Analysis of “Dulce et Decorum Est”

Categories: Dulce Et Decorum Est

The poem we have been analysing in class, Dulce et Decorum Est, was written by a man named Wilfred Owen. Wilfred Owen was a soldier in the first world war and was born on the 18th of March 1893, and died on the 4th of November 1918, a week before the end of the first world war.

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In this poem, Owen’s objective is to show the horror and reality of war, and to set this horror against the way in which war was often glorified.

His objection, the glorification of war is reflected in the title, “Dulce et Decorum Est” This is translated as “It is sweet and glorious”. Wilfred Owen uses this as a form of irony, to draw in the reader’s attention. It was especially meant for another war poet, Jesse Pope.

She wrote about all the good and positive reasons for war, and tried to encourage men to go and fight for their country. You can easily feel how Wilfred Owen felt about the first world war. His use of adjectives like “bitter”, “helpless” and “smothering dreams” and the use of imagery, give us a clear picture of what it was like. These words are used to convey the ugliness, fear, poignancy and the pain of the war. Wilfred Owen uses clear tones throughout the poem help us to understand how he felt, and why he felt this way. In most of the poem, the tone is quite angry, due to the choice of words and how they are used.

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Owen gives us graphic descriptions, speaking in a very direct and straight forward way. His use of the word “you” in the third stanza, emphasizes my point clearly. He uses this to draw us in, and to make us feel how he felt.

Not only does he make us feel how he felt, but the poet makes us use our senses. He makes us hear this one man dying, struggling for life. He makes us taste the bitterness of war, and the reality of it. All of these techniques are used in the poem, because he wants us to be shocked at the reality that he is presenting. In his illustration of war, Owen describes an incident of exhausted soldiers trudging through the mud, clearly unhappy and very tired. They are all leaving the front line in order to rest for a while in a safer place. Before this can happen the group get attacked by a sea of gas. Owen explains how one soldier is late in putting on his mask. Wilfred Owen describes the symptoms shown by this man as the poison slowly kills him. He then tells us how this man “plunges” at him, “guttering, choking, drowning”.

Owen is helpless; he can’t do anything to save this man’s life. This man is forever haunting his dreams. Wilfred Owen then says “My friend you would not tell with such high zest” So, directly speaking to us, and Jesse Pope, or anyone who thinks that war is sweet or glorious, that it’s actually a lie! The poet then repeats the title as “the old lie”: “Dulce et Decorum Est Pro patria mori”. The full translation of this is “It is sweet and glorious to die for one’s country”.

In Stanza 1, I have already briefly talked about the contrast between the title of the poem and the actual poem itself. It’s ironic. When we think of the title we imagine men with high spirits, willing to fight for their country, not “old beggars under sacks”, smelly and dirty, with the weight of the war weighing them down. In an instant we start to realise that war isn’t sweet or glorious.

The word “beggars” implies that maybe the soldiers were of low ranks. That they have all, no matter what rank, have been reduced to a basic human level, dependant on others for their survival. “Sacks” are like rags; this gives the impression that the soldiers haven’t even been given adequate warm clothing. All this imagery creates sympathy for the soldiers and uses an image that you will be able to relate to. The rhythm in the first stanza is slow, with lots of commas. Owen uses punctuation like this because he wants you to see war for what it is.

The use of commas, slow what you are reading down, and making it longer, as if you are walking/trudging alongside these tired soldiers. As the stanza goes on Owen shortens the sentences, they are getting slower and slower, emphasizing the soldiers exhaustion. Also the words “trudge” and “sludge” give a heavy sound and feel to the poem, as if you can hear the soldier’s heavy footsteps. The last line of the first stanza, Wilfred Owen uses alliteration, “gas shells dropping softly behind”, the repeated “S” sound, the sibilant “S”, makes a soft and smooth sound, like a lullaby, slowly easing you to sleep. This hints at what the soldiers feel like, tired and exhausted. Owen uses this for a contrast in the next line.

“Gas! Gas!” this is more powerful and contrasting technique used here to create an atmosphere of panic and horror. The use of exclamation marks here also portray a scene of panicking and rushing. Owen uses direct speech here to draw us in and to speak to us, which is different from the first stanza where Owen uses the past tense. The imagery here is really engaging; it gives us the sense of rushing “to fit the clumsy helmets”.

The word “clumsy” is a use of personification. It’s as if the helmets were fighting against the soldiers. Personification is useful, because you can relate to a human experience/image. Floundering is a strong verb; It gives you a clear image of this man struggling for life. Wilfred Owen also uses an extended metaphor of the sea, giving you a clear and a visual image of this struggle. “As under a green sea, I saw him drowning”. An extended metaphor keeps the image going. “plunges”, “guttering, choking, drowning” are all related to the sea, so therefore an extended metaphor.

