Dulce Et Decorum Est And Beach Burial: War Poetry Analysis
In “Dulce et Decorum est” written by Wilfred Owen, and “Beach Burial” written by Kenneth Slessor, Poets criticise the reality of war through figurative language, contrasting settings, differentiating themes, contrasting poetic structure and changing tones. Neither Poets glorify war and are focused on projecting their emotions and experiences of war into their poems, for readers to experience and share.
Poets carry contrasting themes throughout their war poems in an attempt to portray conflicting emotions present in warfare. Owen attempts to reveal the brutal, never-ending nightmare of war through his poem “Dulce et Decorum est”. Using the simile “His hanging face, like a devils sick of sin”, Owen exemplifies the almost unnatural and strong effect of the gas, criticizing the bleak and grim realities of battle. In addition, Near the start of the first stanza, Owen uses the line “coughing like hags, we cursed through the sludge”. The use of descriptive language present in this line, focuses on the hardship that the soldiers had to go through. Owen also uses a metaphorical description of what soldiers saw and went through on the battle field in the line “as under a green sea, I saw him drowning” to further give the audience a better understanding of the realities and hardship of war. In contrast, “Beach burial” has a continuity and loss of identity theme. In the line “the convoys of dead sailors come”, Slessor emphasises how the “seamen” sacrificed their lives and have died in the same way in which they came, highlighting the cycle of life and death. Late in the third stanza, the theme is further explored in the line “the breath of the wet season has washed their inscriptions”. This line demands readers consider that the soldiers sacrifice was a waste of humanity as their final acknowledgment on earth was washed away by a “breath” of “wet season”. Slessor further encapsulates the raw, sad reality of war through the line “and tread the sand upon their nakedness”. This line illustrates the message that the vulnerable “unknown seamen” have wasted their humanity and lost their identity. Both poets portray contrasting themes throughout their poem, giving the audience contrasting emotions to consider about war.
Slessor and Owen promote the reality of war through imagery, however both poets create contrasting tones. Throughout the poem “Dulce et Decorum est”, Owen creates a chaotic mood through the use of hard plosive consonants like “Knock Kneed” and “guttering chocking”. This further convinces the readers of the harsh realities of war. In addition, at the beginning of stanza 2, Owen uses repetition and short words in the line “GAS, GAS, Quick, boys!” to create a stressful mood for the rest of the stanza. The description of the soldier being “drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots” near the end of the first stanza, emphasises the morbid, gruesome realities of war and how they had to push through the pain and exhaustion to fight for their country. Furthermore, Owen uses descriptive language in the line “incurable sores on innocent tongues” to further describe the suffering that war had on young “innocent” men fighting in battle. In contrast, Slessor uses gentle and mellow verbs to set a humble and respectful tone to commence the fallen “seamen” in “Beach Burial”. Slessor uses rhythm in the line “At night they sway and wander in the waters far under”, to mimic the movement of the “dead sailors” in the ocean. The use of syllabic meter in this line focuses on rolling you through the stanza, further creating a calming mood. By using personified language in the line “morning rolls them in the foam”, Owen suggests that although they have fought and sacrificed themselves for their country, they are then tossed to the side and forgotten. This adds a sense of sadness and conflicting emotions on readers as it makes you feel both remorseful and grateful. Neither poets glorify war and are attentive about letting readers know the true horrors of battle.
Owen and Slessor use structure in their poem to reflect the emotions inherent in their experiences during war. “Dulce et Decorum est” has an informal poetic structure. The rhyme scheme is irregular and unpredictable mirroring the harsh and unforeseeable experiences on the battlefield. The poem is split up into two parts, both having 14 lines. The first part of the poem is written in the present as the action is current and Owen is reacting to the events around him. This gives the readers a vivid image of what it was like on the battlefield and all the gruesome it held. The second part of the poem is written as if he is looking back on the bitter experiences, as if it was a “dream”. Owen makes the last line in the final stanza seem like it has been cut short for readers. Owen does this to emphasise the unpredictable nature of war and to emphasise that anything can happen at any moment in time. In contrast, “Beach Burial” has a continues rhythm throughout the poem, thus Owen only using 2 caesuras’. The rhythm of the line’s, mirror the constant movement of waves, further exemplifying the continuity theme of “Beach Burial”. The continues rhythm highlights the concept that time must move on and everyone must move forward regardless of losses. Throughout the poem, there are different tones in each stanza. The poem progresses from dawn to morning, revealing a change in language as the reader has a revelation. The structure of “Beach Burial” lets the reader feel emotions of a journey in search for true identity. The changing weather and the enjambment throughout the poem further promotes the continuality theme. Poets structure “Beach Burial” and Dulce et Decorum est” in contrasting ways, however neither poets fail to illustrate the true horrors or war.
Through the two contrasting emotional journeys of “Dulce et Decorum est” and “Beach Burial”, Poets portray the confronting true horrors and heartache of war. Poets are carful to exemplify their harsh experiences through structure, tone and figurative language.
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