“War is the best thing in the world,” said no sane or knowledgeable person, ever. Whatever reasons there are to go to war, such as benefiting or protecting the way of life, the outcome is inevitably devastating. War affects not only the people intimately involved who are in combat, but also civilians who live near the conflict as well as family of the soldiers who may be thousands of miles away. The people who are able to view war as a positive deed have never experienced a second of combat.
The poems “The Man He Killed”, “Dulce et Decorum Est”, “Dover Beach”, and “Patterns” each tell a story of helplessness, bitterness, and suffering towards war with few exceptions. Helplessness resonates from each poem. During “The Man He Killed”, the speaker is face to face with his enemy. Both shoot, yet the speaker has the better aim and kills his enemy. The speaker explains “I shot him dead because- because he was my foe, just so: my foe of course he was; that’s clear enough,” (p. 370). This is ironic because the speaker says the reasons are clear enough, yet he doesn’t truly know why he killed the other man.
The speaker stumbles through explaining why he killed the other man, but in actuality he was helpless as he was forced to go through the motions of war as it was kill or be killed. In “Dulce et Decorum Est”, the speaker is helpless as he is unable to give any kind of aid to fellow soldiers during poison gas attacks. “In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, he plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning,” (p. 492). The speaker can only stare at his allies, who are dying before him, unable to help in any way.
In the poem “Dover Beach”, the speaker is not in a war as was the case with the previous two stories; however, the setting still reveals how the speaker is helpless. The beach has a slow rhythm that, to the speaker, sounds of eternal sadness (p. 498). Furthermore, the speaker even alludes to Sophocles listening to the same pulse of wave. In Sophocles mind, the sound was of “the turbid ebb and flow of human misery,” (p. 498). The metaphor draws human misery to being like the water at a beach, forever changing. Lastly, helplessness is also experienced within “Patterns”.
Within the poem, the speaker describes her outfit as “not a softness anywhere about me, only whalebone and brocade” as well as her gown feeling “stiff” more than once (372). Her outfit symbolizes how the speaker is helpless to escape the predictable patterns of life. Furthermore, it is discovered in the story that her fiance had been killed in combat. The speaker is helpless upon hearing this news. She is only able to wait for news to arrive, whether good or bad. Within each story helplessness is observed from the speaker; however, bitterness is also an emotion found in the majority of poems.
The poems “The Man He Killed”, “Dulce et Decorum Est”, and “Patterns” similarly have attitudes of bitterness. Within “The Man He Killed”, after describing an enemy similar to himself who he could treat to a drink at any bar the speaker remarks, “Yes; quaint and curious war is! ” (p. 370). The speaker killed an enemy who could have been a neighbor, if not a friend, on any other occasion. The speaker is able to describe war in this resentful statement. In “Dulce et Decorum Est” the speaker has experienced the atrocities of war first hand.
The bitterness is seen at the end of the poem, as the speaker attacks people at home who have not seen what war truly is, and convince young gullible children “sweet and fitting it is to die for one’s country” (p. 492). If the people who spoke that old phrase experienced war, they would not say it so casually. Bitterness is also experienced in “Patterns” near the end. The speaker realizes the senselessness of conformity and war exclaiming, “Christ! What are patterns for? ” (p. 372). She had conformed her entire life and made plans for her happiness, but another pattern of her fiance’s death had shattered those aspirations.
Many men have gone to war, and the pattern of death along with the grieving widow was all too common. Lastly, rather than bitterness, desperation is seen in “Dover Beach. ” The speaker describes a world that is losing faith, which also gives a sense of melancholy; however, he pleads with his significant other “Ah, love, let us be true to one another! ” (p. 498). The speaker is desperate to have his relationship work since he is losing faith in the world around him. Perhaps, if the speaker can find some hope in the world through the relationship, things will turn out all right.
Much like bitterness, a common emotion within most stories is suffering. “The Man He Killed”, “Dulce et Decorum Est”, and “Dover Beach” all have attitudes of suffering. Within “The Man He Killed”, the speaker begins very confidently in his conversation; however, as the conversation progresses his speech starts to falter and his grammar is less clear. The speaker has yet to overcome the past and is still suffering from what he was forced to do to survive. In “Dulce et Decorum Est” the speaker is suffering from nightmares.
In all my dreams… His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin; If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs” (p. 492). While the experience of war is in the past, the speaker is unable to escape from the vivid horrors. The speaker in “Dover Beach” also has an attitude of suffering. He is at a calm and tranquil place with his lover, yet at the end of the poem his mind won’t let him be satisfied. “And we are here as on a darkling plain swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, where ignorant armies clash by night” (p. 498).
Within the speaker’s lost faith, he only sees the faithless ugliness of the world, which turns out to be a battlefield. In contrast, “Patterns” attitude is melancholy rather than suffering. “And the plashing of waterdrops in the marble fountain comes down the garden-paths. The dripping never stops…” (p. 371). The dripping that never stops is symbolic of her endless sorrow upon hearing the fate of her fiance. While one poem did not share the common emotion of suffering, the majority did. War is a tragic event that has been known to evoke a variety of emotions from people, whether they are involved or not.
The emotions within “The Man He Killed”, “Dulce et Decorum Est”, “Dover Beach”, and “Patterns” are mostly helplessness, bitterness, and suffering that occurs from war. The speaker in “The Man He Killed” was powerless while at war; in order to survive, he had to kill an enemy who could have just as easily been a friend. Next, the speaker from “Dulce et Decorum Est” showed his bitterness as he vibrantly recounts the horrors of war from first hand experiences to assert that war is anything but “sweet” and “fitting” to die for one’s country.
As for “Dover Beach”, the speaker is with his lover at a relaxing setting physically; however, he lost his faith in the world and became a victim of his own suffering as he envisioned a war below him. Lastly, in the poem “Patterns”, the speaker goes through the emotion of melancholy. Her fiance, she learns, died during war; she is near a fountain that drips incessantly, which is symbolic of her perpetual grieving of the news. Much like real life, these poems resemble familiar feelings that still occur today due to war.