Randall Jarrell’s “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” and Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum est” are two poems that deal with the horrors of war. “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” is about a gunner who is killed in action, while “Dulce et Decorum est” is about soldiers who are gassed. Both poems convey the brutal reality of war, and both challenge the idea that war is glorious.
Jarrell’s poem is written in first person from the perspective of the gunner himself. The gunner tells us how he was killed: he was in his ball turret, manning his guns, when suddenly a shell hit the plane. The impact knocked him out of his turret and he fell to his death. The gunner’s last thoughts are of his mother, and how she will never know what happened to him.
Owen’s poem is written in third person from the perspective of a soldier who witnessed his comrades being gassed. The soldier describes the scene in graphic detail: the men choking and gasping for air, their eyes streaming with tears. The soldier himself was almost overcome by the gas, but he managed to escape. The poem ends with the soldier saying that war is not glorious, as many people believe.
Both poems are powerful condemnations of war. They show us the true face of war: not glory, but death and suffering. They remind us that war is not something to be taken lightly, and that the costs are always paid in blood.
Today, war is typically appreciated. Many movies cut out images of youthful soldiers throwing their lives away and hundreds of people dying in unheroic ways. The poems “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” and “Dulce et Decorum est” try to tackle themes relating to war. In these poems, the narrators employ imagery, language, and sadness to convey the horror and sorrow of war.
The poem “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” is about a young boy who dies in a ball turret during World War II. The speaker is looking back on the event and reflects on how the boy’s death was so meaningless. The poem starts off with the line, “From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,” which immediately creates a tone of somberness (Jarrell 1). The word “State” could be interpreted as meaning either the country that he’s fighting for or just the general state of being at war. The use of diction in this poem also creates a very dark atmosphere.
Words such as “screaming” and “flung” are used to describe how the boy died, which makes it very clear that his death was not a pleasant one. The imagery in the poem is also very gruesome, with lines such as “When the jolt knocked him loose from the webbing/And he fell, he was dead before he hit” (Jarrell 4-5). This creates a very vivid image of the boy’s death, which further drives home the point that war is not a glamorous thing. The final line of the poem, “So it’s really not worth while/To whimper about dying” (Jarrell 6-7) shows the speaker’s resignation to the fact that death is just a part of war.
The second poem, “Dulce et Decorum est” is written by Wilfred Owen and is about a gas attack that the speaker witnessed. The title of the poem, “Dulce et Decorum est,” is actually taken from a Latin saying that means “It is sweet and proper to die for one’s country.” The speaker starts off the poem by talking about how exhausted the soldiers are, which creates a tone of weariness.
The use of diction in this poem is also very important, with words such as “staggering” and “lungs beginning to choke” giving a sense of the urgency and panic of the situation (Owen 2). The imagery in this poem is some of the most effective of the two, with lines such as “As under a green sea, I saw him drowning” (Owen 7) creating a very vivid image of the soldier’s death.
The final lines of the poem, “If in some smothering dreams you too could pace/Behind the wagon that we flung him in,/And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,” (Owen 9-11) serve as a challenge to those who think that war is sweet and proper. The speaker is saying that if they could see what he saw, then they would know that war is anything but sweet and proper.
“The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner,” by Randall Jarrell, discusses both life’s futility and war’s callousness. The ball turret gunner was dangerously vulnerable to attack because he had such a dangerous job. Once inside the ball turret, the gunner had very little mobility and was quite squeezed in terms of space. “From my mother’s sleep I feel into the State, / And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze” (1-2).
The gunner was also constantly facing the threat of being killed: “When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose” (5). The poem describes the gunner’s death in a matter-of-fact way, emphasizing the routine nature of death in war.
These two lines, for example, are a result of the futility of life in that when the ball turret and gunner leave the “womb” of an Air Force plane by falling out of the fuselage, they risk death. Jarrell was probably implying that everyone who is conceived enters this world with the potential to die; some sooner than others. Perhaps Jarrell was attempting to convey to us a sense of war’s callousness by stating that he himself was a combatant.
The death of the young gunner is not mourned by anyone except, maybe, his mother. The plane’s crew seems more concerned with the loss of their turret than they are with the loss of a human life. The image of the gunner being “spat out” of the plane shows us how little value is placed on human life during wartime. The gunner’s body is seen as just another piece of machinery that has broken down and needs to be replaced.
In Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum est”, the futility and pointlessness of war is also explored. The poem is full of images of death, despair and suffering. The soldiers in the poem are described as being “like old beggars” and “coughing like hags”. These images contrast sharply with the idealistic view of war that is often portrayed in the media. The soldiers in Owen’s poem are not brave heroes fighting for a noble cause, but rather they are tired, sick and scared men who are only trying to survive.
The title of Owen’s poem, “Dulce et Decorum est”, is actually a quote from Horace’s Odes. The full quote is “Dulce et decorum est pro patria more” which means “It is sweet and proper to die for one’s country”. This quote highlights the irony of the situation that the soldiers find themselves in. They are fighting and dying for a country that does not even value their lives. The title of the poem, therefore, could be seen as a mocking of the patriotic ideals that are often used to justify war.
Both “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” and “Dulce et Decorum est” offer a grim and realistic portrayal of war. They show us that war is not sweet or glorious, but rather it is brutal, ugly and pointless. These poems serve as a reminder of the human cost of war and the futility of fighting for a cause that does not value human life.