Dulce Et Decorum Est
The Negatively Conotated Imagery in Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen
When “Sweet and Proper” Turns Sour
“Dulce et Decorum Est” is a poem written by Wilfred Owen that describes the horrors of World War I through the senses of a soldier. Owen uses extreme, harsh imagery to accurately describe how the war became all the soldiers were aware of. This was in protest to the way England was glorifying war. As all the imagery he uses is negatively connotated, by the end of the poem, the imagery has overcome the soldier as well as the reader. The imagery in Wilfred Owen’s poem “Dulce et Decorum Est” makes it clear that war was not the honorable thing that England was making it out to be, but instead, it was a horrifying reality that no one should have to face.
War, while mostly negatively connotated, has been viewed positively in some societies. A lot of culture views fighting in a war for one’s country as an example of honor and pride. The very title of Owen’s poem is “Dulce et Decorum Est” which alludes to the Latin phrase “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori”. This phrase translates to “It is sweet and proper to die for your country”. After reading the poem, it becomes clear that Owen is being sarcastic in the title and is really arguing completely against the phrase as he calls it “the old Lie” (27). The imagery he uses completely supports this argument as it anything from “sweet and proper”. Owen specifically goes out of his way to describe the scenery around the soldiers as dark, dirty, and disgusting in order to combat the thought that anything about war is “sweet and proper”.
As a specific strategy to take the glory out of war, Owen uses particular similes between the soldiers and lower members of English society to portray the reality of war. The English society at this time was very distinctly separated by classes, and the upper classes were undoubtedly seen as superior to the lower classes. The soldiers were seen as the heroes of the country, and therefore were grouped with the upper class in how they were viewed. However, they were treated and lived “like old beggars under sacks” (1). He also compares them to “hags” (2) which invokes not only lower-class, but also evil. By showing the soldiers in this light instead of the glorified way society viewed them, Owen takes away the appeal of war and replaces it with a distaste associated with the lower classes.
Every image that Owen conjures up in his poem is about the worst description one could imagine for a situation. In a way, it makes the poem seem a bit absurd as some of the images are hardly fathomable. It seems, however, that this is the effect Owen wanted to convey. The way he describes the life of the soldiers is so bad that the average reader cannot even comprehend the images he is describing, “If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood/Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,/Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud/Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues” (21-24). With phrases such as “obscene as cancer” and “vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues”, Owen forces the unpleasant image of dying, rotting flesh. This is an image that most readers do not comprehend at first, at it is natural in society to filter out such harsh images. Owen uses this shocking imagery to point out that what the soldiers go through is completely absurd and no one should ever have to come to understand the horrible images he describes. His strong imagery makes his message even stronger.
Another way Owen uses imagery to convey his message is by taking away the senses of the soldiers in the poem. Throughout the entire text, the soldiers are described with words such as “lame” (6), “blind” (6), “deaf” (7), “fumbling” (9), and “clumsy” (10). These words all signify when a sense is not working correctly. By using words like this throughout the entire poem, Owen even more strips down the image of a strong, honorable, young man defending the country. Words like these convey the reality that these are helpless boys who are being dehumanized as all their physical senses along with sense of being is slipping away with the war.
Owen shows the young men slipping away in the first half of the poem, in order to show the psychological effects of the war in the second half of the poem. The second half consists of an officer explaining how he is haunted every night by one of his men who died right before his eyes, “In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,/He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning” (15-16). Through this section, it becomes clear, that even those not physically harmed, lost their senses within the war. Although this particular officer survived the encounter with the gas, he has to relive the horror every night “before his helpless sight”. Not only does the war take away control of their senses, it also takes control of their sanity as they are never able to leave the battlefield even when the war is over.
Overall, this poem is not easily forgotten as the imagery Owen uses is extremely unpleasant. The human mind is at peace when it reads or imagines things that are comfortable and easy to comprehend. Something like Owen’s poem distresses the mind, causing it to dwell on the disturbing imagery described. While Owen’s argument is strong and uncomfortable to dwell on, he succeeds in fighting against the thought that war is sweet. Now when people think of the Latin phrase, “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori”, they will instead think of the imagery in Owen’s poem and shudder in fright at the thought of war.
Owen’s ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and ‘Mental Cases’ and the Theme of Anger
Wilfred Owen, a war poet, uses a great number of linguistic and structural devices throughout his poems in order to express his anger at the war. In this essay I will focus on three of his works: ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and ‘Mental Cases’ to analyse and compare the effects and intentions of his writing and the ways in which these express anger.
Wilfred Owen abundantly uses irony to express anger in his poems. This is very prominent when Owen addresses the power of weaponry, as he refers to the ‘monstrous anger of guns’ in ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’. The personification of the guns creates a distinctly ironic tone, which is continued throughout his other poems. Such personification also highlights the disastrous effects of the guns and indeed, Owen’s opposition to such killing capacity – emphasising his anger towards the war by demonstrating its futile nature. In the same poem, Owen had previously referred to the soldiers as ‘cattle’. This dehumanisation, juxtaposed with the personification intensifies Owen’s use of irony and demonstrates his anger towards the war by revealing the power that weapons held over soldiers, implying that men were inferior to metal. Owen maintains this ironic tone in his poem ‘Mental Cases’ when describing ‘the men whose minds the Dead have ravished’. Here, much like in ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’, Owen again uses personification to express his anger at the war. He humanises ‘the Dead’ in order to emphasise how powerless men really were. The irony here implies that men were more effective from the grave than they were on the battlefield; again Owen’s intention was to demonstrate the futility of war. This concept, along with the idea that guns had more influence than men, heavily juxtaposes the way in which soldiers were portrayed by recruitment propaganda and therefore viewed by the general public during WW1. This further demonstrates Owen’s anger as he indirectly expresses the careless way in which soldiers were treated.
