"The Soldier" and "Dulce et Decorum est". Different Representations of the First World War in Poetry

Term Paper, 2018

9 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1 Introduction: The First World War and its Poetry

2 Comparing „The Soldier“ and „Dulce et Decorum est“
2.1 Theory –World War I Poetry, Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen
2.1.1 World War I Poetry
2.1.2 Rupert Brooke
2.1.2 Wilfred Owen
2.2 Analysis of the Poems

3 Conclusion: The Changing Perception of the War

4 Bibliography

1 Introduction: The First World War and its Poetry

“When England declared war against Germany on the night of August 4, 1914, the nation was swept by a wave of popular enthusiasm that has few parallels in modern history. […]. No one could foresee, of course, either the nature or the duration of the conflict; no one could predict the long, hopeless stalemate of trench warfare that was to follow […]” (Johnston 21)

During its duration from 1914 to 1918 the First World War changed the world forever and its impact, politically and culturally, can still be felt today. When the war started on the 28th July 1914 the leaders of the European nations could not foresee the length and the brutality of this war. They believed the war would be over by winter, but instead it lasted for four years, causing the death of millions.

Art, and especially poetry, was, of course, influenced by this war. When we think about the First World War today, we think of “[d]arkness, guns, mud, rain, gas, bullets, […]: these images which have formed the modern memory of the war are largely culled from the trench poetry of Owen, Sassoon, Graves and Rosenberg […] expressing the ‘truth of war’” (Das 76). But not all poetry of the First World War was against the war. In fact, a lot of poetry written at the beginning of the war glorifies the war. This changed “by 1916 [as] it had become impossible for either soldiers or civilians to think of war as ‘a big picnic’ or gallant crusade […]” (Thwaite 31). Two of the most famous ‘war poets’ of the First World War are Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brooke. At first glance both poets seem to have many similarities: Both, Owen and Brooke, were civilians, who joined the army at a young age, both wrote poetry inspired by their war experiences, and both died during the war. But looking at the content of their poems the differences are significant, almost as if both poets witnessed different wars: While Brooke’s poems glorify war and the heroic deeds of the soldiers, Owen’s poetry tries to show the reality of war and trench warfare.

As both poets are examples for the changing perception of war in early and later ‘war poetry’, so are their poems “The Soldier” and “Dulce et Decorum est” examples of how those different mentalities are represented in poetry.

After introducing the term “World War I poetry”, and both poets, Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen, both poems are going to be analyzed, with focus on the form, which will lead to the conclusion of this term paper with additional research questions.

2 Comparing „The Soldier“ and „Dulce et Decorum est“

2.1 Theory –World War I Poetry, Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen

2.1.1 World War I Poetry

Unlike other literary periods, ‘war poetry’ is not defined by a uniform style or mentality, but rather it is connected by the same topic:

“These poets form a natural group by virtue of the fact that they were the first to deal with the kind of war peculiar to modern civilization; they were the first to attempt some assessment of the physical and spiritual effects of that kind of war. Their Verse, consequently, has both a historical and a critical interest “(Johnston ix).

A unique characteristic of ‘war poetry’ is its extremely realistic and vivid writing, trying to show the reality of modern warfare. This is seen, for example, in the later poetry by Sassoon or Owen, with the aim to warn people of the war (cf. White 56). Generally, the ‘war poets’ are divided into two groups, with the battle of the Somme1 marking the division between those two (cf. Johnston xi-xii): The early poets from 1914 to 1916, who are characterized by their pro-war and patriotic attitude, and the later poets from 1917 to 1918, who became disillusioned with the war and wrote anti-war poetry. To fully understand the poetry of that time, it is therefore important to connect the poetry to the individual war experiences of the poets.

2.1.2 Rupert Brooke

Even before the war, Rupert Brooke was already a recognized Georgian poet. He enlisted in August 1914 and even though he only fought in one battle, the experiences he made at the front moved him to write five Sonnets about the war, titled 1914. Brook’s “strikingly handsome” (Thwaite 30) and charismatic appearance, his patriotic verses and his early death, caused by an infection in 1915, seemed to capture the emotions of many and led to his popularity after his death. Especially his sonnet “The Soldier” became very popular after it was read by the Dean of St. Paul only a few weeks before his death.

2.1.2 Wilfred Owen

Even though Owen is one of the most well-known war poets today, he was mostly unknown as a poet during his lifetime. When he was sent to the Somme battlefield in January 1917 the war he saw was a very different one, then the one described in Brook’s poetry. Owen saw hopeless stalemate fights and the horrors of war and became disillusioned of the war.2 During a hospital stay in 1917 he met Siegfried Sassoon and was strongly influenced by him. He wrote most of his poems during that time, until returning to active service in September 1918, but was killed in action on the 4th November 1918, exactly one week before the Armistice. His collected poems were published two years after his death and Owen got recognized and praised as one of the greatest poets of the war, with “Dulce et Decorum est” being one of his most famous poems.

