Review: Dulce et Decorum Est & The Man He Killed

By Adana Harris. Review: Poem

Both “Dulce et Decorum Est” and “The Man He Killed” used a variety of rhetorical devices to portray the bloody, destructive nature of war and the insufferable pains it brings to soldiers on both sides—namely, both authors express their reluctance against war. However, the two poems have a different focus—the former is a visualization, concentrates on depicting the ugly scenes of war, while the latter is a wartime narrative, focusing on the description of the struggling motive to kill someone, therefore forming a clear complementary combination.

The image of war is revealed by the onset of “Dulce et Decorum Est”. For example, “Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge.” [Owen, 1-2] In these lines, Owen effectively uses similes (like old beggars; coughing like hags) and alliteration (Knock-kneed) to illustrate the nasty, unpleasant scene of soldiers struggling on the battlefield. This inspires the readers to visualize and imagine the cruel reality of war and the ugliness of the battleground. Similarly, the author of “The Man He Killed” informed the reader of the dark and violent nature of war by saying “Had he and I but met by some old inn, We should have sat us down to wet Right many a nipperkin!” [Hardy, 1-4] Hardy utilizes alliteration (Had he) as well as juxtaposition (the contrast between a fictitious peaceful scene in stanza one and the unfortunate battling scene in stanza two) to convey the sense of disillusionment with war and the disappointing incapability to change anything. While Owen provides the reader a striking image of the cruelty of war, Hardy furthers this cruelty into sheer despair by telling the story of killing each other on the battlefield and contrasting it with a soothing scene without wars. As such, the two poems perfectly complement each other.

Secondly, by the usage of imagery of war-related elements as well as careful selection of details in both poems, the reader can feel the agonies war inflict on people, as though the reader is experiencing the war himself. For instance, in “The Man He Killed”, Hardy stated, “But ranged as infantry, and staring face to face”. [Hardy, 5-6] This skillful depiction of a battlefield confrontation appeals to the reader’s sight and presents the faces of combating soldiers to the reader, which is explicit imagery. Likewise, Owen wrote “Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! —An ecstasy of fumbling Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time” [Owen, 9-10] in “Dulce et Decorum Est”. These lines appeal to the hearing and sight of readers, making them able to imagine the urgency and uneasiness in tackling poisonous gases in the war. Again, these examples of imagery contribute to the harshness of war. In addition, both authors are extremely careful in selecting the details of the depiction. For example, the staring faces of soldiers in “The Man He Killed” symbolize the unceasing grudge that is passed on from generation to generation by war. The chaotic scenes of gas in “Dulce et Decorum Est” symbolize the destructive nature of war. Such intentional selection of detailed elements in war polishes the extended meanings of both poems—calling against war, making them even more touching, persuasive, and evocative.

Last but not least, both authors utilized a sort of ironic, satirizing tone to reveal their heartfelt disdain for war. The last few lines of “Dulce et Decorum Est” can be illustrative: "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.” [Owen, 25-28] This straightforwardly characterizes the famous Latin saying as a lie and contrasts the zest and desire to die for one’s country with the viciousness of war, forming a strident, powerful irony. When it’s put into the context of the poem, following the visualization of war’s abominable scenes, these lines add to the highly ironic tone of the poem. Likewise, the last stanza of “The Man He Killed” is also strikingly satirizing. The author’s narration implies that if the war had not taken place, confronting soldiers from both sides could have sat in a bar and enjoyed the rapture of life. In this case, there’s also an illustrative complement in the meanings of the two poems’ ironies—it’s not glorious to die for one’s country; people could have been sitting together and having fun if there’s no war occurring.