Indeed, Owen profusely expresses his anger at the war by trivialising it, comparing it to a game. In ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ he illustrates ‘fitting the clumsy helmets just in time’, the choice of lexis ‘just in time’ giving the implication that, to many, the war was just a game. This reflects the view of many of the generals during wartime, who made countless decisions but never paid the price. Here, Owen’s intention was to express his anger towards his superiors in the war, through the use of a metaphor and to demonstrate how they carelessly dismissed the lives of so many soldiers. In the same way, Owen continues this harsh comparison in ‘Mental Cases’ by depicting the soldiers ‘pawing us who dealt them war and madness’, again giving the connotation of a game. Owen expresses anger at the war by implying that, during this time, his superiors were willing to gamble with lives in order to gain victory. Here, Owen’s effective use of animalistic imagery with the lexis ‘pawing’, creates an anguished tone and continues Owen’s intention of demonstrating how soldiers were mistreated, portraying that they were regarded with as much respect as a mere animal and that they viewed as disposable and equally replaceable. By comparing the soldiers to animals, the effective use of dehumanisation also demonstrates how desperate and defenceless the soldiers were. At this point, Owen intends for his readers to feel sympathy, as he exposes the horror of what he and countless others experienced during wartime, which effectively expresses his anger at the ‘war and madness’ that he and others were an involuntarily a part of.
Furthermore, another way in which Owen expresses his anger throughout his poems is through his use of iambic pentameter. In ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, Owen describes the soldiers as ‘bent double, like old beggars under sacks’. By using iambic pentameter from the beginning of his poem, Owen immediately depicts war as a never ending repetition of suffering and expresses his anger at how helpless the soldiers, including himself, were during wartime: unable to escape it’s horrors. Here, Owen’s use of a metaphor extends this concept, strongly demonstrating the inevitable weaknesses of the soldiers when faced with such an oppressing and destructive environment. Owen’s anger at the war is again made evident when he reveals how little control the soldiers had in that environment. The use of iambic pentameter is continued in Owen’s poem ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’. However, in both poems, the meter is occasionally broken. In ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’, Owen illustrates ‘only the stuttering rifles rapid rattle’, breaking the iambic pentameter. This creates a jarring effect which Owen intended to show that there could be an escape from the war: death. Owen’s anger at the war is clearly expressed here, as he indicates that death was the only way to find relief during the war.
In addition to this, Owen further expresses his anger towards the war and indeed, the death toll that it generated. In ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ Owen creates an image of sleep when he describes ‘each slow dusk a drawing down of blinds’. This effective use of pathetic fallacy creates a dark and foreboding tone and carries an element of closure. This metaphor could indeed be a euphemism for death itself. Owen uses this to express his anger at the war by demonstrating that for soldiers, death was as common an occurrence as the transition from day to night; indeed, something that took place daily. Here, Owen’s use of a metaphor could also be a reflection of the views of the public and their attitude towards death. The dark imagery diminishes the significance of death by comparing it to sleep, revealing Owen’s anger at the casual attitudes of the public, created by the hostile environment of war that people were desperate to downplay. Here, Owen’s intention was to express the true nature of death and the heavy strain it held on soldiers. Similarly, Owen again uses pathetic fallacy to express his anger at war in his poem ‘Mental Cases’ when he describes how ‘Dawn breaks open like a wound that bleeds afresh’. However, by way of contrast, in ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ Owen portrays death at the ultimate price, whereas here he reveals that, in death, there may be some comfort. This powerful metaphor implies that, in the opinion of some soldiers, it is better to die and be a rest than to be stuck facing the relentless reality of war. Here, Owen’s use of imagery and a sombre tone effectively reveal the way in which the unbearable nature of war influenced many men’s value of life and indeed expresses Owen’s anger towards war for causing such a great consequence.
To conclude, Wilfred Owen’s poems ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and ‘Mental Cases’ are all extremely successful, in similar and different ways, at portraying the unimaginably hostile aspects of warfare and the unreasonable strain these put upon soldiers, including Owen himself. It is through his plentiful use of structural techniques and employment of rhetorical devices that Owen effectively expresses his anger at the war.
Dulce et Decorum Est and Anthem For Doomed Youth: Youth and War
Wilfred Owen incorporates many techniques in his poems to present his didactic views to the reader. In this case Owen attempts to teach the reader about the struggles of the youth affected by World War One allowing his concern for the youth to be developed in conjunction. By the manipulation of language techniques in ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and ‘Anthem For Doomed Youth’ Owen allows his concern for the youth to be developed.
In ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ Owen shows the social impact of the World War on the young men. Owen establishes this idea by describing the ‘innocent tongues’ of the war. By introducing this idea an atmosphere of global inclusion is established. This is achieved by the use of the plural noun ‘tongues’ which as a pun establishes the language variety in the war and by this referring to how the war is of global impact, affecting many nations. This is key as it represents the position of the youth. Also, the youth is established as the ‘innocent’ creating an idea of purity, relating to the idea that these young men have never experienced war and its consequences. Using this language describing the inclusion and innocence of the men Owen’s concern for all youths serving in World War One can be established.
