Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen - Literary Devices and Themes

Categories: Wilfred Owen

Owen's poem is an intensely thought-provoking poem that consist of various techniques to assert a meaningful idea. "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" is Latin translated, "it is sweet and proper to die for one's country". Ironically 'mori' means death, implying the predictable finish for the soldiers. Reflecting the rich, suggests Owen's target audience are well educated. He portrays war as a cruel and degrading experience using graphic imageries. He illustrates this tragedy of honorable soldiers who are deceived in surrendering their lives for their country.

Owen's manner is formal, he exposes realities through descriptions of militaries returning from the war. Contextually it creates an emotive atmosphere where Owen aims to convey a message to his reader. He starts his poem suddenly right in the center of the fight. The soldiers are trying to escape the rival, but their health conditions terminate them from quick actions. Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, clearly unexpected the army cadets are pictured as sturdy and solid men, however, the poet here removes this fake portrayal of a robust soldier which he substitutes as beggar and hag, implying that the war had caused the soldiers to grow hastily.

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Owen sees himself as present through the trials, towards our distant rest begun to trudge, the onomatopoeic trudge connotes being wobbled, slowing the pace in which they have almost dragged themselves in these terrible conditions towards a distant. Owen's message is clear, the monstrosity of war was apparent due to the soldier's treatment.

Lexically it is emotive, and Owen's choice of words creates a dramatic atmosphere.

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He uses subject-specific nouns like, flares and gas shells to recognize the military context. Using the noun, "men" rather than "soldiers" emphasizes ordinary people. Lame, blind, deaf, these emotive modifiers build up a disturbing picture of men due to these adjectives, suggesting these men are isolated from realism, all their senses have been overwhelmed by the horrendous experiences of war. The verb modifiers, bent double, Knock Kneed and coughing develop the reader's awareness of the men's physical condition. Their state of health does not reflect the stereotypical strength of soldiers. The verb modifier, "haunting" becomes symbolic of the whole experience from which they are retreating from but cannot escape mentally. The dynamic verb "marched" is used to describe the soldiers, it is used in conjunction with the adverbial "asleep", which is verily disturbing.

Other verbs describing their movements are more emotive and less expected, "trudge" and "limped" imply the physical and emotional weariness of the men as "cursed" conveying the oaths literally and metaphorically the way their movements are hindered by the mud. "If in some smothering dreams you too could pace", the verb "smother" suggests the poet's dreams and memories are slowly killing him, it also refers to how the soldier died by gas, suffocating. Owen as the speaker knows that we as readers cannot entirely relate to him about this matter, they can only imagine this. This cautious estrangement of the speaker from you suggesting that we cannot know about this war unless if we were present, we should not dream. The verb "flung" desensitizes the soldiers, connoting a heartless nature. Further accentuating the many deaths they encountered throughout their battles and for them to not expressively devote themselves due to the pointlessness that had occurred in war.

Past tense is used throughout, made up of reminiscences of one of the soldiers. "We" this plural pronoun reveals he was part of the soldier's group. This inclusive pronoun reference makes them sound more dreadful, "we cursed through sledge". The soil of the battlefield was heavily cut up by shells and the rain turned it all to mud. The soldiers are cursing as they trudge through the unpleasant mud. The slow pace of this phrase, with its consonant clusters and long vowels, imitate the slow pace of the soldiers' progress. "Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time", the epithet of being transported "in time" shows they are finding it challenging to put on gas masks. Owen uses first person singular and the second person plural shows how Owen experienced his journey. For example, "we", "I", "my" and "me". The second person singular make the reader think of the nasty reality of wars, for example, "if you could hear."

The sentence structures in the poem are varied. Owen uses a mixture if simple, complex and compound sentences which is appropriate to the shape of the poem because he is recounting his personal experiences using descriptive narrative styles. The first 8 lines are stern, men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots, but limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; through physical positioning and figurative language, they are distraught in the routine. The simple, "men marched asleep" and compound sentence, "many had lost their boots, but limped on, blood-shood" feels forceful, stating facts unemotionally of what is being interpreted as cruel. The coordination linker, but makes this appearance feel worse than expected. Parallelism is then used, All went lame, all blind, the vivid image of the troops marching would be moderately powerful with imagery minor than what Owen provided. The parallelism in this suggests desolation as a holistic state in that no one escapes from this. The tone is vicious, Owen's own voice makes the message sound harsh, he uses this in dark ironic manner to picture the deceit of idealized representations of war. He abides on specific details of misery to exaggerate the impression he wishes to have on those who tell the "old lie", he uses the mode of address, "my friend" which post modifies the ironic statement.

l, m, and b these alliterative consonants have a fuller mellow sound, slowing the reading, displaying exhaustion. The plosive b sound repetition has a vibrating effect to the contrasting between sounds is illustrative of the slow hike of the group which is punctuated by suffering and pain. Owen uses a complex sentence that includes many adverbials to provide details. "Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs and towards our distant rest began to trudge", the omission of the grammatical function words, intensify the effect leaving the reader emotional, turned our backs. "Haunting flares" effectively hang in the air like ghosts and reminding soldiers that those flares may lead to deaths. The adjective "haunting" begins with the consonant 'h' followed by the long diphthong 'au', this has a lasting impact.

