Examining Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce Et Decorum Est” is a feast for the poetry analyst. At first, the poem appears to be a sonnet, but it follows neither the Shakespearean nor the Italian sonnet form. Regardless, a sonnet is a poem that shows two contrasts in two stanzas. The first stanza examines or expresses an emotion (such as love), and the second stanza juxtaposes that emotion or pits a related contrast to the expressed emotion.
The first part of Owen’s poem appears true to form with the first eight lines of the first stanza and the six lines in the second stanza making the regular 14-line sonnet. After that, Owen seems to veer off to his own mutation of a classic poetic form by adding two lines in the third stanza, which kind of mimics the type of sonnet with two separate lines (constituting as Lines 13 and 14) and hanging at the end of the preceding 12-line stanza. However, Owen inverts it, thus confounding the reader completely. In a way, the second part of the poem, with its two and twelve lines, make up a quasi-sonnet. Technically, the poem is made up of two sonnets of irregular stanzas.
The rhyme scheme of the first sonnet is not true to form either: ABABCDCD ABABCA. For the second stanza, the rhyme pattern acts like a continuation of the last stanza with the CA. However, it is imperative to treat this section of the poem separately as another sonnet. Therefore, the scheme is AB CDCDEFEFGHGH. Had the last two lines ended in the same sound (GG rather than GH), one would have accepted or concluded that Owen’s poem mirrored the Shakespearean (English) sonnet most closely than the other two widely accepted (Italian and the Spenserian) sonnets.
Owen’s poem depicts the horrific reality of war and his experience during World War I. The Latin title of the poem (“Dulce et Decorum Est“) converts into English to mean, “It is sweet and honorable,” and the last line of the poem (pro patria mori) means “to die for one’s country,” and many soldiers sacrificed their lives for their countries. One such soldier could not get his gas mask over his face quickly:
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
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.
I believe Owen chose the best structure for his message so as not to be lost in the complexity and confusion of form. A sonnet is straightforward enough even with an abstract theme or topic. Had he used sestina or acrostic, these forms would have defeated his purpose. Acrostic would have made his message seem less serious. Sestina would have found him repeating certain words and phrases at intervals, which would cause his poem to acquire a plaintive, wailing chorus.
“Sestina,” Elizabeth Bishop
Speaking of a sestina, Elizabeth Bishop’s sestina is a learning piece for up-and-coming poets. (I have written some sestinas and wanted to see if she stayed true to the structure of the poem.) A sestina has 39 lines of six lines of six stanzas and the last stanza of three lines. Because of its precise form, it can thread through most topics. However, it has a circuitous and rigid structure at the same time, one with a rhyming structure that calls for particular words to be placed strategically at particular places in order to achieve a particular feel.
Unlike Owen’s make-shift sonnet, the form of a sestina sometimes defeats the meaning and the message. The poet is pre-occupied with making sure he/she stays to form that meaning and message may be sacrificed. The rhyming patterns are always as follow:
Stanza 1 ABCDEF
Stanza 2 FAEBDC
Stanza 3 CFDABE
Stanza 4 ECBFAD
Stanza 5 DEACFB
Stanza 6 BDFECA
Stanza 7 EDA
The message is that a grandmother and her grandchild are in a house in September where the rain is falling during a fading light. They are reading an almanac near a stove. The summation is that since an almanac looks into the future, the grandmother is helping the child look into her future as they talk and laugh amid tears, which are hidden.
The atmosphere is sad and cozy at the same time with imagery such as the sounds, smells, touching, and so on with the kettle singing and the “little moons fall down like tears from between the pages of the almanac.” The tears from the kettle match the drops of rain on the roof.
The poem reminds the reader of the saying, “So close, yet so far away.” Even though the grandmother is in the kitchen with her grandchild, they appear disconnected in many instances and in many ways, like a generational gap. The last stanza takes away the reality of the poem and places it into a surrealistic plane.