Also the words “guttering, choking, drowning” are a form of onomatopoeia, Owen makes us use our senses, to hear this man’s suffering. As if we were there. The poet uses the adjective “green”, this colour is often associated with evil, this is used to make the readers think that everything that is going on is evil and wrong. “In all my dreams, before my helpless sight” this is a quite shocking sentence to use. Wilfred Owen has obviously been scared by this man’s death, not one but “all” of his dreams re haunted by this man dying in front of his sight. This creates a feeling of horror and sympathy for Wilfred Owen and all the men who suffered like this.

It is obvious in the third stanza, that war disgusts Wilfred Owen. The adjectives he uses emphasize his opinion; adjectives like “vile”, “obscene” and “bitter”. These are all very harsh words to use, but all portray his opinion clearly. The imagery Owen also uses in this stanza gives the impression that war is disgusting. The simile “like a devil’s sick of sin” shows Owen’s absolute disgust, you can feel that as well. This simile implies that war is the work of the devil, and even he is sick of it! Another poetic technique used in this stanza is the alliteration of the letter “W”-“Watch the white eyes writhing in his face” You can’t exactly say it quickly so you have to say it slowly so you can think about it, and realise the horror and reality of what is happening.

The tone throughout this stanza is angry and harsh; this reflects Wilfred Owen’s thoughts and feelings about war. “Dulce et Decorum Est Pro patria mori” is a lie and Wilfred Owen is disgusted by it! A capital L is used to make the lie important, and a colon is used to introduced the unforgivable lie, it is also used to make us stop and think about it before we say it. Wilfred Owen uses a great depth of feeling in this poem, he uses emotive language and his personal impression and traumatic experience of war affects the convincing and clear message of the devastation of war! Comparison of two war poems

(Dulce et decorum est and Suicide in the trenches)

As a comparison to the poem by Wilfred Owen, we have been studying “Suicide in the trenches” by the war poet, Siegfried Sassoon. “Dulce et Decorum Est” and “Suicide in the trenches’” themes are similar. They both are about the reality and harshness of war. Unlike “Dulce et Decorum Est”, from the title “Suicide in the Trenches” you can figure out that the title is about death, to be specific a suicide.

The word Siegfried Sassoon uses in the title, suicide, could mean a few different things. Maybe it could mean that going to war is suicidal, or basically that someone commits suicide in the trenches. It’s different to “Dulce et Decorum Est” because it isn’t ironic and Sassoon actually tells you what happens, he puts you straight, whilst Owen leaves you thinking about the theme and message of the poem. The poem, like “Dulce et Decorum Est”, focuses on the death of one soldier in the First World War. Sassoon describes this young man’s life before the war, and how “simple” it was, and how satisfied he was with it.

The poet then goes to talk about the war, and the horror of it. It’s as if Sassoon is making a list of all that is wrong and bad about the war, but mainly what is wrong with the trenches. In the second stanza he stresses the awful health conditions, loneliness, patriotism, and the lack of resources the soldiers faced in the trenches. Siegfried Sassoon’s use of the word “and” in the second stanza is as if he is building up to the point where this man can’t take any more of it, so he commits suicide. Sassoon then speaks directly to us, like Wilfred Owen in “Dulce et Decorum Est”, both poets are disgusted by this war, but mostly by the people who cheer and support the soldiers. In a way, they both makes us feel guilty about it.

In the first stanza, Siegfried Sassoon uses the adjective “simple” to describe the soldier’s life before the war. He led a “simple” life, but was satisfied with it. The adjective “simple” could have also been used to indicate that this was a boy, “simple” and naïve. The poet also says “who grinned at life in empty joy”. This suggests that this “boy” didn’t have many aims in life, and didn’t let anything really bother him. This could also mean that he was from a working background, like a farm. The sentence “And whistled early with the lark” suggests that he had to get up early, like a farmer. Unlike “Dulce et Decorum Est”, the first stanza in “Suicide in the Trenches” is quite positive.

Sassoon uses words like “joy”, “grinned”, and “slept soundly”. Sassoon also uses open vowels, “boy” and “joy”, which are light words to say. All these words accentuate his freedom and happiness. Siegfried Sassoon uses these particular words for a contrast in the next stanza, where all these negative and heavy words are used. The poet does this contrast to toy with our emotions. The poet also might have done this to emphasize the harshness and reality of war, and how different it is to this boy’s simple but satisfied life.