Metaphorically, Owen graphically demonstrates the gruesome details of the war. Drunk with fatigue and deaf even to the hoots" display the men's physical state as their tiredness is such that all their minds are numbed. Owen uses a lot of similes, to old beggars, deprived of health like the elderly and ejected to beg for a living, obscene as cancer, like cancer the killer, the man's blood is an obscenity; coughing like hags, comparing the men to old women. These are shocking comparisons, in which the poet implies the soldiers are far from being glorious and heroic but are instead mentally and physically drained. Like devil's sick of sin, Owen is explaining a demon's face which is slanted by the dishonesties of sin and that hell also is sick of the constantly occurring deaths because of war. He intentionally alliterates this to strengthen the reader to hiss, almost ironic in imagery as it replicates a snake, representing Satan. Furthermore, Owen uses neologisms "blood-shod", the reader gets confused of the pararhyme 'bloodshed'. "Knock-kneed" is quite disturbing in that the soldiers have no shoes, but their feet are covered with blood, the compound noun here expresses this graphically. The use of the triplet verbs, "guttering, choking, drowning" accentuate how much the dying man suffered in his last stage. The parataxis at the end stress these verbs forcing us to pause and absorb the meaning.

Owen's rhetorical patterning is effective in understanding the juxtaposition between the horrors of the content and the order of the poe'ic structure as dramatic. He uses marked themes, bent double and list all went lame; all blind, drunk deaf focuses thought on the soldier's condition. "Deaf" is used as hyperbole to develop how these soldiers appear to be oblivious to everything around them and cut them off from normal life. The antithesis reinforces this sense of two different worlds, 'turned our backs' and 'distant' are juxtaposed from the verb modifier 'haunting' suggesting they cannot forget their experience by walking away towards rest. 'Ecstasy of fumbling', the noun 'ecstasy' refers to the soldiers 'heightened emotions which imply comfort and is an oxymoron to the contentment of getting on the gas mask in a terror situation'. It connotes religious power, suggesting the high amount of fear of the men as the gas starts to envelop them.

Phonologically, the rhyme scheme links alternate rhyme, the phonemes in 'sacks' and 'backs', 'sludge' and 'trudge', 'boots' and 'hoots', 'blind' and 'behind'. But someone still was yelling out and stumbling, And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime.  yelling, stumbling and flound'ring are consonantly rhymed, the pace speeds up repeating of the sounds creating panic. The ellipses at the end imply a pause for imagery in which the description of the man 'flound'ring' in the chaos as though he is in fire or lime bringing out an intense image of fighting for his life in the time he has left. While the ellipsis could mean that the events are quite private or abysmal for Owen to mention. Like a man in fire, is a simile explaining the troubles of the dying man. The man is out of his own control and his actions could be compared to a man in fire. This is a form of pathos; the reader feel pity towards the man due to his expressive language. The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori, Owen's discussion has led to an unpleasant conclusion. Lie is written as a capital L to improve the power of the phrase to impart that the patriotic lie stimulus wars as part of human history.

The poem is written in iambic pentameter, expressing the solid beat made by the soldiers' march. The rhythm is reversed by Owen's use of enjambment and parataxis, the irregular punctuation makes the words to be read at an irregular pace, which imitate the tired soldiers who have tripped and thrown themselves in the mud to uphold a well-ordered pace. Most lines have 10 syllables, the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables is not constantly the same, but every long and short line has 5 or 6 stresses. This draws attention to the key essentials used to build up the atmosphere. Owen structures the poem of four stanzas in uneven length, there is a regular ABAB CDCD EFEF rhyme scheme and the lines are enjambed to create a natural flow that imitates human speech. The third stanza comprise of two lines compared to the latter. Conveying his helplessness trying to communicate his never-ending nightmare. Owen has used an effective example of imagery, in all my dreams, before my helpless sight, we feel apologetic for the poet as he is accepting his fate to be like it is, therefore cultivating our feelings of compassion. This creates a paradoxical portrayal of helpless sight, he can see the men dying yet he is powerless, sight purposes as a synecdoche, stepping in as Owen's voice.

The shuffling movement of the men over the 'sludge' is portrayed by the caesura in line 5 to 7. From line 8, the poet changes this metre to a trochaic, declining this activity, as the shells would interrupt the trudge. 'Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!' emphasise the words the soldiers would use, it starts off with the interruption of the rhythm, due to the four, short stressed syllables and the interruption of the voice, like an alarm preparing the reader of this distressing condition. Almost an action burst to match the battleground through the change of pace. This juxtaposes the more submissive pace of the march reflected in the first stanza, capturing the suffering faced by soldiers. The capitalization shows a sense of urgency due to the repetition and exclamation marks compared to the end of the last stanza children ardent for some desperate glory. Incurable sores on innocent tongues, my friend, you would not tell with such high zest, the dash after tongues creates a dramatic peak. This acts as a caesura, so the reader pauses to take that in, of the present tense and address the second person 'you'.

Due to Owen's opposing viewpoints of war, we discover the dehumanizing truths of war in his poem. He fights against the original views of war and manipulates us to question the thought of war by writing about the actual reality. In this way, Owen gains a deeper knowledge than just reciting war experiences, amplifying the mind of the reader.

Updated: Apr 19, 2023
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Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen - Literary Devices and Themes. (2019, Nov 24). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/dulce-et-decorum-est-by-wilfred-owen-literary-devices-and-themes-essay

Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen  - Literary Devices and Themes essay
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