2.2 Analysis of the Poems

The themes of “The Soldier” and “Dulce et Decorum est” are very similar, as both deal with death, patriotism, sacrifice and the glorification of war, but the poems come to very different conclusions. As already stated this analysis will focus on the form of both poems, in other words the internal form (the meter and the foot) and the external form, as the form reflects the different mentalities of the poets.

In “The Soldier” Brook depicts an idealized version of England, to show his love for his country and to justify the possible death of himself and other soldiers during the war. Corresponding to this idealized, romantic depiction of England, Brooke uses the form of a sonnet to express his patriotism.

Brooke uses the form of an ‘Petrarchan’ sonnet, which consist of 14 lines, usually divided into two quatrains and a sestet (or one octave and a sestet in the case of “The Soldier”) using an iambic pentameter. Petrarchan sonnets are usually rhymed abba abba and cde cde or cdc cdc, but in “The Soldier” Brooke uses the rhyme scheme abab cdcd efg efg (cf. Brooke 148). This variation of the octave comes closer to the rhyme scheme of an ‘Shakespearean’ or ‘English’ sonnet.

The mixture of both sonnet forms reminds the reader about the history of English accomplishments in poetry and national heroes like Shakespeare and Wordsworth, evoking feelings of patriotism in English readers.

Furthermore, sonnets are very strongly associated with love poetry. For example, most of Shakespeare sonnets are love poems. By using the sonnet as the form of the poem, Brooke reminds the reader of other love poems, giving his romantic depiction of England an appropriate form. The constant use of the iambic pentameter also increases this romantic effect, because the rhythm is very melodic and calm.

„Dulce et Decroum est“ is an extreme contrast to “The Soldier”, as Owen tries to express and expose the reality of war, with his very direct and realistic style.

Owen uses the form of the poem to reflect his anti-war mentality, as the reader is forced to see the disparity between the harsh reality of war and romantic idealism, usually associated with sonnets.

Looking at the external form, the poem has 28 lines, which can be divided into two sonnets of 14 lines, with four irregular stanzas. The rhyme scheme is a constant alternate rhyme. The consistent rhyme, the familiar form of the sonnet, combined with the title “Dulce et Decorum est”3, reminds the reader of love poetry and other pro-war poems. The external form represents the initial feelings young soldiers had when going to war, still believing in the propaganda, promoting a glorious war, fought by heroes. The unawareness of the Soldiers of the reality of war is projected onto the reader, as he is also unaware of the content of the poem. This mentality changes when confronted with the brutal reality of war, shown in the content of the poem.

The internal form is mostly made up of iambic pentameters, but it sometimes changes, for example with a trochee or a line with eleven syllables. The first stanza starts with an iamb, but the second line starts as a trochee: “knock-kneed, coughing like hags […]” (Owen, Collected Poems, 55). Additionally, the use of enjambments and the interruption of the meter by punctuation marks (“Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots / but limped on […]” (Owen, Collected Poems, 55)) makes the stanza difficult to read in a constant rhythm, reflecting the exhaustion of the soldiers.


1 The Battle of the Somme lasted from July to November 1916 and was one of the biggest battles of the First World War. Over one million soldiers died on both sides, without achieving anything (cf. Kleinhaus 35). It disillusioned many of the war, as it showed the pointlessness of this war and the brutality of modern warfare.

2 At first Owen was euphoric about the war. In a letter to his mother he wrote “There is a fine heroic feeling about being in France and I am in perfect spirits. A tinge of excitement is about me […]. “(Owen, Collected Letters, 421). Only a few days later he wrote again: “I can see no excuse for deceiving you about these last 4 days. I have suffered seventh hell. I have not been at the front. I have been in front of it. “(Owen, Collected Letters 421).

3 „The title comes from the Latin phrase in Horace, meaning ‘It is sweet and meet to die for one’s country. Sweet! And Decorus!’” (Bloom 15). The Latin word “decorus” has multiple translations and could be translated as ‘beautiful’ or ‘glorious’.

Excerpt out of 9 pages


"The Soldier" and "Dulce et Decorum est". Different Representations of the First World War in Poetry
University of Wuppertal
Introduction to Literary Studies
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
World War I, Poetry, Sonnet, Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke, 1. Weltkrieg
Quote paper
Ben Muin (Author), 2018, "The Soldier" and "Dulce et Decorum est". Different Representations of the First World War in Poetry, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/584715


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