What would be a strong thesis to use in an essay analyzing the following three poems concerning the atrocities of war: "Dulce et Decorum Est" by Wilfred Owen, "The End and the Beginning" by Wislawa...

What would be a strong thesis to use in an essay analyzing the following three poems concerning the atrocities of war: "Dulce et Decorum Est" by Wilfred Owen, "The End and the Beginning" by Wislawa Szymborska, and "Do Not Weep, Maiden, for War is Kind" by Stephen Crane?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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All three war poems actually describe war with a sense of irony. One thing to keep in mind as you read and analyze these poems is that, prior to World War I, war was thought to be glorious. The Ancient Greeks and Romans saw war as a chance to prove their bravery and to die bravely for the sake of a noble cause, as seen in ancient texts like Homer's Iliad. Individuals continued this line of thinking and similar lines of thinking right up to World War I. As Ammon Shepherd phrases it, the countries of "England, France, and Germany saw war as a glorious engagement. The prevailing thought by those who joined the military [at the start of WWI] was that they would be home by Christmas" ("Europe and World War I"). Shepherd further indicates that young men saw war as an opportunity to do something new, different, and challenging, simply because they were bored with their own lives: "Young men were bored with the good qualities of life so were eager to prove themselves and their new sense of national identity" ("Europe and World War I"). However, advances in war technology--"machine guns, tanks, large guns, airplanes"--made World War I unexpectedly devastating. So, suddenly, no one could continue seeing war as glorious but as rather a devastating, life-taking tragedy. Hence, all three poems were written to express the tragic irony of at first seeing war as glorious but now being forced to face the truth--war isn't glorious at all. All three poems use both imagery and diction to express the ironic contrast between thinking war is glorious and war's true reality.

In "Dulce Et Docurm Est," Wilfred Owen paints vivid imagery to show the devastation of WW I such as the image of the troops "march[ing] asleep" and the verbal warning of poisonous gas having been fired at the troops. His vivid imagery about the death and agonies of war stands in sharp contrast with the diction choices of the famous Latin saying Owen uses at the end of his poem, "Dolce et Decorum est Pro patria mori," which translates to, "It is sweet and right to die for your country" ("Dolce et Decorum Est," footnote #1). All in all, Owen is saying that if one knew how horrible war was, one wouldn't dare tell children the "old Lie" that it is glorious to die in war for the sake of your country. In doing so, he clearly expresses the irony behind the old belief that war was glorious and contrasts it against the clear reality that war is horrible.

The same irony expressed through imagery and diction can be seen in Wislawa Szymborska's poem "The End and the Beginning" as well though a bit more subtly. Szymborska uses distinct and imagery to paint the remains of a war-torn city after the war has ended, such as the phrases "push the rubble," "corpse-filled wagons," and "get mired." In the fourth stanza, we see Szymborska's first use of both diction and imagery to express irony. He uses the diction choice of "photogenic" and the image that "all the cameras have left" to show mankind's old belief that war is glorious. The cameras were at the war documenting the battle as if it was something to be remembered for all time when in reality, it's not. Hence, just like Owen, Szymborska is also showing the irony in the belief that war is glorious and the contrast between the belief and the reality of war.

Steven Crane also uses his final four lines to show that same ironic contrast:

Mother whose heart hung humble as a button
On the bright splendid shroud of your son,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

However, unlike the previous two poets, Crane fills his poem with imagery to paint war's glory, such as "Hoarse, booming drums of the regiment" and then ends with the sorrowful image of a mother mourning the death of her son and the satirical refrain, "War is kind," to paint the ironic contrast between beliefs about war and actuality.

Hence, if we were to write a thesis arguing the above, the following would be one possibility:

  • Poets Owen, Symborska, and Crane all use imagery and diction to show the ironic contrast between the old, commonly held belief that war is glorious and war's bitter, harsh reality.
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