In the second stanza, Sassoon uses the rhyming couplet “glum” and “rum”. These are quite heavy words, and not like the open vowels used in the first stanza. Siegfried Sassoon uses these to emphasize the soldiers, how “glum” and weary they were, and to highlight how tiring and difficult it was for them. The words “lack of rum” could mean two things; that literally there was no rum, or he was less energetic, because rum dulls the senses. Maybe without it he can’t cope. I have said before that Sassoon’s use of the word “and” and his lack of punctuation in the first two lines to drag the sentences on, and that makes it longer, and makes it sound longer too. In a way Sassoon is building up all the horrible things to the point where this young man can’t take any more of it.

This creates sympathy for the soldiers who faced conditions like this. Siegfried Sassoon only uses two lines to portray the conditions of war, whilst Wilfred Owen uses many more lines and makes it longer and more detailed. In the third line of the second stanza, the sentence “He put a bullet through his brain.” Finishes with a full stop. The full stop used here highlights the fact that this man’s life has ended. His life, like the sentence, has come to a stop. Sassoon uses punctuation here, to stop and make you think about what has actually just happened. The next line “No one spoke of him again.” Is a change in the rhythm.

Throughout the poem so far, there has been eight syllables in each line, but when we get to this sentence there is only seven syllables. Sassoon changes the rhythm here to stress the fact there isn’t any need to speak of this man again. Although, the change in rhythm could also mean that people are in a way ashamed to speak of this man again, because he committed suicide, everyone overlooks him as a coward. The poet uses a full stop here as well, to make the reader stop and acknowledge what has just happened.

The third stanza is like the last stanza in “Dulce et Decorum Est”. The poets speak directly to us and tell us how they feel about the war, and how disgusted they are by it. The tones used by both the poets in the last stanza are a little sympathetic but really angry, this illustrates their actual feelings of war. The tone used is also sort of disgraced, as if Sassoon is ashamed of crowd of people cheering at these young lads. It makes us think about what we think of war, and makes us question ourselves on our opinions etc. When Sassoon uses the metaphor “hell” he is describing war as “hell”. This gives a clear and evident image to relate to. Wilfred Owen also uses the image of hell in “Dulce et Decorum Est” too. This image makes the reader understand that war is a hellish and horrible place. When Siegfried Sassoon says “youth and laughter” he is trying to get the image across that these are young “lads”. He uses words like “simple”, “lads”, “boy”, “youth and laughter” to underline that these were naïve insecure children.

It is clear that Siegfried Sassoon disapproves of the fact that children of fighting in this hellish place. Wilfred Owen also does this in “Dulce et Decorum Est”. Wilfred Owen says “My friend you would not tell with such high zest to children ardent for some desperate glory, the old lie” Siegfried Sassoon uses the word “kindling”, to describe the “eye(s)” of the “smug-faced crowds”. Sassoon tries to show with a sarcastic tone that they think war is a glorious thing, that they feel proud of these children, and seem to understand and appreciate what they are doing. But in reality, they can never imagine what these children are going through, and in reality, they don’t care or feel appreciative of what the children did. Therefore, the word kindling reveals the hypocrisy behind people who support war.

The structure of this poem is different to “Dulce et Decorum Est”. Sassoon uses rhyme and rhythm to make the poem sound light and bouncy. He not only does this to make it more memorable, but he does this to emphasize the contrast of what the “smug-faced crowd’s” impression and enthusiasm towards war, and what the reality and harshness of war actually is. Siegfried Sassoon also could of used the rhyme and rhythm like this, because it sort of like a children’s poem. He could have done this to accentuate the naive young man’s death.

“Dulce et Decorum Est” was dragged out more, and longer. The rhyme is different and wasn’t as noticeable as “Suicide in the Trenches”. Also in “suicide in the trenches”, Sassoon stresses all the good and jolly words in stanza one, to reflect the boy’s happy/joyful life. In stanza two though, Sassoon stresses all the bad and negative words to point out the awful conditions. This makes you, as a reader, feel the sympathy for the soldiers.

After reading and analysing both the poems, I prefer “Dulce et Decorum Est”. I like this poem better, because the poet used very detailed imagery. Wilfred Owen describes the scene more, and describes the soldiers as well. I had more images to relate to, and that helped me to understand the poem’s message, and poet’s feeling and what he was trying to put across.

I also like the idea that Wilfred Owen didn’t give much away to what the poem was about, and left you thinking and wondering after reading the title. Although the rhyming in “Suicide in the Trenches” is more memorable, I like the fact that in “Dulce et Decorum Est”, you don’t really recognize the rhyme at first. But I do like the poem “Suicide in the Trenches”, but I felt it more effective that Wilfred Owen uses his personal traumatic experience to explain what war is actually like.

(Thankyou for reading my essay! I hope you enjoyed it and that it helped you!! :)

Updated: Apr 19, 2023
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Analysis of “Dulce et Decorum Est”. (2016, Apr 25). Retrieved from

Analysis of “Dulce et Decorum Est” essay
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