Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen and My Lai by David Campbell
I have put together two pieces of poetry today, both at different times. The first one is Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen, Dulce Et Decorum Est is said to be the turning point in war poetry as it was the first poem to challenge the war ideology of the time. The second poem is My Lai by David Campbell. My Lai tells the story of the infamous Vietnam massacre by US soldiers Wilfred Owen was a soldier poet who battled on the front line of the First World War. Because of the positive warfare ideology of fighting in the war was honorable and noble, so many people, such as Wilfred Owen, signed up, hoping to gain such honor.
However when Owen witnessed the atrocities of war, he went against the positive wave of war propaganda and decided to unveil the truth through his poem “Dulce Et Decorum Est”. Because of this, people have often viewed him as a revolutionary war poet. “Dulce Et Decorum Est” uses physical features such as sight, sound and touch to emphasize the violence of war. These features create a tone and mood of how dark, grim and horrible war can be. In the first stanza
The simile of comparing how they are walking to old beggars creates an image of despair. In stanza two a life threatening chaos lingers in the reader’s head when it finishes the recount and goes into the third stanza, which begins to reveal the message of the whole poem, Dulce Et Decorum Es, it is sweet and right to die for your country. The structure of the poem is in the form of a narrative. This form strengthens the poem’s message by allowing the reader to use imagery to feel as though they were there. The poem has three stanzas. Stanza one and two both have eight lines, whereas stanza three has twelve lines.
The tempo in the first stanza is slow and feels as though it drags. These deliberate caesuras emphasize how weary they felt and how slow the soldiers were walking. However, in stanza two the tempo quickens with a sense of urgency. As sound is used to hasten the pace, “Gas! Gas! Quick boys”. Stanza two also uses words like gas, lime and green to further emphasize the colour of war. Green gas, green uniforms and green masks. All the minor details in Dulce Et Decorum Est, make this piece of poetry very effective in putting across its message.
As Dulce Et, was the first in the line of many poems to reveal the truth of war it stunned readers and they slowly changed the way that they saw war for. David Campbell wrote the poem ‘My Lai’ in 1970, during the Vietnam War. It tells the story of the slaughter of Vietnamese villagers by US forces. Given Campbell’s history of serving in the Second World War, this strong piece of poetry came to a shock to most of his readers.
Campbell strongly pushes his negative ideology of the Vietnam War into his poem. And therefore positioning the reader to see though the ‘enemy’s’ eyes. My Lai” strongly privileges the villager’s side of the massacre, as Campbell chooses to have a male villager as the protagonist. Written in first person, it positions the reader to feel sick and disturbed on what was happening in Vietnam. Stanza one sets the scene of the beginning of the attack. The first line is an Enjambment into the second and third line. Use of symbolism in the last line of the first stanza, “and the blue milk spilt and ruined”. The words blue milk implies that the slaughter was under a new moon, a blue moon, and that the new moon was ruined because blood was spilt on that night.
Use of metaphor intensifies the first couple of shootings. It uses visual techniques to imply the US forces were killing the villagers, as the villagers would harvest their crops by juxtaposing the rifle fire to the word harvest. The structure of the poem is made up of 5 stanzas each made up of 4 lines. This free verse poem uses enjambment between the lines making the rhythm seem uneven and disjointed. This effective use of word painting gives the reader a sense of how fast and disjointed the protagonist was thinking.
Use of language in ‘My Lai’ was simple yet effective. It moves as it has a beginning, complication, climax and resolution. The beginning and the complication is the first stanza where it sets the scene of the village and the complication is it has just been under attack. The climax is gained over the next few stanzas until the third stanza seems like it’s all over. Because of the image that the protagonist is hiding underneath a dead cow with bodies surrounding him. It gives a sense of stillness as he reflects upon what has happened.
Who would have thought that they would lie so heavily upon my heart? ” this question can be implied both literally and emotionally. The resolution is in the last stanza, where the poem reveals that the soldiers are still there, and they have the idea of blowing up the cow the protagonist is under. Use of repetition of the bamboo being mowed links the last stanza to the first stanza. David Campbell’s attempt to capture the reader’s attention on what was happening in Vietnam was quite effective. It allows the reader to position themselves with the protagonist.
Campbell’s language is simple yet effective as it strongly implicates the reader with the villager. Wilfred Owen and David Campbell were both Australian poets. Although may have lived at different times they both made an impact on the audiences of their time. Dulce Et Decorum Est and My Lai both show the horrors of war. Both poems shocked audiences as they both went against the war ideology. However, Dulce Et Decorum Est was written about the first world war and the soldiers that took part. Whereas My Lai is written about the Vietnam War and the slaughter of villagers by US forces.
However, both poems express the view of how both poets thought in terms of the war. They both thought it was horrible in what happened and they clearly put across that message. My Lai uses a Vietnamese villager as the main character of the poem whereas Dulce Et uses an Australian soldier. Campbell who uses his imagination and ideological values to express his poem, unlike Owen uses his own experiences in the war to help write the poem. War poetry has been around for centuries. From the Canterbury tales in the medieval period to today’s modern poetry.
And when it changes, the ideology on war for that time changes. Wilfred Owen shocked readers by challenging the ideology that fighting and dieing for your country was the “sweet and right” thing to do. After this turning point, war poetry continued to express what the writer had to say. This is shown in My Lai more than 50 years later. My Lai expressed what David Campbell had to say about the Vietnamese war. They both thought war was atrocious because people were killed in the most demeaning manner and they clearly put across that message.