Summary Of The Poem 'The Old Lie' By Wilfred Owen

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The title of this poem is a quotation from Horace. The sentence, which Owen quotes entirely at the end of his poem, means: “It is sweet and proper to die for your own country.” The Latin poet celebrated the war heroes who died on the battlefields, because they lost their lives fighting for the safety of their own countries. The honor proper of the warriors perished during a war is an ancient topos, which has been celebrated since Homer’s time. However, Wilfred Owen plays with the literary tradition. Throughout the poem, he underlines the cruelty of war to which soldiers are exposed, without celebrating any hero. In the last quatrain, the readers fully understand the ironic tone of his title—and of the whole poem—when he calls the words of Horace “The old Lie” (Owen 27), which are told to children generation after generation, pushing them to war in order to obtain “some desperate glory” (Owen 26). Indeed, this oxymoron represents the contrast between the glory of warriors celebrated by poets and the desperate reality of war. Moreover, it is an old lie, not simply because it has been told for centuries, but also because it is what old people told to the…show more content…
The irregularity of the length of the stanzas, alongside with the variation of the meter and the use of punctuation, helps Owen creating an unusual rhythm, which emphasizes the fact that there is not a pleasant melody in this poem, because war is definitely not a pleasant experience.
The first line of the fourth stanza introduces the addressee of this poem, the “you” (Owen 17), who Owen later calls “My friend” (25). The poem is made to be read by Jessie Pope, a woman who used to publicize poems urging men to enlist during the war (Greenblatt 2037). However, it is not simply Jessie Pope who should read the poem, but all the people who pushed young men to war and glorified the experience of the war, by telling to children “The old Lie” (Owen
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