Bishop, Elizabeth. “Sestina.” The Norton Anthology of Poetry Fifth Edition. Ferguson, Margaret, Salter, Mary Jo, Stallworthy, Jon eds. New York: W.W. Norton Company, 2005. Print.
Owen, Wilfred. “Dulce et Decorum Est.” The Norton Anthology of Poetry Fifth Edition. Ferguson, Margaret, Salter, Mary Jo, Stallworthy, Jon eds. New York: W.W. Norton Company, 2005. Print.
Good job crafting a story with a very clear sense of conflict and tension, combined with loss. You do a good job of using precise diction.
The description of the setting in this piece is on the lighter-side; you’re using the characters to illuminate the place.
I loved getting to know David and his run to the police station. It tells us so much about him, the town, everything else going on. SD
Good job of tying everything together about the two characters and by this point, I have established in my mind who Officers Audu and Orile are. AJ
· Love this: The imagery, care taken symbolized by the imagery “raw brown eggs” – eggs being delicate and brown ones being even much rarer; I Love This Entire Imagery and dynamic portrayed here with Obi Udara’s family.
· I read the first chapter and really appreciate the detail, description, and desperation that is in the run of David to the police station. I look forward to reading the entire book. –CM
· I think more dialogue should occur between Emelda and Florence.
· Regarding pacing, you could reduce how much time is spent on Emelda’s beauty.
· Duplicate words slow down the pacing.
· I would like to stay a little longer in Emelda and Obi’s bedroom when the shirt fell.
· This is a great example of Showing us how the character feels about his family vs. telling us.–Ousmane
· I have been hooked and pulled into this “world” of these characters. I am intrigued and want to read more.
· The elegance of your writing, the synchronicities of each detail weaving into the next, seamlessly. I loved reading this; and again, I want more.
Your attention to detail is impressive!
The intricate personal traits you gave regarding Emelda, and the other characters, remind me of Flannery O’Connor’s work. When the narrator dipped into Emelda and Florence’s heads in a third-person omniscient, which is an older style, that is also in tune with O’Connor’s writing.–Deb
I feel like your story was something like Brave New World by Aldous Huxley because of your unusual word-smithing and “the women wanting to join the police force.” You have created so many lexicons and phrases. Is this the future?
The work reads beautifully.
· Wow – there is so much elegance in your writing here (and throughout the piece). This section gives me a solid sense of Emelda’s character. I have a strong…bond with her character due to the care taken in describing her in this passage.
· We, the readers, are learning so much about Emelda here – about her perfect mixture of class and humility. Wow. This is great writing. Thank you!
“The prose is fluid, lush, and vivid throughout. You have a good sense of rhythm and the dialogue flows naturally throughout. There’s also a strong sense of tension and conflict in the piece, which engages the reader and propels them to continue with the story.” SD
· I love the way you wrap so many insights into your language, giving us the customs, fears, and hopes of the people in this country, not just the main characters. Really lovely piece. Excellent work. –SC
You have a wonderful lyrical and almost mystical quality in your work. Your work reminds me of Jhumpa Lahiri; Lydia Yuknavich; Amy Bloom; Isabel Alledne; Elena Ferrante; and magical realists like Bolano and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.” Sarah S.
Using an emotional physical space like a kitchen to do the work of revealing character, plot, tension and setting is so difficult, but you do it effortlessly.
· Compelling characters and plot!
· You have a real sense of symbolism in this piece, and reading it, it occurred to me that this is really your strength in terms of atmosphere, tone, and mood. Your work always has an undercurrent to what’s happening on the surface, which is one of the strongest ways to establish symbolism without making it seem clichéd or forced. JG
· Very strong work, attention to detail, and diction.
We are unveiling (drum roll, please) the REAL, THE FINAL, THE UNDISPUTED COVER of Daughters of the Soil, an Udara Series, my first crime fiction/mystery novel.
All right! All you sleuth’s out there, get ready to solve a crime or unravel a mystery.
