The Futility Of Dying For A State

Through Poetic Devices: Essay, Research Paper

The Futility of Dying for a State through Poetic Devices:

“Dulce et Decorum Est” and “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner”

Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” (1920) uses vivid imagery primarily to remove any romantic or patriotic idea that it is sweet to die for one’s country. Randall Jarrell’s “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” uses ambiguity to compare the death for the state to an abortion. Each poem presents the death of a man for his country, though with contrasting poetic devises. The poetic devises in the poems, “Dulce et Decorum Est” and “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” convey the horror and futility of dying for a state.

“The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” begins: “From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State And hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze” (720). The gunner is born from his mother’s warm womb into the cold State; he leaves the safety and warmth of his mother womb and falls into the dangerous state of being in the freezing belly of a high altitude bomber. The “State” is not referred to patriotically or romantically in this nature but more as cold and less than nourishing (720).

In “Dulce et Decorum Est” soldiers are first reduced to a bunch of ill, hunch﷓backed, old bag ladies or “beggars” dreadfully struggling through the mud towards an unpleasant destination (763). Then upon signal flares they turn around and begin a long arduous walk to “distant rest” (763). Owen paints a far from romantic or patriotic view of war right from the start with his concrete images. He departs further from the patriotic view of soldiers trough stating: “Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots, But limped on, bloodshod” (763). The soldiers are not glorified. Instead, they are depicted as poorly equipped and less than potent or even competent. Owen next with concrete imagery seems to make the men beast﷓like and incapacitated: “All went lame, all blind; Drunk with fatigue, deaf even to the hoots Of gas﷓shells dropping softly behind” (763). The impending doom and horror are also alluded to in the pervious quote.

Jarrell uses ambiguities to further remove the persona from a safe state and plunges him into the horror of a nightmare: “Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life, I woke to black flack and the nightmare fighters” (720). This ambiguous sentence can mean both the gunner awakes to horror of the reality that faces him and/or he dies 31,000 feet above earth from the flack or enemy fighter planes. Either way the sentence is received, it seems less than desirable and certainly not glorious.

Owen through vivid imagery brings to life the ordeal of donning the awkward gas masks in a timely manner. His imagery shows visions of hell through an unlucky soldier “flound’ring like a man in fire or lime” (763). Owen paints a morbid picture of a soldier drowning in “a green sea”. The horror of the event is further hammered home with the use of rhyme: “… He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning” (763).

In Jarrell’s concluding line of “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” he uses both ambiguity and rhyme. The ambiguity of the line allows at least two meanings at once. First it can be seen as the state or government washes his remains out of the turret for the next man to take his place. However, it also brings images of an aborted fetus being washed from the womb: “When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose” (720). The cold and callous nature of the state is exemplified with the only rhyme of the poem: “…in its belly… my wet fur froze. … they washed me out… with a hose” (720). This rhyme echoes the cold, uncaring, callous nature of governments and states that regularly perform such acts.

With an internal rhyme Owen invites the reader along to witness the horror. Then vivid and concrete imagery paint an all to real scene: “… And watch the white eyes writhing in his face…” (763). Through his imagery one can easily visualize the blood “gargling” from dead or dying soldiers “lungs Bitter as the cud Of vile” (763). This reference to cud again reduces the soldier to less than human and more like a beast of burden. He concludes with what a horrible crime it is to tell the young innocent ones that its is sweet and proper to die for one’s country.

The use poetic devises are instrumental in making the points of “Dulce et Decorum Est” and “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner”. Both poems use rhyme to emphasize their points, however Owen relies mainly upon vivid concrete imagery and Jarrell primarily uses ambiguities. Though different methods and poetic devices are used, the point is the same that it is not especially sweet to die for a cold and callous state.


Meyer, Michael. The Bedford Introduction to Literature.

Boston: St. Martins, 1999. 5


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