Furthermore, in ‘Anthem For Doomed Youth’ Owen mentions the form of social expectations and the effects of propaganda on the society of his time. Owen does this by incorporating the idea that the youth are born to die. This idea of being born to die is supported by the statement that the ‘men die as cattle’. By the use adverb ‘as’ in the simile the young men are modified as being given the status of animals, illustrating a sense of youth’s submission as a result of social pressures and expectations. This is even further supported by the symbolic use of the noun ‘cattle,’ which with extra-poetic knowledge is known to have connotations of death as cattle are slaughtered for their meat. Using both the ideas of social pressures and being born to die an atmosphere of manipulation is created. This atmosphere of manipulation is key as it subtly represents propaganda which is a form of media which Owen works consistently through his poems to condemn. Developing the idea of social expectation and its impacts Owen again emphasizes his concern for the ‘doomed youth.’
Owen also demonstrates his concern for the youth as he speaks of their naive nature in ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’. Owen makes this opinion clear by stating that the boys are ‘ardent for desperate glory’. By the use of ‘ardent’ as a modifier a sense of great eagerness of the youth to enter the conflict is developed. This extract is an auxiliary to Owen’s concern as it discretely foreshadows the pain of which the boys will endure. This foreshadowing of pain, which most probably refers to the burning of the gas attacks used as a weapon, is achieved by the word ‘ardent’ deriving from the Latin word ‘ardere’ which means ‘to burn’. This idea of burning is affective in that it contrasts with the character of the youth which are modified as being ‘desperate’. By this modifier ‘desperate’ it can be found that the youth have been misinformed of their future in aiding in the war efforts. By this idea of information Owen presents to the reader his justification for his concern for the youth is further enhanced.
In addition, Owen presents his concern for the youth by illustrating the absence of great concern for the youths’ wellbeing by their families created by the expectations of patriotism. This is achieved as Owen asks the reader in ‘Anthem For Doomed Youth’ a vocative manner about ‘what candles may be held to speed them all?’ This is important as the direct tone and inquiring language aids in inducing and emotive response of the reader to the importance of the situation of the youth. Owen also supports his idea of division of family by using symbolic language to show this. Owen achieves this by describing the act of the families as ‘drawing-down of blinds.’ This extract is key as it directly relates to the family members of the young men, developing the idea of ignorance suffering of the boys in World War One. By this idea of division the concern of the youth of war is further detailed. By this development of the idea of ignorance of pain there is a sense of blind patriotism inflicted on the youth, which Owen is critically illustrating to describe the reasoning of his concern for the youth.
Owen’s view of the act of warfare is of heavy criticism in his poetic works and ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and ‘Anthem For Doomed Youth’ is no different. Using the four areas of: forced inclusion, social expectations, naive behaviour and division his condemnation of war is evident. Using his constant condemnation of war and these areas of description of the youth through both poems Owen allows the reader to know how important his concern for the youth is. As he states in ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’: ‘The old lie: Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori (‘It is sweet and noble to die for your country.’)’.
The Challenge of the Uproar of Pleasure of War in Wilfred Owen’s Dulce Et Decorum Est and Mental Cases
On the first days of August 1914 uproars of cheer could be heard throughout Britain as a mark of great enthusiasm of the newly-declared war campaign. This uproar of pleasure of war is greatly challenged by Wilfred Owen’s poems Dulce Et Decorum Est and Mental Cases, as he presents harrowing imagery of warfare of the era and too challenges the reader’s view of the glorification of war.
Firstly, Owen illustrates the true side of war in Dulce Et Decorum Est by stating an action of a soldier nearby as “[plunging] at me, guttering, choking, drowning” as to appeal to the reader by emotive language helping to influence the reader in opinion of hardships of battle, in this case how desperate the soldiers are made to be and how Owen states no great attempt on his part to save the soldier, as if this event being illustrated as becoming an average day for the men. By this developing emotional response of the reader. Furthermore enhances Owen increases the value of the harrowing imagery by questioning the reader “if [he] could hear every jolt, the blood came gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs.” By this use of direct vocative language Owen allows the reader to feel an attack of his own opinion, having been predicted by Owen to be the tethered to the side of celebration of war which Owen sees as a form of indoctrination by the state.
Furthermore, in Mental Cases Owen demonstrates the absence of emotion and life by acknowledgment of the soldiers behaving as “purgatorial shadows,” strengthening the idea of the loss of purpose. As a result of this use of symbolism, there is contribution to the idea of the conflict within the soldiers’ minds. Owen in addition stresses this idea by the description of the “gouged chasms round their fretted sockets,” emphasizing the idea of the displacement of emotion and purpose.”Gouged” is critical in this instance as it is powerful modifier adjective which enhances the atmosphere by implying restlessness but in addition indirectly refers to the wounds of the soldiers described assumed to be deep in form, further emphasizing the atrocities of war. “Gouged” may also be referring to the loss of consciousness and intellect as if they have been robbed of them, as a result portraying the loss of sanity.
