Contrast between “Dulce et Decorum Est” and “The Soldier”

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Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” and Rupert Brooke’s “The Soldier” indicate that there was certainly more than one idea about World War I in England.

“Dulce et Decorum Est” makes very clear the atrocities of war as the men are gassed, and quickly put on their helmets, but one man, “still was yelling out and stumbling/and flound’ring like a man in fire or lime (11-12).” The narrator of the poem goes on to say, in reference to the man who could not get his helmet on, “In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,/He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning (15-16).” The theme of the poem (although it has been extremely clear that the theme is the atrocities of war up to this point) is spelled out as the narrator mentions, “The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est/Pro patria mori (27-28).” In these final lines Owen makes it obvious that he is not only against war, he is against the traditional propaganda that has not only condoned war, but also glorified it.

Owen’s message is totally contradicted in Rupert Brooke’s “The Soldier” as Brooke indicates how proud he would be to die for his country. Unlike Owen, Brooke does not touch on the deplorable conditions of war, instead shying away from making any controversial statements. Brooke’s poem has hints of the imperial British attitude, as he says, “If I should die, think only this of me:/That there’s some corner of a foreign field/That is forever England (1-3).” As far as Brooke is concerned, it is totally cool if he dies, because he is English, and, as a dead person, will be staying (inhabiting, taking over) some portion of a country that is not England. Unlike Owen’s view, that war is a travesty, and that the people back home cannot understand how terrible it is, Brooke suggests that war is wonderful, and allows the glory that is England to spread around the globe.

My grandmother was born in England in 1923, and collected (hoarded) postcards her entire life. Several of her postcards, which are now in my possession, are even from before 1923, and many of them come from the World War I era. I think it is interesting that in one particular postcard I have seems to embody the ideas of both “Dulce et Decorum Est” and “The Soldier.” In the postcard, it is clear that the soldiers depicted are cold, and they look tired. However, they also seem to be hopeful in receiving letters, presumably from home, as they gather around while the letters are distributed. I think the contradiction between the seemingly unpleasant conditions the soldiers are experiencing, and the pleasantness of receiving letters, is indicative of the contradictions between the two poems. While “Dulce et Decorum Est” is very anti-war, “The Soldier” is very hopeful about war.

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3 thoughts on “Contrast between “Dulce et Decorum Est” and “The Soldier”

  1. Thank you for sharing the post card, Tara. It’s a very interesting relic from the time, and helps to fill in some of the segments of print culture that expressed differing attitudes toward the conflict. Much of the sodiers’ poetry — but not all of it — is disillusioned. Tomorrow in class we’ll be looking at recruitment posters as a way of understanding some more of this division between Western Front / Home Front thinking.

  2. Pingback: Humanity on The Precipice: The Old Lie, Dulce et Decorum Est By Wilfred Owen Has Just Copulated with 1984 by George Orwell | K2 GLOBAL COMMUNICATIONS LLC

  3. Pingback: A war of words – Part II | David's ESOL Blog

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