Basic storyline: Emelda Udara’s kind, devoted, and romantic husband is found afloat Udia River. Nobody knows if he fell in, was pushed in, or was thrown in posthumously. Little David is sent post-haste to get the Udia police on the scene. (We are avoiding the use of “crime scene” for obvious reasons).
Big question: WHO DONE IT? or WHODUNNIT?
Here are the facts as the Udia Police knows it:
Who/victim: Obi Udara (late 30’s; father of two)
Where/scene: Udia River
What: Body was found floating on Udia River with no lacerations or apparent signs of injury/foul play.
When: July 6 (indeterminate year but toward the beginning of the 21st century)
How/weapon: That’s your job, sleuth!
Why/Motive: That’s your job, sleuth! Motive, anyone? Serve it up!
Suspects: Let me tell you. The list is long! Thirteen usual and unusual suspects. Watch out for their descriptions, alibi (or lack thereof), and THEORIZED motives in a few days.
In the mean time, Daughters of the Soil, an Udara Series is on pre-order!! Please head over to Amazon. Search for Youkay Ohanenye or search for the book using its ASIN: B07FRZ42CJ.
Her one-liner prose sentences rivet me. If Didion collected all the one-liners and made them into poetry, I think they would really make me cry at the volume they speak with tacit, muffled words:
In my head I always see writers and poets write like Ezra Pound in “In a Station of the Metro.”
I have chosen to re-imagine “After Life,” the first essay she wrote after she lost her husband. After John’s death, Joan’s paper was silent for over a year.
I have transformed the sentences into poetry.
“After Life:” an essay by Joan Didion examining the day her husband died.
I have re-titled it as “A Make-believe Poem” (Frances Ohanenye)
Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
The question of self-pity.
For a long time I wrote nothing else.
Life changes in the instant.
The ordinary instant.
It is now, as I begin to write this,
the afternoon of October 4, 2004.
December 30, 2003, a Tuesday.
We had seen Quintana in the
sixth-floor I.C.U. at Beth Israel North.
We had come home.
We had discussed whether to
go out for dinner or eat in.
I said I would build a fire, we could eat in.
I built the fire, I started dinner,
I asked John if he wanted a drink.
John was talking, then he wasn’t.
I remember saying, Don’t do that.
When I read this at breakfast
almost 11 months after the night
with the ambulance and the social worker,
I recognized the thinking as my own.
I remember thinking that
I needed to discuss this with John.
There was nothing I did not discuss with John.
The sign-off, I later learned,
was called the “pronouncement,”
as in “Pronounced: 10:18 p.m.”
I had to believe he was dead all along.
If I did not believe he was
dead all along I would have
thought I should have been able to save him.
What did he mean?
Did he know he would not write the book?
You sit down to dinner.
“You can use it if you want to,” John had said when
I gave him the note he had
dictated a week or two before.
And then – gone.
My father was dead, my mother was dead,
I would need for a while to watch for mines,
but I would still get up in the morning
and send out the laundry.
I would still plan a menu for Easter lunch.
I would still remember to renew my passport.
Tightness in the throat.
Choking, need for sighing.
We sat in the part of the
living room where the blood
and electrodes and syringes were not.
Lynn picked up the phone and said
that she was calling Christopher.
And I was.
Then I remembered.
For several weeks that would be
the way I woke to the day.
I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.
I needed to be alone so that he could come back.
The swell of clear water.
That was one way my two systems could have converged.
See what I mean? I am crying.
Hello wonderful people!
I have received posts that you plan to buy my book(s). Thank you!!! I would love your feedback. I would have loved to have given you copies of my books. Unfortunately, Amazon is cracking down on authors for giving away their books to get reviews, and I need your reviews in the most honest way.
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My first book, Waters Family Chronicle, is ready for pre-order on Amazon!
We did it!
Thank you, thank you!!
Waters Family Chronicle is published under Frances Dionye (my father’s middle name).
Please head over to Amazon. Thank you!
The sequel is in the works!!
Other books are coming!
I am so grateful for you and to you.
Twitter tells me that I had more than 1,469 impressions in one week!!
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