In Dulce Et Decorum Est, Owen also exhibits death by the use of euphemism, describing the soldiers as beginning to “trudge towards [their] distant rest,” this euphemism is effective in that it creates discrete contradiction to the expectation of warfare in persevering in the avoidance of your death. By this an atmosphere of temptation is implied in that the soldiers are so distraught and physically and mentally fatigued that they are almost welcoming death. Another reason to note for their behaviour is the idea where the average time expectation of being alive was a few days. This extract is also useful as it emphasizes too how just the wait for death of the soldiers is more terrifying than death itself as Owen describes the wait for death as a “trudge” and how “distant” the “rest” is. Furthermore Owen is shown to be as a representative of the soldiers in the poem in that he speaks of the horrors he himself has seen and how they have interacted with him. This idea is supported as he mentions of a man “under the sea of; drowning.” This metaphor is effect as it supports the setting in that is shows the horror of the soldiers chocking in their own blood and the gas which the enemy has introduced upon. By these extract Owen vividly describes the process of death in battle, reinforcing the reader in true consequences of war.
Owen communicates in an impactful manner the idea of social pressures and expectations in Mental Cases. This is achieved as Owen describes the “awful falseness of [the] set-smiling corpses,” so that he may further support the horrific atmosphere of the battlefield. This mention of the soldiers is symbolic in that it is also effective as it incorporates how the soldiers presented themselves as ones who truly supported the idea of dying for their country. Although this is the case a far deeper meaning can be filtered from his literature, that being the falsehood of the very emotions the soldiers portray, as having been forced into war by peers, social expectations and the state-led propaganda itself. This conflict is supported as Owen stresses how the soldiers “[paw at us, the ones to deal them war and madness].” This is vital as there is a creation of an atmosphere of guilt in the poem which as Owen wants, to impact the reader. This instance of the poem is also impacting as Owen describes the soldiers as with animal-like behaviour, as if illustrating the idea of the loss of social expectations once they have joined the battlefield. The idea of propaganda is key here as Owen attempts consistently in these two poems to state his concern of the impact of propaganda on the juveniles at the time, the juveniles known for departing off to war in search of adventure and glory only to find the horrific confrontation of death, having been kept and altered with bias by propaganda issued by the state.
Overall Owen forces consistent provocation towards the reader by incorporating vivid harrowing events happening around him in which he is a part of in order that he may influence the reader’s opinions. Owen’s didactic nature is also supported by the way he points out the truthful side of propaganda through these two poems, by using direct vocative and interrogative language towards the reader as if too induce an atmosphere of critical thinking and as to cumulatively encourage the act of overcoming the indoctrination of war being enforced by the state.
Wilfred Owen’s ‘dulce Et Decorum Est’ Against Romanticized Depiction of War
In Dulce et Decorum Est, Wilfred Owen uses a variety of literary devices to highlight the monstrous disjuncture between the gruesome reality of the battlefield and the romanticised image of war that circulated through poetry, newspapers, and magazines at the start of the World War I. Owen’s manipulation of traditional rhyming forms and metre, combined with his use of irony, figurative language and vivid sensory description help to establish the piece as a powerful anti-recruitment poem. The poem is also representative of a collective shift in values, as a generation shocked by the horrors of the First World War became disenchanted with pro-war romanticism.
Owen creates a strong sense of dissonance by contrasting the form of the poem with its content. Though he makes subtle alterations to the poetic trend, Owen makes use of traditional rhyming patterns and conforms to a loose iambic pentameter, echoing the form of a French Ballade. As the imagery becomes increasingly grotesque the stanzas deviate from these conventions, highlighting the gruesome reality of war. For example, to describe the ‘guttering, choking, drowning’ soldier plunging towards him, Owen isolates the event from the preceding verse, creating a new stanza that consists of only two lines. The shift in focus and tense (from the past to the present) suggests that this horrific image is of particular significance to Owen and is permanently stamped onto his consciousness. This technique also suggests that only by altering the form is Owen able to adequately communicate the scene before him; recognizable poetic forms, like the French Ballade, are no longer an appropriate way to convey the horror of a reality that is no longer recognizable to Owen and his fellow soldiers- any attempts to do so are now jarring and parodic. Like the title of the piece, the conventional poetic form has becomes a source of ironic tension. By subverting the conventions used by pro-war poets like Rupert Brooke and Jessie Pope (to whom the poem is addressed to in an earlier draft), Owen condemns the rhetoric of pro-war romanticists and their promulgation of self-sacrifice as the ultimate heroic act.
Owen’s feeling of disenchantment towards pro-recruitment propaganda is a pervading theme throughout the poem, and is particularly evident in the first stanza. Using onomatopoeia and alliteration, he creates a blunt, lumbering rhythm that mirrors the actions of the tired soldiers ‘trudging through sludge.’ The repetition of the hard t sound in the line ‘Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs’ gives the action a mechanical quality, and emphasises the monotony and purposeless of their endeavour. The result is almost soporific- they are at an ominous lull- and makes the break in the iambic rhythm in the next stanza more arresting. The line opens with ‘GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!–”, violently disrupting the metre with the use of exclamation marks and dashes. This gives the piece a surge of energy that parallels the adrenaline-fuelled panic of the soldiers ‘fumbling’ for their ‘clumsy helmets just in time’- an image of war diametrically opposed to the one in Pope’s poetry, whose enthusiastic verse paints conflict as a form of pseudo-recreation.
To fully convey this discrepancy between pro-war sentiment and the hellish reality of war- a war that, for many, shattered an entire world-view- Owen skilfully uses figurative language and vivid sensory description. The attribution of disappointment to a missile- a paragon of destructionis especially compelling, and can be interpreted in two ways: the bombs are disappointed because they have failed to fulfil their purpose (to kill), or because the apparent futility of the conflict renders their purpose meaningless. The latter interpretation creates a strong sense of pathos, as it is a psychological projection of the soldier’s mental states onto the conflict itself. The use of simile in the poem is another effective technique, particularly the comparison of the face of a soldier in agony to ‘a devil’s sick of sin.’ Owen highlights the absurdity of war by suggesting that even the devil is weary of the constant onslaught of human suffering. Like the ‘disappointed bomb’, the devil’s impulsion to destroy is the reason for it’s existence, and the nonsensical idea that war has disillusioned evil itself demonstrates the unreality of the the world Owen and his fellow soldiers find themselves in. The archetypes are subverted to further the pervading theme that war is an an unnatural transgression- one that violates even the devils standards of morality.
