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Dulce et Decorum Est and Anthem for Doomed Youth
By Sanya Dua
Modern responders can gain insight into the concerns of World War 1 through an appreciation of texts written during that time. “Dulce et Decorum Est” and “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, both written in 1917 by World War I veteran, Wilfred Owen typify wartime poems. His literature highlights the contextual issues of his society such as anti-war sentiment, the horrors of war and the erosion of religious faith. Owen’s work ultimately allows us to gain a deeper appreciation of the brutality of war and for those who fought, lived and suffered through it.
“Dulce et Decorum Est” and ” Anthem for Doomed Youth” both capture the anti-war sentiment that grew as a result of the widespread death and suffering. Owen explores the futility of war by highlighting the pointlessness of deaths that occur, through the rhetorical question and simile, “What passing bells for those who die as cattle.” This degrades the lives of soldier to the same level as cattle as they are being slaughtered for others gain. Personification is used in, the monstrous anger of guns’ to underscore the potential for weapons to deliver horrific damage to the lives of soldiers which fuelled the worries and concerns of their families back home. Owen continues to depict the declining support for the war in “Dulce et Decorum Est” through the use of second person to address those who would encourage young men to give up their lives for their country as illustrated in “my friend, you would not tell with such high zest”. The use of “my friend” is ironic and betrays his anger as he holds these people accountable for what he and so many others has had to endure and claims that if only they were to witness the atrocities of war then they would realise the extent of the “old Lie”. Thus, the ideas that Owen presents to readers in his poem act to reinforce the futility of war by highlighting the eroding support for the war that was present in the context of the 1910s.

The brutal nature of World War I was one of the main reasons behind society’s concern with the conflict. Owen uses “Dulce et Decorum Est” to explore the horrors of war by capturing the concerns of those involved. Owen depicts the poor physical condition of the men, “bent double, like old beggars under sacks.” This simile demonstrates how dirty and unhealthy the soldiers appear. They are compared to “old beggars” which highlights how the men have been aged prematurely by their experiences. Owen also uses imagery to make comments on the terrible mental effects that the war has on the men, “drunk with fatigue”. This helps convey the exhaustion that the men had to endure and throws into sharp relief the hardships and suffering of the men.Owen conveys how depressingwar can be in “Anthem for doomed youth” through the use of an comparison in “but in their eyes shall shine the holy glimmers of good byes. The pallor of girls’ shall be their pall.” Through this he illustrates the families’ reactions to the death of loved ones. The dead soldiers do not get to be honoured; all their families and friends can do is grieve at the sorrowful news. These notions of pain and suffering are shown by Owen to be the driving force behind the contextual concern with the atrocities of war.

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Owen explains how the burden of World War I eroded the religious faith of those fighting for their country. During a time when religion played an integral role in everyday life, “Anthem of Doomed Youth” casts doubt on the importance of faith.Owen conveys his own loss of faith by highlighting the pointless religious mourning that follows every death by using a rhetorical question, What candles may be held to speed them all?’ The candles are symbolic of religious tradition and are depicted as redundant. The idea of declining religion and loss of faith is carried into many of Owen’s other works including “Dulce Et Decorum Est.” Here the poet employs religious imagery to subvert the positive and noble impact that religion was typically associated with during the early 20th century, “His face hanging, like a devil’s sick of sin”. By suggesting that the fallen soldier had traits in common with the devil, Owen proves that religion no longer holds the same sacred meaning that it once did for these soldiers. Thus, through his poetry, Owen sets out to highlight how World War I has acted as the catalyst for the erosion of faith for many of the soldiers fighting on the front line.
Wilfred Owen uses his poems as a means to reveal the contextual concerns of the time regarding World War I. “Dulce Et Decorum Est” and the “Anthem for Doomed Youth” are two of his works which explore the burden of war and its impact on people, both in the short term and long term. Therefore Owen has immortalized the ideas and concerns of the time in his poems about his experiences in World War I.


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