Wilfred Owen was a poet born in 1893, and the poem Dulce et Decorum Est was probably his most famous one. Owen wrote this poem in hospital after suffering from both physical and mental injuries of the First World War. Having experienced war himself, he had a realistic view of the war and tried to convey this to others before he died at twenty-five years old. Dulce et Decorum Est focuses on a gas attack, and portrays that war is not honourable and sweet, as the title suggests in Latin.
The poem begins by describing the physical state of the soldiers. The poet uses similes to convey the ill-health of the men. The soldiers are described as being “Bent double, like old beggars” which characterizes soldiers as being prematurely old, and extremely weak for their young age. Metaphors are also used to draw attention to their weak state of mind, “Men marched asleep” is used to imply the exhaustion of the fighters, not only the soldiers are here physically but suggests also as they are mentally and “Drunk with fatigue”.
The poet uses the personification of bombs when he writes “disappointed shells” which suggests the soldiers from the enemy side had thrown bombs and grenades unsuccessfully. This implies that in war, soldiers had a lot of chances to be bombed easily. From the second stanza, we experience war through the naked eyes of a soldier during a sudden gas attack. The tone of the poem changes from a pessimistic calm with the slow walk of soldiers through the “sludge” to a tone of panic due to the gas attack. “GAS! Gas! Quick, boys! ” these exclamatory sentences create urgency, which shows how the soldiers had to live in fear every day.
From the gas attack, the poet uses again a personification by using “clumsy helmets” to explain that the gas masks provided were inefficient, and that soldiers almost had no chance of surviving. During that time, the simile “floundering like a man in fire or lime” is used to show a panicking soldier because gas has got infected his body. This creates a sense of pity because the soldier sees his comrade die in front of him, through the “misty panes” which are the masks. From this, readers understand that war doesn’t only have physical effects, but also terrible mental effects.
The emotional impact of war is well shown in Owen’s poem when in the third stanza, he describes how in all his “dreams”, he sees his “friend” who died “guttering, chocking, drowning”. These three verbs are used as the rule of three, they all are connotations of suffering and death. The fact that he couldn’t help this “helpless” soldier because gas had already got into his body haunts him every night since. When Owen describes the death of his mates in war, he remembers how badly treated they looked and he uses negative connotations to show that seeing these images hurt him mentally.
Owen writes about his friend having a “hanging face” which suggests that he was exhausted, and uses the simile “like a devil’s sick of him” that implies Owen comparing his comrade’s face to a devil’s appearance. Seeing his partner suffering, the poet uses the verb “gargling” to define his ”forth-corrupted lungs”. These words submit a sense of sound in the poem which is another way the poet has created pity and also put forward the fact that soldiers die in horrific conditions. On the next line, two similes are used to explain how Owen felt by the scene at this time. Obscene as cancer” and “bitter as the cud” both suggest death and the darkness of war.
“Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues” shows it is unfair that young soldiers have to live in this misery, instead of having a normal and pleasant life. Readers obviously imagine after this stanza, the memories the survivors still have in their mind is most of the time worth dying, and this affects readers to feel some pity for these young men.
In the very last stanza, Wilfred Owen involves the reader by using the second person. If you could hear” reminds the sound sense again but also asks readers between the lines : if you were in this situation, how would you react. Talking directly to the readers gives a bigger chance to Owen to emphazize pity in his poem. He continues with “My friend, you would not tell with such a high zest to children” to create guilt in the readers minds, because soldiers were highly encouraged or even forced to go to war by propaganda and the country’s government. All the people who pushed young men to go to war by saying how great and adventurous it is feel guilty in this last stanza.
The word “Children” also emphazises pity, and points out that Owen has himself been a kid pushed to war and now as a survivor knows the lies behind it. In my opinion, I think that this poem was directed to all the people who formed propaganda for war, but it was also written to tell young men who were going to war in the future aware of the reality. In the end, after pointing out that society shouldn’t lie about war, and after earing that these children desire glory, he states “The old Lie: Dulce and decorum est pro patria mori”, which is the title of the poem. Here, Wilfred Owen made a rime, and he also has used irony in this one sentence.
This whole poem is about expressing how bad war is and when he writes this which means ‘it is honourable and sweet to die for your country’ in Latin perfectly summarises the poem using irony. From this poem, I can obviously see that, after years, Owen still suffers from the physical and mental injuries that war caused him. Lots of strong words have been used by the poet to express what it was like and how he felt, which creates pity in the readers mind. I find Wilfred Owen very brave and courageous for writing this poem that explains how millions of young soldiers have felt, being in war.
Courtney from Study Moose
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