Owen further contributes to the relentless stream of horrific imagery in the third stanza by likening the prolonged death of the soldier to the obscenity of cancer. Dying ‘for one’s country’ is not portrayed as honourable- instead, like cancer, it is senseless and an affront to human dignity. The visceral immediacy of the word ‘cancer’ is especially effective, evoking the idea of something that kills indiscriminately, is malignant and universally despised. In addition, Owen’s corruption of the word ecstasy to mean a state of panic rather than intense joy is paradoxical, yet effectively conveys the psychological impact of a gas attack. The idea of ecstasy existing in a battlefield where joy can not be conceptualised means the word is reduced to it’s worst elements, and can only be experienced by the soldiers as a state of diminished awareness. Owen discards the concept of aestheticism and chooses to portray war in an entirely negative light. This divorce between popular notions of pro-war romanticism (the ‘Old Lie’, that Owen presumably once believed) and the gruesome reality of the battlefield is indicative of the shift in world-view that he, and many others, experienced during four years of war between 1914- 1918. In fact, in a recent article Nicole Smith (2011) interprets the poem as the work of a man not only completely disillusioned with pro-recruitment propaganda and literature, but by the entirety of Western culture: -2- ‘[ Dulce Decorum Est is] the grotesque and twisted words of a war-ravaged poet who finally understands that all of the literature, art, and knowledge in the course of Western history was a sham —that it was an elaborate farce and that by no means should young men be instructed in the idea that it is truly “decorous” to die for one’s country.’
Dulce et Decorum est vehemently rejects the jingoistic, pro-recruitment rhetoric that was popular in magazines and newspapers at the start of the First World 1, and the glorification of ‘selfsacrifice’ that preceded it. Wilfred Owen’s graphic depiction of the horrors of warfare is not only a incendiary response against this sentiment, but a representation of the shift in societal values and conventions from the romanticism of war to anti-war protest.
Smith, C. c2011. Poetry Analysis of “Dolce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen [Online]. [no pagination]. [Accessed 10 February 2015]. Available from: http://www.articlemyriad.com/analysis-dolce-decorum/
The Cruel Aspects Of War In Wilfred Owen’s Poem Dulce Et Decorum Est
When I say ‘War’, we often think of concepts such as militarism, policies, propaganda, cultures and whatsoever. But one thing that we all are aware of and we must be aware of war is the horrific consequences and the aftermath of this disaster.
Certainly, there were thousands and millions of deaths followed ever since war broke out. But have you ever thought about the survived ones who had to suffer from the aftereffects of war? Soldiers who had to fight in the blood-stained battlefield, who had to watch their fellow soldiers sinking into ground… For them, coming home was not the end of the war. Because they now suffer from ceaseless traumas, fears, nightmares for decades. The level of physical and mental disability that they are enduring is just indescribable. So, it is important for us to directly empathize and feel their emotional suffering and hardship. And by doing so, question yourself again. Is war really that worth to sacrifice thousands and millions of innocent beings?
The following poem that I will be analyzing is “Dolce et Decorum Est” written by Wilfred Owen. The poet Wilfred Owen himself was a soldier of the First World War and was a leading anti-war poet who stood up against the public perception of war at that time, to truly expose the horrific realities of the war. This anti-war poem successfully reveals the cruel aspects of war through the poignant depiction of the impacts of war on soldiers in particular.
One of Owen’s masterpiece written during WWI, the title of the poem “Dulce et Decorum Est” is a famous line taken from the Roman poet Horace’s ode, meaning that ‘it is sweet and fitting it is to die for your country’. This line was commonly used by the British government during WWI, to convince the youth to enlist the army. But today, rather than focusing on the aspects of war propaganda, I will be analyzing how poetic devices and language choices are deliberately used in this poem to depict the soldiers ’physical and mental torment in particular.
In the first two lines of the first stanza, the poet’s effective use of metaphor and simile is noticeable. The soldiers who are most likely to be teens are described as “bent double”, “old beggars” and “coughing like hags”. Through employing such words that much resemble an image of an ‘old men’, the poet clearly denotes the soldiers’ ravaged physical state, showing their sickness and exhaustion. The words “March asleep” also suggest how the brutality of the wartime experience has deadened the soldiers that they are extremely desensitized, seemed to be sleeping while walking. The poet’s deliberate language choice of “blood-shod” in line 7 is so powerful that it invites us to create an image of soldiers wearing ‘blood-covered feet’ as if they were wearing a pair of leather shoes to protect themselves. But in fact, the only protection that they had was the ‘dried blood’ on their feet.
The tone of this poem suddenly changes in stanza 2, by using the poetic device of repetition. By repeating the same word ‘gas’ twice, the poet clearly captures the terror and a sense of confusion of soldiers who had to face the poisonous gas attack. The poet further intensifies the tension, through the depiction of one particular soldier who was unable to wear his helmet on time, ending up “drowning” under a “green sea”. This metaphorical portrayal of soldier’s deaths and suffering, effectively put the readers inside the experience of that soldier’s physical agony, making us to witness the awful aspects of war.
