I’ve been suggested to make it shorter, but I don’t know which bits I can take out without compromising my grade.
Question: Describe an important setting in the text. Explain how the setting helped you to understand one or more key ideas
Essay: ‘For all we have and are, For all our children’s fate, Stand up and fight the war, The Hun is at the gate.’ – For all we have and are, Rudyard Kipling 1915. Rudyard Kipling was one of many armchair patriots who encouraged young men to fight through his propaganda poems. However, this view was scorned by many who had actually fought in the war, like Wilfred Owen. In the poem, ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’, originally named ‘A Poem For Jessie’, Wilfred Owen discusses the realities of war after being diagnosed with shell shock, in response to Jessie Pope’s poem ‘Who’s for the Game?’ in which she encourages young men to go and fight for their country. Owen uses vivid imagery, gruesome similes, personification and a volta to expose the key idea that the reality is vastly different from the setting of the battlefield being portrayed by the government. This is relevant to us today as it demonstrates that not all facts we are given, particularly on the internet, are true.
Wilfred Owen effectively uses vivid imagery to introduce the important setting of the battlefields in the opening lines ‘Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge’. By comparing the soldiers to beggars and hags, both of which have negative connotations of being at the bottom of the ladder and living in dreadful conditions, Owen immediately causes the readers to feel empathy for the soldiers, setting the tone of the poem as hopeless and sombre. By describing the ground as sludge, which is usually used to describe toxic waste, Owen vividly paints us a picture of the horrific living conditions of the battlegrounds. As toxic waste is also commonly an ugly green, it foreshadows the toxic Chlorine gas attack. The poem is an iambic pentameter, with a strict ABABCDCD rhyming pattern which reflects the relentlessness of the marching soldiers. The use of caesura in the first stanza through the many different types of punctuation show the disjointed efforts of the weary soldiers trudging on. The rhyming pattern can also signify the now routine horrors of the war, which is reinforced in the lines ‘deaf even to the hoots of gas-shells dropping softly behind’ through the use of the words softly behind, indicating that the soldiers are so used to the wailing shells that they are no longer alarmed when they go off; they barely notice them anymore. This causes us to feel the pitiful, downhearted atmosphere that surrounded the battlefields, and also helps us to understand the trance-like state the soldiers functioned in. In the opening stanza, Owens purpose was to expose the reality of the battleground. This contrasts to Jessie Pope’s reflection of the battleground in Whos for the game, where she promises excitement and fun. This shows that, despite the battlefields being the same setting, the method in which they were described portrays a different view. This idea is important in the news today, as journalists can exaggerate the headlines and take events out of context. This means that even though we may believe we are getting the full, unbiased story, we may only be getting one perspective.
Owen further develops the important setting of the battlefields in the second stanza through the use of a volta, changing the tone from downhearted and dreary to urgent and frantic in the monosyllabic line ‘Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!–‘. By repeating ‘gas’, capitalized the second time, we are jolted into the feeling of terror and the horror of the attack. The exclamation marks show the change of pace, indicating the high pressure environment and stressful situations the soldiers had to function in. The following pause through the use of a dash mimics the holding of breathe as the soldiers scrambled for their gas masks. The enjambment throughout the middle of the second stanza (lines 10-14) also helps to demonstrate the frantic thoughts of the soldiers, with instinctual responses, rather than control. The first two lines are written in present continuous tense, with the ‘-ing’ conjugations of verbs such as ‘fumbling’ and ‘fitting’ creating a sense of immediacy. This also causes the reader to feel the urgency and as if they too were witnessing the gas attack. Owen then moves into past continuous tense, with phrases such as ‘someone still was yelling’ and ‘I saw him drowning’ indicating that the soldiers distanced themselves from the attack – as if looking on helplessly from the outside. This feeling is further developed through the lines ‘Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, As under a green sea, I saw him drowning’ using a metaphor comparing the Chlorine gas to a green sea to demonstrate how the soldiers were helpless and distanced from the attack. Just as at sea the vast expanse of the ocean causes sailors to feel isolated, the metaphor shows how the gas has the ability to be all-consuming and prevent help. The repetition of the word ‘green’ also allows us to feel as though the fog of green gas is surrounding us as well. This means that we can view the horrors of war through the soldiers perspective, helping us to distinguish the reality. The assonance in the phrase ‘green sea’ highlights how the suffering seemed to be more torturous than it was. This also helps us to understand how helpless the soldiers felt while being forced to watch the horrific death. The volta causes action in the second stanza, with the tone contrasting greatly with the first stanza. Initially through the second stanza, we believe that the excitement promised to us by Jessie Pope is occurring, our hopes are immediately dashed by the terror and helplessness we feel. This furthers the distinction between the two poems, demonstrating how a setting can be warped by someone’s personal experience, or lack thereof. This idea continues to be important as it warns us that we shouldn’t take everything at face value as others don’t necessarily have our values at heart, and therefore can cause harm to us.
