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Wasteland: War and Wilfred Owen’s Poetry

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Wasteland: War and Wilfred Owen’s Poetry

Poetry, by its definition, is a type of language that unites beauty, the deep sense of the value of life, with truth, the realization and awakening to the meaning of life. Poetry is also a type of language that expresses more and expresses it more intensely than ordinary language. It can also unite the three uses of language: literary, hortatory, and practical. Poetry can be written on a very broad range of subjects. A poet can also write poetry about the beauties of life, but the ugliness of life and horrible experiences human may endure can be subjects, as well. The belief that poetry must rhyme, give a lesson, or only be about the sweet and lovely things in life is a misconception. Wilfred Owen knew of the horrors of war from his firsthand experiences in World War I. Owen’s war poetry has the common and recurring theme of death, destruction, inhumanity, and waste of human life , as three of his most famous war poems indicate: “Dulce Et Decorum Est,” “Anthem for Doomed Youth,” and “Strange Meeting.”

Wilfred Owen, from an early age, had a passion for writing and knew it was what he wanted to do in life. As he grew older, Owen studied at schools whenever the opportunity and finances were available until, that is, the Great War, WWI, had begun. According to Orrmont, Owen disliked violence of any kind and looked on the war as just another impediment to his attainment of poet hood, as had been poverty and his lack of degree (79). In fact, Orrmont also writes

Wilfred Owen was not only a poet who wrote imperishably on the true nature of modern war; he was also one of the first war protestors of modern times. To him war was a crime against nature, a crime against humanity’s limitless potential for good, a crime against creation itself. He saw clearly the complete futility of the great bloodletting of 1914-1918 which decimated the flower of a generation, leaving on both sides more than ten million combatant dead (10).

However, Orrmont writes that in 1965 at the age of twenty two, Wilfred Owen began to change his feelings on participating in the war. He was more or less, sitting on the fence and considering the possibility of enlisting in the French Army. Whether he was to be in a combatant or non-combatant role was unclear to Owen. What was clear was the fact that he wanted to be absolutely sure that it was the right thing to do. He also did not want to be pushed into a uniform in fear of being labeled a coward for dodging service. Owen eventually jumped off the fence and, after he had been examined, he was sworn into the Artists Rifles as a cadet in officer’s training on October 21, 1915 (84-86).

According to Orrmont, three years later, Owen, now an officer in the British Army, won the Military Cross for singlehandedly capturing a German machine gun and numerous prisoners. Unfortunately, it was only one month later when Owen would die (11). Ironically, Owen fought and died in a war that he protested against through the poetry he wrote while in war. Wilfred Owen wrote several war poems that express not only what he saw during battle, but also his feelings towards war and the death and destruction brought about by war Wilfred Owen basically writes “Dulce Et Decorum Est” as a firsthand account of a long march to camp, where everyone is marching in their “sleep”, some with no shoes, and cursing the road they are on. And as Bloom suggests, “The first stanza presents a scene saturated with misery, as Owen uses images of physical deprivation and deterioration usually associated with old age and poverty to convey the unalleviated and inescapable condition of the life of a soldier” (Bloom Dulce). They are so tired that even mortars exploding behind them go unnoticed. Suddenly, there is a gas attack and everyone is fumbling to get their masks on, which they all do except one unfortunate soldier. Owen describes what the gas does to the unfortunate soldier as he is unable to get his mask on in time.


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