The third stanza of this poem is very short, but it clearly reveals the aftereffect of war on soldiers; that even survived ones suffer from eternal future torment. The beginning sentence “In all my drams” is a manifestation of the speaker’s mental trauma that he is permanently tortured by the nightmares of death he has seen. By portraying this trauma in the present tense, the poet clearly indicates that these dreams of the fellow soldier ‘guttering’, chocking’ and ‘drowning’, will never fade and will forever last in his life.
Following the third stanza, the last stanza of this poem is filled with full of vivid and dynamic imageries that are used to describe the agony of the dying soldier in particular.
The poem “Dulce et Decorum Est” is a great anti-war poem which clearly illustrates a realistic experience of WWI soldiers and reveals the cruel realities of war through effective poetic devices and language choices. The poet successfully invites the reader to witness how soldiers lived through, died in it and survived it.
Literary Analysis Of Dulce Et Decorum Est By Wilfred Owen
Poetry has the power to immensely change and morph human perspective, expression and emotion. Poets use their craft to speak to the realities, illusions and fantasies of humanity. The famous poet, Wilfred Owen, depicts the harsh realities of war through his exceptional poem, Dulce et Decorum Est. He addresses that the brutality of war outweighs the patriotism and glory gained after battle. Considering the use of sound devices, rich diction, and vivid imagery used throughout, it is safe to say that Dulce et Decorum Est is among the world’s greatest poems.
Firstly, Owen depicts a dark, desolate mood to convey his message through his use of poetic sound devices. For one, alliteration is utilized to draw the reader’s attention to the brutality of war and reinforce the message. The author highlights the horrid physical state of a soldier after an attack through the alliterations: “white eyes writhing” (line 19) and “devil’s sick of sin” (line 20). Owen uses these alliterations to create the overall haunting mood so that readers understand the dangers of war. Furthermore, the use of the letter ‘S’ in “sick of sin” creates a hissing sound reminding readers of a snake thus developing the dark mood. Additionally, a variety of caesura’s are used to further develop atmosphere. Throughout the second and third stanzas, specifically in lines 9, 12, and 24, the abrupt caesuras depict the disorganized actions and efforts of soldiers.
The sudden pauses emphasize the constant fear and surprise that is present in an unpredictable battlefield. Moreover, the author uses line-by-line assonance to immerse the reader into the setting of war. In almost every line in the poem, the ‘U’ vowel creating the ‘uh’ sound is repeated. Employment of words like, “fumbling” (line 9), “clumsy” (line 10), and “stumbling” (line 11) imitate the sound of explosions and combat in the distance. Owens highlights the destruction, stress and chaos created by war through assonance in the poem. Overall, Owens subtle but effective use of sound devices, immerse the reader in the atmosphere and evoke an emotional response to the message.
The intense diction implemented in Dulce et Decorum Est creates a detailed image of war and contributes to the development of theme. Foremost, the author depicts the poor physical and mental state of soldiers through his word choice. At the beginning of the poem, words like “beggars… sacks” (line 1), “hags” (line 2), and “limped” (line 6) indicate an impoverished state of deprivation. This highlights the toll war takes on soldiers and allows readers to sympathize with them. Owen emphasizes the injustice of war and the costly impact it has on innocent humans. In addition, the dreary, dangerous atmosphere is created using language such as, “haunting”(line 3), “writhing” (line 19), and “hanging face”(line 20). Again, the reader is meant to sympathize with soldiers living in such terrible environments because of war and allow the mood of the poem to affect their perspective. Furthermore, the use of words related to health signifies the vast danger and chaos of war. For instance, the “froth-corrupted lungs” (line 22), “incurable sores” (line 24) and the comparison to “cancer” (line 23) highlight the realities of war in a tangible sense. The mention of health concerns implies a call to action from readers to discourage behaviour or practices that cause bodily harm. All in all, the author’s masterful employment of specific language and vocabulary invoke the reader’s attention and sympathy.
Lastly, the author’s excellent applications of figurative and literal imagery reinstate the mood and meaning of the piece. First, Owen’s use of similes creates powerful, vivid descriptions to enhance the message. For instance, the similes “obscene as cancer” (line 23) and “hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin” (line 20) create the dangerous mood and intensify the message. The allusion to the devil depicts fear, mortality and conveys to the readers the evil nature of war. Secondly, metaphors depict the solemn state of soldiers in battle. For example, “bent double” (line 1) indicates that due to causalities, soldiers are accounting for the jobs of two men and are worked to their full extent. Furthermore, “drunk with fatigue” implies the damaged mental state of the soldiers. Finally, the literal imagery used to describe the unfortunate loss of a soldier during a gas attack paints a disturbing picture that the reader is unlikely to forget when considering the author’s message. The image of a soldier “guttering, choking, and drowning” (line 16) conveys the harsh reality of many brutal attacks that occurred frequently during war. Owen utilizes various types and forms of imagery to create mood, atmosphere and reinforce his message.
Conclusively, Owen’s effective use of sound devices, diction and imagery is what truly makes the poem so exceptional. The author uses every opportunity to reinstate his message, develop theme and create an unforgettable mood in the poem. The author provides insight into the realities of war and addresses society’s illusion of a patriotic, honourable war.