Owen extends on the important setting of the battlefield in the final stanzas in the lines, ‘In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning’ to demonstrate the gruesome scenes the soldiers had to live through. The first line indicates that the horrific scene was enough to permanently scar the soldier; that he can’t get rid of the nightmares that haunt him. As we all have nightmares occasionally, particularly after a horrifying event, we can understand how all-consuming the terror must have been to never escape the grasp of the dreams. Owen breaks the iambic pentameter to draw out the unnamed mans horrific death by adding syllables. Guttering refers to a candle spluttering before it goes out, implying that the man is on the brink of death. By throwing the man into a wagon, which are commonly used for hauling objects, in the line ‘the wagon we flung him in’, we are shown that the mans helpfulness has dropped to that of an object; he is only a liability, as they cannot do anything to help him. This is shown in Owen’s poem ‘Anthem of Doomed Youth’ where he describes the lack of glory and ceremony in their burial. In the lines, ‘If in some smothering dreams you too could pace … watch the white eyes’, Owen uses personal pronouns and imperatives to make us feel as though we are watching the unnamed man die ourselves. This causes us to connect to Owen and understand the depth with which the soldiers were scarred. These horrors are amplified in the line, ‘watch the white eyes writhing in his face’ through the use of the word ‘writhing’, which has connotations of being uncomfortable, evil and death. The use of alliteration of the letter ‘w’ also draws attention to the suffering of the man, as well as directly blames the war. addresses Jessie Pope bitterly sarcastically in the final lines of the poem saying, ‘my friend, you would not tell with such high zest … ardent for some desperate glory’. Owen uses patriotic words such as ‘zest’ and ‘glory’, both of which Pope implies are positive thing regarding the war, to show the contrast between the two poems, as they seem out of place in the reality Owen as shown us. He implies in the line, ‘to children ardent for some desperate glory’, that the propaganda spread through Jessie’s poem is one of the causes for the young men, the children, dying in the war. The youths, who long for glory, cannot receive it until they can no longer appreciate it in death. These lines show that Owen believes that if the propaganda, such as Pope’s poem, was never published, most of the youths would never have joined up in the war. In the phrase, ‘The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est, Pro patria mori’, the use of lie as a proper noun highlights the enormity of the lie. ‘Dulce et decorum est, Pro patria mori’ is a quote from the Roman poet, Horace, which translates into ‘It is right and fitting to die for ones country’. The use of enjambment in this quote also reinforces the idea that the truth cannot be hidden from the public/youths. By renaming the poem ‘Dulce et decorum est’, Owen repeats the title at the end of the poem. This repetition makes us reconsider our attitude in light of what the poem has revealed to us. However, at the end of the poem, we are once again shown just how easy it is to not reveal the whole truth; the title of the poem is only half the quote. By finishing the quote at the completion of the poem, we are made aware that we can never trust we are being told the truth. Owen demonstrates how Jessie’s ‘little white lie’ comparing the war to a game deeply affected soldiers psychological health for the rest of their life. This happens in the news where a journalist takes a quote out of context that could end up having a career-ending effect. This idea is further developed as important as it is in our nature to accept the reality we are presented with, like in NAZI Germany, where youths believed Hitlers propaganda. Therefore, Owen uses this ideas to warn readers about the potentially dangerous intentions of others, and to encourage youths to prove their facts are correct.
Armchair patriots were often pro-war, despite not having actually fought. This meant that, despite sounding as though they are writing the truth regarding the setting of the battlefield, they very rarely know the realities of war themselves. Owen poem contrasts Jessie’s to highlight the reality of the battlefield through his use of vivid imagery, gruesome similes, personification and a volta. The battlefield setting is important because it demonstrates the key idea that not everything we are told is true. Both poets portray the battlefield in contrasting ways, despite the battlefield being the same setting. Owen also further develops this idea to show how, by encouraging more men to go off and fight, she is also responsible for increasing the number of permanent injuries and psychological effects. Owen warns us to verify our facts before spreading fake news, as telling a small false-truth can cause great effects in the long term. This is also shown in the news currently, how a phrase, taken out of context has the potential to become career-ending.