Wilfred Owen’s poetry was a mark of a historical movement. His elegies brought a new but true personal story about the horror on the battlefield. This was something that had never been done before because much of the propaganda at this time celebrated being a soldier and glorified dying for one’s country. In contrast, Owen’s poem ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ illustrated the death of a soldier and then the speaker demands that if the reader had witnessed this man die, would they still glorify war. Owen knows that many have embellished views of war, and therefore he wants to expose the truth. It is for this reason that we can see Modernism in Owen’s poem ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, as well as the historical value it possessed and finally the reasons behind including war poetry in the Modernist movement.
First, Modernism began in the nineteenth century and boomed after World War I after many faced the aftermath of the war. “The enormity of the war had undermined humankind’s faith in the foundations of Western society and culture, and postwar Modernist literature reflected a sense of disillusionment and fragmentation” (Kuiper, 2019). This style of writing was comprised of fresh styles of writing that involved revealing how the human mind works. Also, Modernism exposed the truth of life through words more realistically than any other piece of literature had done until that time. The events of World War I gave many authors the motivation to illustrate the reality about warfare and to give readers a tangible experience on the matter. This was unheard-of because the general public and the patriarchy glorified warfare and delivered the idea of dying for one’s country as heroic. Wilfred Owen on the other hand, knew of the brutality one would face in war and therefore wanted to call in to question if it was as glorious as many thought it to be.
Wilfred Owen is one example of many WWI authors who used the written word to discuss the brutality and hardships that war causes in his poem, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est.’ Owen’s poem was influential on the Modernist movement because it exposed the horrors associated with World War I. Additionally, the narrator in the poem compares the truth of war to the lies that were told glorifying warfare and dying for one’s country. To illustrate the narrator in Owen’s poem pronounces, “My friend, you would not tell with such high zest/To children ardent for some desperate glory, /The old Lie: Dulce et decorum Est” (25-27). Owen clearly shows Modernism throughout his elegy as he illustrates in detail the truth of being on a battlefield, including the brutal reality of death. The narrator witnesses the man’s death after poisonous gas had fallen onto the soldier. Furthermore, the speaker demonstrates the untold truths of war as he is the witness to this man’s death, “In all my dreams before my helpless sight, /He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning” (Owen. 15-16). Therefore, Modernism is shown throughout Wilfred Owen’s poem, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’
Moreover, Wilfred Owen’s poem, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ is influenced by WWI. Wilfred Owen was a soldier himself, therefore he was able to give a truthful firsthand account of what the war was like. “Wilfred Owen (1893–1918) is widely regarded as one of Britain’s greatest war poets. Writing from the perspective of his intense personal experience of the front line, his poems… bring to life the physical and mental trauma of combat” (Wilfred, 2013). Owen’s elegy used the Modernism movement to expose the fabrications pertaining to patriotism, heroism, and the other lies that led nations into World War I. Consequently, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ was a truth bomb of the historic wars deceit that warfare was heroic and celebrated. Since the poem highlights the brutality of combat and the effects of chemical warfare, it went against much of the propaganda that was used during this time to promote men to become a soldier.
Furthermore, Modernist poetry captures vast genres and fresh directions from many different poets. Therefore, war poetry should also be included in the movement because of its pitilessly honest motifs. Like Wilfred Owen’s poems, the Modernism era captured life during historical times in a first-person experience. For example, Owen gives insight in the first stanza as he wrote, “Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots, /But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;” (5-6). Readers can imagine injured soldiers with blood-stained clothes, walking with bloody feet because of lost shoes. This type of insight would not be possible without the honesty of the writings of the Modernism movement. If deprived of first-handed experiences that are written down many would never understand the tragic affairs of war and may have unreliable expectations. Owen allows readers full disclosure of what being on a battlefield is like, even the most horrid experiences that he had faced himself. According to The British Library, Wilfred Owen faced many terrors, “In the midst of heavy gunfire, he waded for miles through trenches two feet deep in water with the constant threat of gas attacks. The brutal reality of war had a profound effect on him, as he recounted in letters to his mother” (2013). Therefore, it is thought that Modernism was exposed to have never been one interconnected movement, but a wide range of writers with varying techniques and stories to be told. Although Modernism continued to grow, Wilfred Owen did not. “In September 1918, Owen returned to the front during the final stages of the war… He was killed, at the age of 25, while leading his men across the Sambre and Oise Canal…” (Wilfred, 2013).
In conclusion, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ by Wilfred Owen was a part of a grander movement. His addition to the war poems helped shape and revolutionized Modernism, as well as many other genres and authors. Owen’s used his personal experiences on the battlefield to demonstrate the truth from the lies about becoming a soldier and what it means to die for your country. Although his ideas were not popular because they went against glorifying warfare, his war poems are historically valuable in the Modernist movement. Some may question if war poetry belongs in the movement, but clearly the poems were all apart of a bigger puzzle that intertwined and established a fresh way of writing.