Depiction Of The Horrors Of War In Dulce Et Decorum Est By Wilfred Owen
Trudging through endless muck and gore, trenches infested with rats, desolation as far as the eye could see. This was the plight of many young men in World War I. However, those beyond the inescapable confines of the battlefield knew little of the truth, as the government manipulated the media in the attempts to utilise war for political purposes in this time. Wilfred Owen, a young poet who fought in the war, wrote in opposition to the pro-war propaganda poems designed to inspire young men to join the fight for their country, using a variety of language features throughout his poem ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ to create a vivid setting which uncovers the real horrors that were occuring on the battlefield, and that death in war is not as glorious or heroic as we were lead to believe.
Owen immediately thrusts the reader into the intensity of war, simultaneously confronting us with images of weakness and defeat through use of similes. In the opening stanza, he refers to the soldiers as ‘old beggars under sacks’ that were ‘coughing like hags’. In doing so, Owen establishes the frailty and lack of heroic valor that these soldiers possess, causing the reader to feel shocked and conflicted by the apparent discord between what they believe soldiers to be like, and what is being revealed to them in this first line. By calling these soldiers ‘beggars’ and ‘hags’, he not only suggests that these once heroic men have now been stripped of their bodily integrity, but also reduces them to cast-off elements of society, and in doing so makes the reader see these soldiers as lesser beings.
The diction in the first few sentences contain words such as ‘haunting’ and ‘trudge’. This is language of deprivation and imminent struggle, hardly appropriate for the glory of the battlefield, reinforcing the disbelief in the reader at the harsh atmosphere the soldiers are placed in, while also uncovering the adversity and exertion the men are encountering. The descriptive language creates a graphic setting in the reader’s mind as Owen describes how the ‘men marched asleep’ and ‘limped on, blood shod’. The soldiers are wading through a sea of blood and bodies, taking the reader right into the thick trenches of war. This appalls the reader, as no one should have to experience something as horrific and distressing as this, causing us to reflect this horror and outrage as we sympathise with the troops as they march on in search of their ‘distant rest’.
The barbarity of the surroundings continues to intensify in the second stanza as the soldiers come face to face with a gas attack. However, one soldier does not get to his gas mask in time and is trapped in ‘An ecstasy of fumbling’. The use of the word ‘ecstasy’ creates a sense of trance-like frenzy as the men struggle to put on their helmets. Here, the poem becomes personal and metaphorical, as we are now seeing things through the eyes of Wilfred Owen himself. He sees the man consumed by gas as a ‘drowning’ man, almost as if he were underwater. ‘Misty panes’ adds an unsettling element to this traumatic scene, as it makes the reader feel like they are trapped being a window, incapable of helping this poor soldier, as if they too, like this dying soldier, are imprisoned in this world of bloodshed and can only wait as this horror unfolds. The extent to which these soldiers, and Owen, have been truly affected by the devastation that surrounds them is portrayed as the speaker confesses how ‘before my helpless sight’, reiterating the feeling of helplessness that was encountered previously in the poem, the dead soldier ‘plunges’ at him ‘guttering, choking, drowning’. This amplifies the personal effect of the scene, the graphic image searing through and scaring the reader, despite the ghost-like atmosphere created by the toxic gas and the floundering soldier. As Owen uses the word ‘plunges’, this exposes Owen’s own guilt at his inability to save his comrade, suggesting that Owen believes that his fellow soldier blames him for his death.
In the final stanza, the sensory and descriptive language extends the vivid imagery as the author describes how the drowning man is disposed of. The alliteration of ‘watch the white eyes writhing’ creates a distortion and inhuman feature on the young soldier’s face. Not only does Owen want us to see the suffering on the man’s face to show that this is not a heroic death, but he also identifies that this could be anyone in this soldier’s position, suffering in the same way. The description of the blood that came ‘gargling from froth-corrupted lungs’, and the soldier’s face ‘like a devil’s sick of sin’ is used to create a dark and painful image to convey the depths of which suffering is imbedded in these men, even down to their last breath. By starting this stanza with an ‘if’, this allows Owen to subtly indicate the difference between him and the reader. We do not experience what Owen, and many other soldiers, had to go through, so we are unable to completely grasp the brutality that occured on the battlefield, only getting a hint at what is was like from what Owen has chosen to reveal.
This difference shows a noticeable contrast between Owen and poets like Brooke and Pope, who wrote about many extravagant journeys and boyish adventures but never themselves got to experience the harsh realities of war unlike Owen. This draws attention to the previous idea that they will never be able to truly comprehend the atrocities that the men the coerced into enlisting experienced. The Latin excerpt from Horace’s Odes ‘Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori’, which directly translates to ‘it is a sweet and noble thing to die for one’s country’, was the mentality that many people, particularly young school children, were brought up believing in. By including it at the end of his poem, Owen addresses the reader, as well as those back home who are ignorant of the realities of battle, that if they were to understand the magnitude of the brutality and inhumanity of war, they would not praise the works of people like Jessie Pope and Rupert Brooke, or conform to the ideology of ‘dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’.
In conclusion, Wilfred Owen uses various language features to create a vivid setting designed to shock the reader, while also divulging the hidden realities of life as a soldier in the First World War. This poem holds great cultural importance, as it was one of the first anti-war poems written, and sparked the flame of many other great poems like ‘The Hero’ by Seigfried Sassoon, a fellow comrade who experienced the horrors of trench warfare at the front line, and ‘Goodbye to All That’ by Robert Graves. Owen implores the audience to be mindful of the snare war can coil around individuals, and consider how unjust and atrocious war is. He also wants to shine light on the repercussions of readily trusting the government, advising us to keep our guard before it’s too late.
