Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum est” is an exceptional and magnificent piece of poetry that was written in 1917 describing a scenario from a group of soldiers suffering a gas attack during World War One. This poem displays a detailed use of imagery, diction, as well as figurative language. Vivid imagery along with a melancholic tone is established throughout the whole poem. With the compelling metaphors and a tone that shows lack of hope, the poem automatically reveals a sense of grief and sorrow.
Owen accomplishes a message as his readers can easily empathize with the soldiers in the battlefield. In the first stanza, introduces the mood to his readers presenting a calm death like setting before the storm of the gas tank. The first line, “Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,” (1) the poet uses a simile to compare worn out troops to old beggars. The use of onomatopoeia and alliteration creates a very strong and powerful figurative image of the setting of the war producing a sense of misery and despair.
Examples of this would be ‘bent beggars’, ‘knock-kneed’, ‘cough… and curse’. All this detailed description is compressed in simply two lines. The words ‘Men marched asleep’ imitates the rhythm of exhausted and beat up men. The following words ‘blind’, ‘lame’, ‘fatigue’ and ‘blood-shod’ gives the readers the idea of how men in the battlefield have suffered. The second stanza and the third stanza bring more motion and action. At first, the words ‘ecstasy of fumbling’ seems to be an oxymoron describing the awakening and the instant controlled panicking.
All soldiers have to find a gas mask within seconds to save themselves. The third stanza was very intense as he saw one man ‘guttering, choking, drowning’ while he stood there helplessly caught in a nightmare. As all the metaphors are emphasized, readers call emotionally feel troops going through horrifying experiences. This gets readers drawn into the poem trying to disguise the suspense. The last stanza brings about some striking expressions. The poet tries to restore normality as writes ‘the wagon we flung him in’.
The soldiers are trying to remove the horrific vision of having men die before their eyes. The second line allows readers to imagine the brutal scene of how this man was suffering and drying. Owen becomes more persistent as he uses a steady rhythmic beat of an iambic pentameter. We can feel the actual ‘jolt’ from the wagon, while we see the eyes ‘writhing’ from his ‘hanging-face’ and actually hear the ‘gargling’ of the victim’s blood choked lungs. There is another example of a simile when the poet says ‘like a devil’s sick of sin’.
The vision of his face hanging like a devil’s sick of sin suggest that the victim is most likely covered with blood and this dark red color purely symbolizes the devil. The tone is so harsh that the readers can practically imagine Owen spitting out bitter and atrocious words like incurable sores on innocent tongues’ as hatred that runs through the veins of the victims and innocent men that die in the battlefield. Wilfred Owen has shown his outstanding poetic skills manipulating not only the emotional, but the mechanicals parts of poetry as well.
This poem is extremely thoughtful, strong, provocative, filled with shocking and dreadful images making readers empathize the solder’s pains both mentally and physically. Owen has managed to end his poem by saying, ‘the old lie: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’ basically saying that it is not as noble and as sweet to die for your own country like many think. With his vivid descriptions and his gruesome images, all readers can see what we do not want to see in a real war. WORK CITED: Owen, Wilfred. “Dulce et Decorum Est”. The Christian Century, 8 February 2003: Vol. 120.