Futility and Anthem and Dulce Essay

Here is an essay on Wilfred Owen’s poetry from a student in Year 11. The essay was written in exam conditions. Any thoughts?

Discuss ideas, opinions or information in your studied texts that caused a strong reaction in you as a reader.

The poems “Dulce et Decorum est”, “Anthem for Doomed Youth” and “Futility”, all written by Wilfred Owen, have a central theme of the pity of war. This idea, which is woven through the poems with the careful use of literal and figurative imagery, caused a strong reaction in the audience because of the revealing nature of the idea, as the true identity of war is explored.

The poem “Dulce et Decorum est” contains strong literal images that reveal the true nature of war. Owen draws on his own personal experience as a soldier in World War One, describing the death of a soldier through gas.

“Floundering like a man in fire or lime –

Dim through the misty panes and

thick green light

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.”

The literal images depict the horror of death in war, abolishing the romantic notions of war set up previously by jingoistic poets of the time, such as Jesse Pope. Owen goes on to further confront these patriotic views in the final four lines of the poem.

“My friend you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory

The Old Lie: Dulce et Decorum est

Pro patria mori.”

This sardonic address to the aggressive nationalist views of the era causes a strong reaction in readers as they realize the truth about war – how horrific and desolate the scene actually is. The poem caused a strong reaction in me as I realised what a risk Owen took to remove the blindfolds from his people’s eyes, to show them the true pity of war.

“Anthem for Doomed Youth” explores another aspect of a soldier’s life in World War One. Death is corrupt and vile, and the soldiers must suffer all by themselves. No one is around to comfort them, cry for them, and be their loved ones for them.

“No mockeries for them; no prayers or bells

The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells.”

These lines depict how the soldiers will never have the rites of a proper funeral for their death, the only singing to farewell them will be the cries of shells, bringing more death to those around them. This imagery is horrific to viewers as they realise that, not only must the soldiers go through awful experiences, they must also die in loneliness, never seeing their loved faces again. Owen further demonstrates the pity of war in the opening line,

“What passing bells for these who die as cattle?”

This line, compares soldiers to beasts lining up for slaughter. The imagery is graphic, questioning the reader on the honour that these ‘beasts’ will receive for their courage. “Anthem for Doomed Youth” shocked me as I realised the hundreds of thousands of deaths in war, and the grim reality that most of these fatalities would be brutal and lonesome for the soldiers.

The poem “Futility” questions war on a larger scale. The purpose of life itself is pondered by Owen, best shown by the line.

“Was it for this the clay grew tall?”

The line’s figurative imagery, depicting men as clay, questions whether the only purpose for men to live has to destruct one another. Owen goes on to ask maybe the most dramatic idea of all in the following lines:

“O what made fatuous sunbeams tall

To break earth’s sleep at all?”

These words question a larger authority on the purpose of life itself. Why did God bother creating us, if we were only to die in such dramatic, inconceivable ways? I was amazed at the severity of this question to the maker himself, because at the time these statements would have been seen as extremely wrong in moral and social standards. Owen risks his position in society itself, risks his reputation to reveal to his audiences how war has changed him as a person. It is obvious that this belief in God has been shattered due to his personal experiences, and Owen wanted to show this to his viewers to make them realise the true pity of war.

The idea of the pity of war, brought up in these three poems through the literal and figurative imagery, is clearly portrayed to Owen’s readers. He effectively conveys to the readers his own personal experiences and opinions, all in the effort to make a corrupted society understand the true pity of war.


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