Wilfred Owens, The Send off and Dulce et Decorum Est
Wilfred Owen was born in Shropshire in 1893. He went to school at the Birkenhead Institute in Liverpool and studied at London University. From a young age he always wanted to be a poet. He suffered a severe illness then travelled to France due to health reasons. There he became a tutor in Bordeaux. He remained in France until 1915. After France, he joined the Manchester regiment and fell ill after long experiences of trench warfare. He was then sent to a military hospital in Edinburgh. This is where he met a fellow poet named Siegfried Sassoon.
Sassoon had a great influence on Owen and encouraged him to write his poems about the troubles of war. Owen was killed in November 1918, whilst in France after his re-draftment. During his lifetime, Sassoon collected many of Owen’s pieces and published them in 1920. Owen is a great example of men using the force of poetry to convey opinions to the general public about the cold heartedness of war. In the poem ‘The Send Off’ the title is very ironic, as a normal association of the phrase ‘to send off’ is used for a happy going away. Whereas here, there are no, ‘gay’ faces.
The first word in the poem is ‘Down’, which represents their descendents into hell and death. It almost seems as if the men are doomed before the poem has even started, or even before they have left the station. The third word on the first line ‘close’ gives us an idea of no escape and an oppressive atmosphere. ‘Darkening lanes’, tells us that the poem is set in a rural area, ‘lanes’, ‘darkening’, lack of light. This could also represent the men moving towards darkness. Also on the first line, the men are referred to as ‘they’. This not only makes them anonymous, but it is also very impersonal. It sounds as if the poet is disowning them.
On line two, ‘to the sliding shed’, tells us that the men are almost being treated like animals or cargo as this is where such objects are normally loaded. Line three shows us an oxymoron ‘grimly gay’, which makes us believe that the soldiers and public in the poem are putting on false smiles as they fear to show emotion. On line ten, there is an example of personification ‘winked’, this is yet another example of Wilfred Owen’s way of presenting opinions. The winking suggests a conspiracy against the men. The humans in the poem are unable to make much movement, but the surroundings around them are.
Line eleven, tells us how the men are being sent to death as someone is trying to move them away secretly ‘like wrongs hushed up’. When the men are given flowers, we cant help but feel a sense of irony, as these flowers are normally given as a sign of love and respect, but could be used as a tribute to the men’s deaths ‘gave them flowers’. In line seventeen, we see a rhetorical question ‘Shall return in wild train loads? ‘ Here the poet is trying to explain how the men will not return to ‘beatings of great bells’, as it is very unlikely that they will all return.
Evidence for this is the way he presented their return as a question instead of a certainty. ‘A few, a few, too few for drums and yells’. The repetition in this line slows the pace right down, which shows us a sign of death as if at a funeral. Line nineteen, we see a contrast to the guns and fire the men would have experienced during the war ‘to still village wells’. This phrase could also reflect the life of the village, for as the young men have gone away and died, the village has also died with it.
At the beginning of the very last line, we see the word ‘up’, which is a clever technique as it is the opposite of the first word of the first line. Perhaps the word ‘up’ is a sign of the men ascending up into heaven. ‘Up half known roads’. This final line, tells us how the soldiers have been away at war for so long and have suffered so much that they have forgotten their way home. The poem ‘Dulce and Decorum Est. ‘ is about a group of soldiers struggling to march on whilst being attacked by bombardments of chlorine gas.
All the men manage to put on their masks except for one. The man dies slowly and painfully as the other soldiers can only watch hopelessly. In lines one to eight, we learn that the men can barely stand up due to great physical pressure. We learn that many of them are sick from the damp cold ‘coughing like hags’. ‘But limp eon on blood shed’, tells us of the men’s great injuries. Lines nine to sixteen of the poem, are especially dramatic. Owen increases the speed and pace of this section, to give the effect of the men panicking while trying to put on their gas masks.
Gas! Quick, boys! ‘ Owen also uses the word ‘drowning’, which is especially effective as we normally associate drowning with a fluid, whereas here the word ‘drowning’ helps to describe the sheer mass of gas surrounding the men. The chlorine gas forths up in the lungs so much that the victim literally drowns. On line sixteen, the words ‘guttering, choking, drowning’, are all extremely effective, as they end with an ‘ing’, which helps the line to flow along with the dramatic essence of the words we associate with disease and death.
From lines seventeen, to the end of the poem, Owen is trying to explain how that unless you are in the war and you have seen the pain and sin, that he has, you would not possibly be able to comprehend the horrors of the war. ‘If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood’. He is also trying to destroy the old lie that fighting for your country is the most honourable thing a man can do. ‘The old lie: Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori’. Owen is also tired of young men signing their lives away in the hope of glory. ‘To children ardent of some desperate glory’.
Although the two poems are both about war, and both written by the same poet, they are in fact, fairly different. ‘The Send Off’ shows us the scenes of before and after the war, whereas, ‘Dulce et Decorum’, describes the horror of the war. The second poem also only reflects on one major point, which is the man being gassed, which gives us a greater sympathy to that one point. Whereas the ‘The Send Off’ focuses on a much larger scale, which in a way, makes us feel overwhelmed. ‘The Send Off’ is also a much more reserved poem. Its pace is much calmer and slower than that of ‘Dulce’.
Dulce’, on the other hand, takes a much more bitter view, which helps to strike at the point of the method behind it. The theme of methods is, however, strong in both the poems. In ‘The Send Off’, Owen tries to make people feel sorry for the soldiers being sent away, whereas in ‘Dulce’, Owen wants to strike your emotions by showing you through his language, the horrors of trench warfare. The main theme however, in ‘Dulce’, is to embarrass the idea of war being patriotic. This idea of patriotism sickens Owen, as he feels people as home don’t know the truths of the war, and wants to show them the reality through his art.
I preferred ‘The Send Off’, as I felt the slow pace gave me time to think and acknowledge all of the efforts Owen was making. The rhetorical questions in the poem, also made you think about his motives and opinions. In ‘Dulce’, Owen tried to convey his opinions far too harshly, whereas the subtle approach in ‘The Send Off’, I feel strikes straight home, with room for interpretation. I also liked ‘The Send Off’ as it showed us the emotions of the British community at home, whose men and sons were being sent away. Whereas ‘Dulce’ only showed us the striking pain of the soldiers.
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