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Dulce Et Decorum Est, The Soldier And The Rear-Guard: Comparative Essay

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In their poetry, Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke and Siegfried Sassoon all express very different perspectives towards war. Wilfred Owen in his poem “Dulce et Decorum Est” expresses the brutality of war and a sense of deception at being lied to by the propaganda and the government. However, in Rupert Brooke's poetry, he conveys a sense of patriotism towards the war. Siegfried Sassoon, on the other hand, portrays how war changes soldiers, turning them into human savages and highly affecting them psychologically.

Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” (1917) explores the brutal truth of war, conveying the harsh conditions and sense of betrayal felt by soldiers who felt they had been lied to by the authorities at home. This poem four-stanza structure is irregular, as all the stanzas have different numbers of lines. Owen opens the poem with an unpleasant simile describing the soldiers as “Bent double, like old beggars under sacks.” The simile conveys the painful truth of soldiers bent over and suffering, comparing them to “old beggars” to portray their constant suffering and their vulnerability during the war. Owen reminds the reader of wars chaos in the second stanza, “Gas! GAS! Quick, Boys! -- An ecstasy of fumbling” The short sentences punctuated with exclamation marks carry a sense of urgency to the reader showing the panic and terror of the soldiers. The poet then uses a metaphorical “ecstasy of fumbling” to portray how quickly the men scramble to put on their helmets as if they are in a trance-like frenzy. Here, the word ‘ecstasy’ has nothing to do with the happiness it is normally associated with, instead of conveying chaos and panic. Owen confronts the reader by addressing them with the word ‘you’; “If you could hear at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs… you would not tell with such zest to children ardent for some desperate glory, the old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori ” Owen uses brutal imagery to confront the readers who are ignorant of the horrors of war with the reality that he faced. Owen uses an allusion to the Roman poet Horace's writing, which states that it is “sweet and fitting to die for one’s country” to highlight his betrayal at being told ‘the old Lie’ of war bringing ‘glory’ to convince him to go to war.

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“The Soldier” by Rupert Brooke demonstrates a contrasting perspective on war compared to Wilfred Owen, highlighting honour and pride for one's country overcoming the fear of death. Brooke initiates his poem by saying ‘If I should die, think only this of me’. Brooke uses sonnet form (14 lines of iambic pentameter, divided into an octave and sestet) however the octave is rhymed after the Shakespearean (ababcdcd) rhyme scheme, while the sestet follows the Italian rhyme scheme (efgefg). Using the first person with the hypothetical words ‘if I should die’ Rupert conveys a sense of fearlessness, showing his willingness and lack of fear at the thought of death; Thereby showing the reader his vastly different opinion to Wilfred Owen who is disillusioned with the reality of war. Brooke is patriotic and does not consider the horrors of war, this is due to him not having been exposed to war when writing the poem. This is reinforced in the metaphor ‘There's some corner of a foreign field, that is forever England’ This shows his complete devotion for his country and how he would be satisfied if he could claim that foreign field where he rests eternally for England. The word choice of ‘forever’ implies that his sacrifice will always be important and everlasting. He considers his life insignificant “A pulse in the eternal mind” But that he can have a greater and everlasting impact on the world by dying in war displayed through the metaphor. Brooke’s national pride is again evident through the use of personification ‘In that rich earth a richer dust concealed; A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware”, as he encapsulates how England has nurtured him and he is honoured to repay that debt. His perspective of war is very patriotic and he believes in the pride and honour of fighting for his country.

“The Rear-Guard” By Siegfried Sassoon in contrast, has a disgruntled tone and its purpose is to warn people about the psychological effects of war. The poem explores a soldier who is being reverted to a less developed, inhuman state. This poem does not have a set rhyme scheme which reflects on the hectic nature of the tunnels. It is written with iambic pentameter. Sassoon starts his poem by setting the scene “Groping along the tunnel, step by step”. This poem begins with a sense of struggle and is shown through the use of imagery, portraying a man who is searching blindly, with the uncertainty of what is ahead. He is also taking it ‘step by step,’ telling the reader that he is tired, injured or hesitant. The persona continues walking as he “winked his prying torch with patching glare”. He uses the metaphor that he ‘winked’ his torch to show the reader that his torch is running out of battery and is starting to blink instead of being a beam of light, representing his mental state slowly deteriorating. The third stanza ends with the protagonist speaking with acrimony “I’m looking for headquarters.” No reply. “God blast your neck”. The metaphor is used to show how hostile the man is becoming, which shows he is becoming very mentally ill. The more the poem progresses the more apparent it becomes that he is suffering psychologically “Savage, he kicked a soft unanswering heap, And flashed his beam across the livid face” the poet uses dehumanization and gradually over time sheds the sense of humanity in the poem so far culminates when the protagonist refers to the deceased person as ‘Savage’. The persona dehumanizes the dead person 'soft, unanswering heap’, and the protagonist seems to not be phased by it. concluding the sense of atavistic disorder finds himself in. “The Rear-guard” is in many ways about human beings regressing to a more animalistic state, hence displaying Sassoon’s perspective on war and how it changed the soldiers and made them more primitive.

Through the comparison of Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke and Siegfried Sassoon it is evident that their different experiences of war have altered the way that they depict certain aspects of war. Wilfred Owen perceives war as full of death and suffering and feels that he has been led to believe in the false sense of patriotism. Rupert Brooke contradicts Owens impression of war instead believing that service and death is the best way to show your love for your country. Siegfried Sassoon in his poem “The Rear-Guard” sheds light on the psychological effects of war and how it reverts soldiers to becoming primitive and dehumanises them.

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