October 8, 2014 The Old Lie Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” and Yusef Komunyakaa’s “Facing It” are both poems that bring to light the more negative features of war. Though “Dulce et Decorum Est” immerses the reader into the midst of war and “Facing It” is set instead next to a war memorial, both poems seem to convey impressions that oppose the traditional outlook that war is glorious and heroic, and each speaker feels the critical aspects of battle.
Many war poems are written about the glory of war. These poems are epics that describe war heroes, and men fight and die with honor and are praised for it. An example of this type of poem is Tennyson’s “Charge of The Light Brigade” which describes a troop of men that, even though they are completely outmatched, ride into the “valley of death” only to be slaughtered, but fight bravely with honor and nobility and are remembered and praised for it. Another example includes the epic of Beowulf, in which a hero continuously accomplishes amazing feats, to eventually die bravely in combat against an epic foe.
The poems written by Owen and Komunyakaa starkly contrast those written about the glory of war. Instead we see the darker side of battle, in which men die and become injured not only physically but mentally. Owen’s speaker describes men as not strong, manly soldiers, but as
“bent double, like old beggars under sacks,/ Knockkneed, coughing like hags...” (lines 12)
(Lutz) Yusef’s speaker does not remember scenes of glory, but flashes back when he sees the name of a fallen comrade, where he is able to “see the booby trap’s white flash.” (Line 18) These images are not those of brave men dying for a cause, but those of men fighting to live, and being needlessly slaughtered.
Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” describes scenes of men who are walking away from a war zone, too tired to fight, too tired to be aware of what’s going on around them, too tired to do anything that a soldier should do, but are marching just to stay alive. They “limped on, bloodshod. All went lame; all blind;/ Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots/ Of tired, outstripped FiveNines that dropped behind.” (lines 68) These men were sick, tired, and weak.
They did not march for glory, they marched to cling on to the lives that had already very nearly slipped away from them. The speaker of this poem uses these images to prove to us that war is not some valiant thing, but just a bringer of death and despair. The speaker then goes on to describe the very graphic and violent death of a man who could not put on his helmet quite fast enough when poisonous gas was detected. The man began “yelling out and stumbling/ And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.” (Lines 1112) This man does not die a valiant and honorable death. He did not even get to fight for his own life. This is not the war in which men die heroes. They just die. This doesn’t quite seem to be the glorious way to die that the more traditional stories had promised. Of course the speaker goes on to address these stories as “The old Lie,” (line 27)
The speaker in “Facing It” by Komunyakaa does not describe the same harsh scenes of battle but instead gives the reader an insight into how a veteran who is no longer even in a war
0514 3 feels, and the impression of anguish is still just as apparent as that of a man in active service.
These feelings are first shown when the speaker has to fight back his own tears. After such a tragic event as a war, the survivors are no longer complete. The speaker states that “I go down the 58,022 names,/ halfexpecting to find/ my own in letters like smoke” (Lines 1416) The reason the speaker almost expects to see his own name is because part of the