader a more pragmatic view of the harsh sounds of how these weapons lead to some soldiers being killed, as they could not handle the continuous noise. “The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells” this description of the shells is showing them as being high pitched and uncontrolled. Referring to the shells as “demented choirs” Wilfred Owen has used personification. A choir is usually in harmony and is pitched just right. But if it weren’t then you would get a horrible piercing sound, which is the sound that the shells are making.
In conclusion I think in the three poems I have looked at “Dulce et Decorum est”, “Anthem for Doomed Youth” and “from; Counter-attack did convey the conditions of the First World War well. I found it interesting the way the poems took different views to the war like “Anthem for Doomed Youth” did not just focus on the war but the effects it had on the people left at home. Compared to the other two that just showed the harsh reality of the conditions on the battlefield and First World War, and how no one at home in Britain new the truth of what their men suffered through.