Ben Boyd 2.4 English Portfolio
Question: How do language techniques help the reader understand a main theme or issue.
In Wilfred Owen’s poems, Exposure and Dulce et decorum, he strategically uses various language techniques in order to convey to the reader the various main themes and ideas within each. In Exposure, he uses these techniques to show how harsh the winter really is, and how the men react to the “exposure” to the cold, in Dulce et decorum he uses these same techniques to show the horrors of war, and as a form of therapy, to help come to terms with the war and his part in it.
Wilfred Owen’s uses a number of effective language techniques in his poems “Exposure” and “Dulce et decorum”, I will be primarily discussing Similes, and emotive language.
In the poem “Exposure” the simile “Like twitching agonies of men among its brambles” has been used on purpose, to compare the wind tugging on the wire to the men caught on the wire, he uses this image because he sees and hears this awful sight every day. This simile is used to give insight into what he sees and hears during the war, he’s heard men screams on the wire enough to directly compare it to something else. This tells the reader that the wind howling on the wire is strong enough to be compared to the screams of men, this strong if a wind would also be extremely cold due to windchill, especially in winter.
Throughout the poem, Owen’s references the weather multiple times, however he almost always does this by associating them with negative terminology, for example “mad gusts”, “rain soaks” and “iced east winds” all use words with negative connotations such as “mad” and Iced”, this influences the reader’s perception of how cold this winter truly was, compared to if he had used more neutral/less emotive words; for example “mad gusts” is saying that the wind is truly crazy/wild, and is a word that has a more negative connotation to it, compared to simply saying “cold gusts” or “strong gusts”.
In “Dulce et Decorum” in the line “coughing like hags” the language technique of Similes is used to compare the violent coughing of the soldiers to the coughing of “hags” – in popular fiction a word used to describe an old, ugly, often sickly woman. This gives the reader the image that, through war, these soldiers have lost their youth and have become closer to death, as sick as a hag. This is also used to explain to the reader the horrors of what these young men have gone through, and through the use of the word “hags” tells the reader that this is not an abnormal occurrence, that numerous young men have lost their youth, and are close to death.
In “He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning” emotive language is used in order to evoke an emotional response in the reader, as well as show them the horrors of a chlorine gas attack. It shows the image of a man floundering around, looking for relief where none can be found. This emotive language is extremely impactful in the story and helps the reader imagine that they are truly there seeing a man’s final moments, that they are truly there witnessing the horrific acts that Owens wrote about. Traumatic experiences are often dealt with in negative or unhealthy ways, so it is very admirable that Wilfred Owen expressed his thoughts and memories through poetry instead.
At the end of the poem, Wilfred Owen quotes an old Roman lyrical poet Horace Odes. “Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori” – translated means “It is sweet and proper to die for the fatherland” is not only used as the title of the poem but also as the main theme of the poem. Owen tells the reader that this idea is an “old lie” and uses his experiences in WW1 to prove this point. Unlike in WW2 where the line between the good guys and the bad guys was somewhat transparent, in WW1 it wasn’t so black and white. With all sides being somewhat right, through the various ceasefires and prisoners captured throughout the war, many soldiers began to realise that the enemy wasn’t so different from them, that they too had friends and fears, and family waiting for them back home. Wilfred Owen’s realised at some point during the war that this was the case, that the lies he had been told through propaganda, of the germans being mad savage brutes, was simply untrue. In this poem, Wilfred gives an account of a truly horrible experience, men slowly dying from the use of chlorine gas, but unlike many other young men who fought in the war, and used drink and drugs to forget it, Wilfred turned to poetry instead, he used poetry (including this poem) as a form of therapy, exploring his ideas and thoughts on both what he had seen while fighting, and also why he was there in the first place.