The Horror and Waste of War in Owens’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” and “Insensibility”
Wilfred Owen utilises poetic techniques to create vivid imagery, expressing the trepidation and squander of war. This is most prominent in the poems ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ as well as ‘Insensibility’. ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ disruption of the ode form and violent imagery reveal the inhumane waste and horror of war. ’ Insensibility’ free verse and irregular meter is countered by his pararhyme, those ‘tuneless tendencies’, prevalent in Owen’s poetry.
‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ stanza length is irregular, the first two quatrains of traditional iambic pentameter, which is then discarded like the blind patriotism of the innocent within the horror of war. The visual imagery of the soldiers ‘Bent double, like old beggars under sacks’ graphically generates images of a suffering beyond recognition for the young soldiers are ‘Knock-kneed, coughing like hags’ and ‘cursed’ replaces a simpler verb to create the image of the unworldly. The soldiers that ironically limped away from the ‘Haunting flares’ of the front line, towards a ‘distant rest’ are so metaphorically ‘drunk with fatigue’ that they are impervious to the peril of the ‘Five-Nines that dropped behind’. As they limp away from the battlefield, alliteration and emotive language is used to mimic the distressful journey of the soldiers. They are revealed as men only after the visual image of reduced humanity is conveyed, ‘lame, blind, drunk, ‘deaf’ even to the bombs. The image of the ‘haunting flares’ foreshadow the human haunting in the couplet that is given visual emphasis in form. Evidently , Owen’s use of poetic form and language techniques expresses the ideas of horror and the waste of war.
In the sestet, in an explosion that discards the traditional convention of iambic pentameter, the reader is now participatory in the repetitive cry and command that leads to an panicked ‘ecstasy of fumbling’ that reconnects the innocent ignorance of the soldiers who are now reduced to ‘boys’. The death of the soldier is seen ‘Dim through the misty panes and the thick green light’, and as the metaphoric imagery suggests, Owen sees this in his dreams in a turning couplet that alters pace and tone.
The broken sonnet form and the irregularity reinforce the feeling of a dreary otherworldliness and in the couplet comes the nightmare conveyed through the present participles ‘guttering, choking, drowning’, foreshadowed by those of an innocent disarmed, for the ‘fumbling, ‘stumbling’ and ‘floundering’ of the sestet suggests a toddler’s wild dance as they learn to walk. This scene haunts the narrator’s sleep indefinitely thereafter. Evidently, through poetic form, Wilfred Owen creates vivid imagery that expresses the horror and waste of war, manifested through the broken sonnet form, the nara In the first sonnet, Owen refers to the action in the present, placing himself in the same position as fellow soldiers as they labour through the sludge of the battlefield, while in the second he narrates the scene almost dazed and contemplative.
Owen’s third stanza confronts the viewers, with the anaphoric ‘If’, the change to second person, declarative that directly urges the reader to contemplate the imagery and the simile that graphically conveys in a biblical allusion even the devil’s distaste at the horror, ‘His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin’. The reader is taken into the madness with the onomatopoeic ‘gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs’ and in an image from Futility written a month prior, the soldiers are likened to cattle, embittered by the ‘cud of vile, incurable sores innocent tongues’. Owen ensures the reader is tasked with not only the nauseating sight of a face ravaged in pain, but also the disturbing sound and obnoxious taste of gratuitously endured agony. The complicit reader therefore is tasked with the ‘cud’. Owen hearkens back to the tradition of history and disrupts it, naming it as ‘The old Lie that alludes to the lie being one told by elders. Evidently, Owen’s poetic form and vivid imagery to provoke and express the horror and waste of war.
‘Insensibility’ by Wilfred Owen expresses the concepts of the horror and waste of war through its structure and language. The poem’s beauty is in its stark dismantling of the patriotic honour of war. The soldiers, called as a divine instrument by the churches and governments of England, are now ciphers, devoid of humanity in order to survive the wasted carnage and savagery of war. It is a poem which ironically presents those who are reduced to Owen begins by saying, through a metaphor, that the soldiers are happier when they are able to desensitize themselves to the war, ‘Can let their veins run cold’. They must not allow themselves to feel any human warmth. Also, the soldiers are given the mission as just ‘gaps for filling’ and therefore their life has little value, conveying a pitiful representation of mankind. Soldiers are dehumanised, shell shocked and stunned by cannons, enough to ‘laugh among the dying’.
Metaphors and symbolism in ‘Insensibility’ create graphic images that convey to the reader the horror and waste of war. In the poem, there is a moving metaphor, half hidden as a form of reality, at the end of stanza 4. Here the ‘wise’ observers of war, the naive youth untouched by war, who ‘never trained’, can easily forget while they sing ‘along the march’, that the soldier’s experience, their ‘relentless’ move from ‘larger’ to ‘huger’.
‘Which we march taciturn, because of dusk,
The long, forlorn, relentless trend
From larger day to huger night’
Owen symbolises a more final movement: the march from life to death, innocence to inhuman, complicit ‘dullards’ to inhumane who ‘By choice…made themselves immune to pity and whatever mournes in man’. Owen conveys men as the metaphorical walking dead, unaccompanied by sensibility. They have reached a stage where ‘dullness best solves’ the physical and psychological attack of war. Also the use of the enjambment gives fluidity to his writing, which evokes the concept that as the men march along, the narrator contemplates the realities of what the men will be forced to become. Owen effectively provokes the horror and waste of war, through the numerals indicating each stanza in a removal of the beauty of poetic form, like the removal of the beauteous human form in war.With the poem being predominantly focused on the notion of hopelessness, the ‘eternal reciprocity of tears’ creates a visually graphic image about the horror of war, suggesting that the living will exchange tears with the dead forever.
In conclusion, Owen’s poems ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and ‘Insensibility’, use a compelling poetic form that, through the disruption of traditional structures and a dramatic imagery created foremostly by diction, tell of the trepidation, the cursed horror and unjustified squander of war.
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Wilfred Owen utilises poetic techniques to create vivid imagery, expressing the trepidation and squander of war. This is most prominent in the poems ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ as well as […]