Throughout history, it has been common for soldiers who are fighting, or have fought, in war to write poetry about their experiences. “Dulce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen and “To Lucasta, Going to the Wars” by Richard Lovelace are two poems that share this theme. Even though they share the similar subject of war, these conflicting poems are an example of how a theme can be interpreted, and written about, in completely different ways.
While both “Dulce et Decorum Est” and “To Lucasta, Going to the Wars” focus around the theme of war, Owen’s poem sheds light on the hardships and sufferings that soldiers faced in World War I, while Lovelace’s poem focuses on the romantic, honorable aspects that war has to offer. “Dulce et Decorum Est” describes the gritty, gruesome, and horrifying aspects of war, which was uncommonly talked about during World War I. At that time, people were used to reading about a romanticized, glamorous version of the war. Dulce et Decorum Est” was written to show a soldier’s perspective of what the daily life on the battlefield is like, and the many obstacles that him and the other soldiers have to face. Imagery of death is used throughout the poem to intensify the overall theme, and to receive an emotional response from the reader. The first case of death imagery is seen in the second stanza after the soldiers experience a surprise gas attack.
Owen writes: Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. 13-16) Through these words, we can visualize the horror that the gas has on the soldiers, as well as the traumatizing situation that the main soldier has been placed in to. He watches his fellow soldier choke and “drown” in the gas, unable to do anything to help him. Death is further explored through imagery in the last stanza of the poem where the soldier describes the unfortunate soldier’s death after the attack: And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin; If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood? Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,?
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud? Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–– (19-24) Through these descriptions, Owen’s intentions are to make the reader feel disgusted, saddened, and even horrified. Describing the soldier’s decomposition is meant to shock the reader into seeing how war was actually like, unlike the glorified version they had been so accustomed to seeing. In the line “His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;” (20), Owen uses alliteration with the “s” sound to give off an uncomfortable, hissing-like effect. This alliteration strengthens the dark and evil feeling that the stanza is trying to portray.
Additionally, Owen wants the reader to have an emotional response to his writing. He writes, “Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,” (24). This line puts the horrifying situation into perspective for the readers. By describing the soldier’s sores on his “innocent tongue,” the reader is reminded of how these are innocent men being placed into battle. These soldiers are somebodies sons, brothers, and fathers. It is Owen’s emotional and relatable writing that makes the overall tone of his poem effective.
“Dulce et Decorum Est” uses its form and meter to aid and strengthen its overall meaning. Dulce et Decorum Est” is written in Iambic Pentameter, but strays away from the typical pattern as the poem progresses. While it does have ten syllables per line, every other syllable is not emphasized where in most Iambic Pentameters they are. The ABABCDCD rhyme scheme is followed in the first stanza, but gets cut short into only six lines for the second stanza, and only two for the third. Owen may have intentionally split the second and third stanza to deepen the significance of the soldier “drowning” in the gas, due to both stanzas ending in that word.
By the fourth and final stanza, pentameter is only in effect until the ending lines of the twelve line stanza. By the pentameter being broken, we feel the weight of the final lines, “The old lie: Dulce et decorum est / Pro patria mori. ” (27-28). The rough English translation of the final lines are: “It is sweet and right to die for your country” (Roberts 1998). By ending the pentameter on those lines, the rhythm of the poem is broken, grabbing the reader’s attention and making them take into account the words that they just read.
The message of the last two lines are probably the most significant of the whole poem. The common perception of war being a glamorous, honorable way to die is a complete lie, which was the exact message that Owen was trying to get across through these last lines, and the poem as a whole. Similar to Owen’s poem, “To Lucasta, Going to the Wars” is focused around a soldier and war, however, Lovelace’s poem represents a very contrasting viewpoint. “To Lucasta, Going to the Wars” is about a soldier who is leaving his “sweet,” presumably Lucasta, at home to be with the war.
The soldier views the war as a mistress; somebody that he loves even more than Lucasta. Lovelace uses metaphor throughout the poem when discussing his mistress, the war. Lovelace writes, “True, a new mistress now I chase, / The first foe in the field;” (5-6). While the soldier says that the first person he sees in battle will be his new mistress, we are to assume that the soldier does not mean this literally. He is saying that the fight, and the war itself, is something that he loves more than he ever could a woman. This metaphorical theme is further explored when Lovelace writes:
Yet this inconstancy is such As thou too shalt adore; I could not love thee, Dear, so much, Loved I not Honour more. (9-12) Through this last stanza, the soldier is telling Lucasta that she must appreciate his love and dedication to the war, even if she does not fully understand it. Lovelace also personifies “Honour,” making the word a proper noun as to represent a name. “Honour” represents his metaphorical mistress, and that the love that he has for her exceeds the love he has for Lucasta. Lovelace’s use of rhythm, meter, and imagery adds to the overall romanticism of the poem.
To Lucasta, Going to the Wars” is written in ballad meter, alternating between eight syllable and 6 syllable lines with an ABAB rhyme scheme. The poem, for the most part, follows the ballad meter and does not stray off of its form, making the poem flow with a steady, comfortable rhythm. Ballad metered poems are commonly used for romantic poems, which “To Lucasta, Going to the Wars” can be easily viewed as. The poem acts as a letter, or message, to Lucasta from the soldier. He writes the letter as both a way of saying goodbye to Lucasta, and hello to his new mistress.
By using ballad meter and having a consistent rhyme scheme, the reader feels comforted by the melodic patterns of the poem. “To Lucasta, Going to the Wars” acts as a love poem to the war that embraces the glorified, extraordinary aspects of the war that society idolized. Lovelace writes, “And with a stronger faith embrace / A sword, a horse, a shield. ” (7-8). Lovelace uses imagery to feed into heroism that the soldier portrays in the poem. By detailing his ride into battle in full body armor, the images of war are romanticized.
Lovelace’s poem is revolved around the romanticized version of war and the passionate bond between soldiers and the war itself. While “Dulce et Decorum Est” and “To Lucasta, Going to the Wars” share topic similarities, the differences are what make the comparison of these poems so fascinating. The overall tone of “Dulce et Decorum Est” is dark and gruesome, while “To Lucasta, Going to the Wars” has a lighthearted and romantic tone. Through these poems, we see the viewpoints and opinions of war from both sides of the spectrum.
Owen uses imagery to display the horrific deaths and suffering that soldiers endure to make the reader feel an emotional connection an understanding to what soldiers had to go through in battle. Contrastingly, Lovelace uses metaphors, in addition to imagery, to showcase the romanticized and heroic aspects of war that fed into the society’s stereotypical views of war at that time. Both poems follow a meter, however, Owen’s poem prominently breaks away from the Iambic pentameter near the end of the poem while Lovelace’s poem sticks to ballad meter throughout.
Rhythm and rhyme also play an important role in the overall tone of each poem. Both poems have creative reasonings for sticking with, or breaking away from, it’s metering and rhyme patterns that strengthen the overall meaning and effect of the poem’s message. Whether you prefer Owen’s dark, realistic way of portraying war, or Lovelace’s whimsical, romantic writing, both poems are effective in capturing their desired tone. Even though both poems have entirely different messages, they are successful in the message they are trying to portray.