Wilfred Owen ‘Dulce et Decorum est’

The poem ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ is a poem which shows us the horrors of war. It shows us how innocent lives are being wasted on a war. The poem tells us about how the poet feels about war.

The first stanza tells us about the condition of the soldiers. It shows us that the soldiers are sick, tired and are not aware of themselves. It also tells us that the soldiers were in bad condition. They did not care about the shells that dropped behind them. In the first line the soldiers are compared in a simile to old beggars. This implies that they look shabby, which is not the image of soldiers in bright shiny uniforms, which would be in keeping with the glorious image of war. The line has a slow pace with no sound described, which is also a contrast to the image of war, as people at home might expect the soldiers to be marching along at a brisk pace. The second line continues this them as it compares the soldiers to hags, which are very like beggars. It tells you that the soldiers are knock kneeded and coughing, which implies a very low morale.

In the second stanza, the poet has written about a gas attack that he has witnessed. This stanza tells us about the confusion and panic, which arises when the soldiers’ lives are in immediate danger. The pace of this verse is a lot quicker in order to demonstrate this, and also provides a contrast to the previous verses as it is written in the present tense to make it seem more real, whereas the first verse is written in the perfect tense, which makes it seem more distant. During the gas attack, many soldiers managed to get their gas helmets on time. But one soldier could not make it. He was yelling and stumbling as the gas overcare him. The poet has seen the unfortunate man die a slow and painful death.

The third stanza is short. It expresses the poet’s fears and nightmares he has because of the dying man reaching his hand out for help. But Wilfred Owen was helpless. The poet tells us that the dying man was guttering, choking and drowning as the gas made its way through his lungs.

The fourth stanza is telling us a little bit about what the soldiers did to the dead soldier. They flung him in the back of a wagon. His condition was still bad. There was blood coming out from his mouth and his face was hanging in bad shape. The poet then tells his ‘friend’ that it is not right to tell keen and young soldiers eager for glory that ‘ It is a good and noble thing to die for your country’ as it is a lie. Moreover, the last verse is a plea to the reader to renounce their opinion that dying for your country is sew and honourable. Wilfred Owen is saying that if the reader was there, and saw this man dying in the back of the wagon then they would not tell the old Lie. Owen, by his graphic description of the man’s death, is intending to shock the reader into believing they have been tricked by the Old Lie i.e. it is good to die for your country, and make them think more deeply about the values of war and how they can become heroes.

Wilfred Owen is creating a horrific picture of how bad war is. He has done this by making use of similes.

In the first stanza, Owen describes the exhaustion of the soldiers by saying:

“Bent double, like old beggars under sacks”

In this quote we can see that Owen is telling us that the soldiers are too tired to walk properly and that they can hardly stand up. He re-enforces his words by saying:

“Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots”

This is giving us a vivid image of how tired and ill the soldiers are from war. To add to the atmosphere of depression, the ‘haunting flares’ imply that the scene is taking place at night, as flares are not visible in the daytime. The fact that the flares are ‘haunting’ adds to the misery of the soldiers, as it could be that they are remembering past horrific incidents involving the flares that haunt them. The ‘distant rest’ in line four could mean that the soldiers are going to sleep for the night, but they will not be able to sleep because of the poor conditions. The word’ trudge’ implies that they are walking with difficulty, and slows down the line, which indicates the slowness of the soldiers’ walk. The alliteration in the fifth line emphasises what Wilfred Owen is saying. It makes the metaphor ‘men marched asleep’ seem more real and holds the line together over the full stop. ‘Men limping blood shod’ emphasises their predicament and how different it is to the glorious battle they had expected. The two lines in this verse create the impression that the soldiers are somehow in a daze and do not hear sounds fully. It is as if they have become isolated within themselves.

Their illness is further emphasized when the poet says:

“… coughing like hags…”

From these sentences in the first stanza, we can imagine how tired and worn-out the soldiers must have been due to the war they are forced to fight.

Wilfred Owen is also making use of metaphors to strengthen the lines of his poem. In the second stanza, Owen tells us about a dying man when he inhaled the gas.

“But someone was yelling out and stumbling

And floundering like a man in fire or lime”

From this quote, we get a picture of how the dying man felt just as he had inhaled the smoke.

Wilfred Owen has made use of other literary techniques such as Direct speech, Alliteration and Onomatopoeia.

In the second stanza, Owen has made use of direct speech to give the reader a realistic feeling about what is happening in the poem.

“Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!”

The poet has also made use of Alliteration. In the third stanza, the poet says:

“Behind the wagon we flung him in,

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face”

Here the poet is telling us about the state in which the dying man was.

The poet has also made use of two special features, enjambement and caesura. Wilfred Owen has made use of enjambement very often from the second stanza. This increases the pace of the poem which gives the reader an inside look into how fast people had to work at war. On the other hand, Owen has also made use of caesura. This slows down the pace of the poem and allows the reader to think about what the poet is saying. In the third stanza, Owen says:

“His hanging face, like a devils sick of sin”

Here the poet is letting the reader to know how the dying man looked like after he inhaled the gas.

In the poem ‘Dulce et Decorum est’, there are four verses with 28 lines. Each verse has a number of lines that vary in every verse. The poem does not have a definite rhyme but mostly it goes like a, b, a, b, c, d, c, d and so on but this pattern is disrupted a little bit in the later part of the poem. Stanza 3 is short as it sums up the nightmares Wilfred Owen is going through. Since the two lines are in the middle of much longer verses, the reader’s eyes get attracted to those lines.

The poem ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ was written by Wilfred Owen during the First World War. In 1914 the First World War broke out on a largely innocent world, a world that still associated warfare with glorious cavalry charges and the noble pursuit of heroic ideals. This was the world’s first experience of modern mechanised warfare. As the months and years passed, each bringing increasing slaughter and misery, the soldiers became increasingly disillusioned. Many of the strongest protests made against the war were made through the medium of poetry by young men horrified by what they saw. One of these poets was Wilfred Owen.

World War I, military conflict, from 1914 to 1918, that began as a local European war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia on July 28, 1914; was transformed into a general European struggle by Germany’s declaration of war against Russia on August 1, 1914; and eventually became a global war involving 32 nations. The immediate cause of the war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia was the assassination on June 28, 1914, at Sarajevo in Bosnia (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; now in Bosnia and Herzegovina), of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir-presumptive to the Austrian and Hungarian thrones, by Gavrilo Princip, a Serb nationalist. The fundamental causes of the conflict, however, were rooted deeply in the European history of the previous century, particularly in the political and economic policies that prevailed on the Continent after 1871, the year that marked the emergence of Germany as a great world power.

The living conditions for the soldiers were terrible during the First World War. Many died due to diseases, epidemics and injuries caused through battle. Sometimes, the soldiers had no ammunition to fight with at all and hence were left helpless. Living conditions were as bad. Many had no proper shelter, or clothing. Wilfred Owen had made these conditions a reality in his poem. The vividness of the poem gives us an impression of how bad the conditions must’ve been for the soldiers during the war. Moreover he is saying this because he feels the soldiers are giving their life for nothing. Therefore he is stressing on the terrible conditions the soldier were living and fighting in.

Wilfred Owen has written negative account of his feelings for war. He has written about the tiredness of the soldiers when he says:

“Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,

But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;

Drunk with fatigue; drunk even to the hoots”

In this quote we can see that Wilfred Owen is trying to tell us that the soldiers were very tired. This tells us that Wilfred Owen is giving us a negative impression of war

This poem was written by Wilfred Owen, who was a soldier in the First World War. He therefore gives a very vivid account of what it was like to be there, as he has had first- hand experience. The title of the poem means ‘it is sweet and honourable’, and the phrase is continued at the end of the poem…’to die for your country.’ Just before this is stated at the end of the poem, Wilfred Owen chooses to write’ The Old Lie.’ This tells us he does not believe this statement to be true. The poem is filled with horrible stories about what really happened, and so Wilfred Owen is saying how can all of this suffering be sweet and proper?

In my opinion, I do not like the poem very much. It gives a very horrific image of war. Although Wilfred Owen is right about ‘Dulce et Decorum est Pro Patria Mori’ I still think that the poem is written quite harshly.

The language used by the poet is not bad but the content is. The examples that Wilfred Owen has given us of warfare are very horrific. A man drowning in a gas of poisonous gas, a group of soldiers in ill condition etc, all this reflects upon the horrific accounts of warfare. If the poet were trying to stress his point through non-horrific examples, then the poem would’ve been a lot more enjoyable. But that doesn’t mean I am criticizing the poet. Needless to say the poem is very well written. Its what the poet feels about warfare, which obviously I wouldn’t criticize that at all as it is the poet’s opinion.

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