Owen’s portrayal of war comes as a jolt to the average bystander, predominantly comprised of the armchair patriots to whom he mainly concentrates on awakening. He initiates the recount of the trial of courage and heart of the soldiers, with their description as ‘old beggars’ ‘coughing like hags’, trudging through the ‘sludge’, walking ‘asleep’ with an ‘ecstasy of fumbling’. The unnerving description of the sufferings endured in the war and the disjointed rhythm to the poem further captivates our attention, and causes us to be charged with a sense of pity to their inevitable sense of fatalism.
The objective of Owen needs no unearthing. When he depicts the scenes of brutal torment and excruciating affliction, he rekindles the reader’s emotions from a somewhat dormant phase into one where sadness and anger are dominant. He describes what he beholds as ‘blood gargling from the froth corrupted lungs | Bitter as the cud | Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues’. Such sad, vile images of nauseating happenings play on the reader’s feelings, truly causing him/her to comprehend to what extent these soldiers are bereft of hope. The reader’s infatuation with life is challenged, for here are people who yearn for death than to breathe for a second more. You perceive the malice and diabolical treatment fate has handed them, as those who froth out blood are ‘innocent’, yet they are ‘incurable’ and ‘bitter as cud’. They are a queer disease no one can bear behold.
Spine chilling recounts of the ordeals of those soldiers beyond help has a profound effect and that is exactly what Owen intended to produce. It hammers down the message to the propaganda-filled minds that saturate the land, and those patriots who blissfully watch the events around them that there could be no bigger lie then ‘dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’. Owen struggles to deter and repel more from signing their own death warrants; he attempts to awaken the engrossed that step from a mist of sham and pretence into a mist of murder and savagery.
‘The Soldier’ on the other hand projects images of a heavenly depot for Brooke himself. He conveys and discusses what is good about war and the English culture. His jingoistic attitude leads him to believe that in the ‘corner of a foreign field’, there will be a dust ‘whom England bore, shaped, made aware’ which is ‘richer dust’ than the dust in which it is ‘concealed’. It is a ‘superior’ dust, supporting his idea of imperialism, only because it was bred and nurtured with English values, ‘breathing English air, | washed by the rivers, blest by the suns of home’.
The morbid feelings he renders does not mean it is a time for lament or grief, he seems to say, it is a time for rejoice as this body that was once the hand that takes, is now the hand that ‘gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given’. Yes there is a petite sense of sadness in that he shall soon form dust, yet the more overpowering emotion is that of optimism since his death shall not be in vain, and it will serve some purpose.
Brooke’s overall tone is one of personal reflection, with a religious feeling implied by the rather formal movement of the verse. This is achieved by the balanced phrases within some lines, giving the impression his account is also balanced. The Petrarchan sonnet and the rhyming scheme of AB CD CD, EFG EFG separates the stanzas but binds the ideas together. This is greatly different to ‘Dulce et decorum est’ where there is a ragged rhythm. This being unnatural seems to break the ideas ‘The Soldier’ presents. Owen attacks the patriotism and colonial context others convey. Brooke deploys them to achieve his goal of producing an image of happiness and optimism from a fairly obvious predicament where people are bitterly melancholic. He attempts to illustrate the pleasure of heaven; Owen illustrates the torture of hell. Owen’s use of imagery and diction frightens the reader.
His use of metaphors and similes to describe soldiers ‘all blind | drunk with fatigue’ ‘drowning in the gas, and the use of onomatopoeia such as ‘gargling’ horrifies us and puts our own lives into perspective. The use of sibilance and harsh sounding words dismays us. We think; can suffering and pain reach such a threshold? Such graphic and horrendous renderings and depictions; life cannot be much worse. Being chained in rows with a hanging face ‘brother’ to that of a devil’s sick of sin’. Why are these doomed youth forced to fight in earth’s begotten hell.