Upon first glance, “Rain” by Edward Thomas and Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce Et Decorum Est” seem like remarkably disparate poems. Thomas’ piece initially reads like an almost prayerful meditation on the awe-inspiring pervasiveness of Nature, whereas Owen’s classic World War I poem is a vivid description of the atrocities of war and a scathing critique of jingoistic songwriters and poets. Additionally, Owen utilizes a formal ABAB rhyme scheme while Thomas eschews this convention.
Despite these obvious differences, however, upon closer examination, the two pieces share some common threads. Indeed, both texts evoke a sense of hopelessness and address the powerlessness of their respective speakers in the face of death. More specifically, the poets discuss the tremendous suffering that occurred during World War I. Thomas writes about the war through metaphors and a remarkable sense of restraint. The introspective speaker of “Rain” ponders his own mortality and hopes for his colleagues to remain safe:
“But here I pray that none whom once I loved / Is dying tonight or lying still awake /Solitary, listening to the rain” (49).
These lines emphasize the speaker’s close relationship with his brothers in arms. Later in the poem, Thomas provides a potent metaphor for the young men devastated by WWI, calling them “Myriads of broken reeds all still and stiff” (49). His choice of “myriads” foregrounds the enormous number of men affected by the violence of the war.
Owen’s treatment of the violence of war is more abrasive, but just as powerful, as Thomas’ subtle imagery. “Dulce Et Decorum Est” shares a melancholic atmosphere with “Rain.” Much like “Rain,” Owen’s poem emphasizes hopelessness in the midst of death. In the most devastating scene in the piece, a soldier is powerless to stop the violent death of his young colleague who suffocates in a poison gas attack:
“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." (99-100).
Owen is more direct than Thomas in illustrating the effects of war, but both poems powerfully give readers a glimpse into the horrors of war. While the poets’ approaches differ, both poems examine mortality and a begrudging acceptance of the inevitability of death in the face of the Great War.
I pulled my textual evidence from The Bloodaxe Book of 20th Century Poetry.