The poems, “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” by Randall Jarrell and “Dulce et Decorum est” by Wilfred Owen both present issues about war. In these poems, the authors use diction, imagery and tone to show the brutality and cruel truth of war. These similarities are seen throughout both poems.
“The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner,” by Randall Jarrell talks about the pointlessness of life and the cruel realities of war. The gunner had one of the most dangerous jobs of the whole crew on the plane. Inside the ball turret there was not much room to move around and was very cramped for a person to be placed. In this uncomfortable position, the ball turret gunner had to deal with extremely cold temperatures. The gunner was placed in a fetal position, “From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State, / And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze ” (Jarrell). These lines draw an image in the readers mind through the phrases like “hunched in its belly”. Jarrell could also be displaying the harshness of war, with him being a fighter. Often, the combatants are very young. Jarrell might be using this poem to convey the feeling of fear of all the young combatants who have been taken from the feeling of their mother’s comfort and thrown into this wild environment. The following line, “Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life” (Jarrell), also displays the pointlessness of life. The gunner feels so distant from all that was of comfort and familiar to him, he felt detached from the only thing he knew. The gunner knew it wasn’t long until “the gunner woke to black flak and the nightmare fighter” (Jarrell). The last line of the poem is one of the coldest and most cruel parts of war, specifically in WWII. “When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose” (Jarrell). This line from the poem shows how humans lives, especially in war-time, was so expendable that the remainders of the past gunners are hosed out of the plane, in order to get the turret up and running again with another gunner. This gives a very strong image of the war. The worthlessness of life is once again brought up in the thing that the gunner depended on to keep him alive, the plane, but the plane was what got him killed ironically. In the poem, “Dulce et Decorum est,” Wilfred Owen claims his disgust for those who have ever been in war but then described how it was the ultimate patriotic sacrifice when he writes in lines 21-28, “If you could…you would not tell with such high zest/ To children ardent for some desperate glory, / The old lie dulce et decorum est/ Pro patria mori.” Like Jarrell, Owen describes the graphic aspect of the war in his poem. Wilfred Owen puts large amounts of detail like Jarrell. For instance, line 2 provides vivid images of exhausted soldiers trudging through the battlefield on their knees, “Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge.” Owen’s use of detail, along with other literary devices such as similes, create the vivid and graphic imagery in this poem. In line 1, Owen uses a simile to describe the crawling soldiers and also in line 14 when he describes how the soldiers struggled to put on their gas masks. These images create a feeling of disgust. The tone that Owen uses does not change throughout the poem. His tone is one of sorrow and regret directed toward the effects of war on young men, and a cautionary tone, warning those who would be fooled into believing that war is some kind of great adventure that all men should experience. The last few lines of the poem reveal Owen’s sympathy for those who were lied to about what war was and are now struggling with its everlasting effects on their mind. It also serves as a caution to readers about the realities of war. Both of these poems had the same idea of death in war present. “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” talking about how death was so common and ungrieved and “Dulce Et Decorum Est” talking about how the sight of death in war was a scarring one.
Unnoticed deaths are by no means “heroic”. Most of our society does not want to die in the first place, much less be killed brutally and not have anyone take the time for grieving the loss. In both poems, the authors brought out the ugly beast that is war. Both authors use a lot of symbolism within their works to amplify their message of war.