Stylistic Devices in Dulce Et Decorum Est
Use Of Poetic Elements In “Dulce et Decorum Est”
Wilfred Owen uses many of the elements of poetry to support the idea that war is brutal in his poem, “Dulce et Decorum Est.” Starting with the speaker’s imagery, and leading into simile, hyperbole, repetition and diction, the reader gets a strong sense of the intended central theme in “Dulce et Decorum Est.”
The speaker’s diction lends heavily to the imagery in “Dulce et Decorum Est.” Imagery plays into setting the scenery of the poem. The reader gets a sense of the grim environment through descriptors that carry negative connotation. First, the speaker describes the flares that fly over the backs of the soldiers as “haunting.” The speaker then follows and describes the physical state of the men as “knock-kneed’,”bent-double”, and “blood-shod”. In one of the most graphic lines the speaker describes his comrade reacting to poison gas as “flound’ring like a man in fire or lime” (“Dulce” 12). Not only is this a fantastic use of imagery, but the line also introduces metaphorical elements which the poet uses to tie into the central theme.
The speaker’s use of simile throughout the poem is a way for the poet to emphasize the suffering of the men, and enable the reader to connect with the soldiers and experience that suffering. The speaker first describes the men as “bent-double, like old beggars” (“Dulce” 1). The metaphor conveys more than just the physical state of the men, it also helps to shed light on their mental condition. The idea of the men as “old beggars” carries with it many more implications. Through comparison the men embody all of the suffering that one would associate with an old beggar. It is through these implications that the reader is able to infer and understand the men’s suffering and come closer to understanding the central theme of the poem.
The poet also uses hyperbole when the speaker describes watching his comrade react to the poison gas. The speaker remarks, “As under a green sea, I saw him drowning” (“Dulce” 14). The speaker does not actually see the man drowning. Rather, the poet is using hyperbole here to emphasize the man’s suffering and his panicked reaction to the poison gas. The hyperbole may also refer to the comparison of the poison gas cloud as a “green sea” which would suggest that the thick cloud the poison gas creates is so large and encompassing that it might be compared to the sea. The visualization created by the hyperbole of the man drowning is two-fold. First, the reader visualizes the man’s reaction to the gas. Secondly, the reader gets a glimpse of the speaker’s reaction to watching his comrade become enveloped by the gas. In both instances the reader is not meant to take the speaker’s word literally, but rather it serves to emphasize the situation by creating imagery and giving the reader a greater sense of the gravity of the situation.
Another element that adds to the central theme is the poet’s use of repetition in the poem. In line 14 and 16 of “Dulce et Decorum Est” the overall rhyme scheme of paired couplets is slightly altered when the speaker repeats the word drowning at the end of line 16. The poet does this to emphasize not only what is occurring, but also to create a sense of urgency in the reader’s mind. The poet is attempting to draw the reader in and make them experience the reality of the man’s death. More repetition can be seen with the use of repetitive suffixes in line 16 when the speaker explains that the man is “guttering, choking, drowning” (“Dulce” 16). This repetition uses strong consonants which create an unpleasant sound when spoken aloud which adds to the unpleasantness of the central theme.
Perhaps most important of all elements is the poet’s tone. Owen is able to masterfully convey his theme through his use of tone. The speaker’s word choice often adds to the overall negative feel of the poem. The poet uses descriptors such as “incurable”,”vile”,”bitter”,”obscene”,”writhing”,”smothering” to add to the ambient feel of the poem. Finally, in the last few lines of the work Owen alludes to another piece of written work by the roman poet Horace, when he quips:
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori. (“Dulce” 26-29)
These lines are the essence of Owen’s central theme. Owen challenges the line that Horace made famous, which roughly translates to,“It is sweet and glorious to die for one’s country.” Rather, Owen argues that the line is an “old lie.” Most importantly, Owen establishes the precedent for challenging this line through the use of other elements throughout the poem depicting the brutality of war.
A Question of War in Dulce Et Decorum Est
Dulce et Decorum Est
Dulce et Decorum Est was written by Wilfred Owen, a poet who had fought as an officer in World War I and was subsequently killed in the line of duty. This source was intended for supporters of the war, those who still believed in the honor of dying for their country but were unaware of the pain and suffering involved in warfare, especially those who were urging others to join the fight for the sake of achieving personal glory and national honor.
It was presumably first written or drafted in France in October 1917, where Owen had been fighting since the end of 1916 before he received treatment for shell shock in 1917, having scribbled his poems while he was in the trenches and reworking them shortly after. The poem was then revised and ultimately completed in March 1918, after Owen returned to the western front in 1918. It was during this time period that the most widespread mutinies began taking place among French forces, including civilian strikes by munitions workers and various others, sparking both internal and external conflicts which affected the well-being and stability of France.
The aforementioned source is a poem depicting a soldier’s, possibly Owen’s, experiences and feelings whilst fighting in the war, the specific scene described is of the dropping of gas-shells as he and his comrades were returning after another day on the battlefield and the aftermath of this incident. Through this source, Owen not only illustrated the horrifying effects of the gas-shells, but also proved his opinion that one would no longer see any glory or honor in war if they had witnessed its reality firsthand and would cease to believe fictitious statements, such as the Latin quote that dying for one’s country is sweet and honorable, thus allowing the public and history itself to know the true effects of war and the horrors that were inflicted upon the front-line troops.
This source is historically significant because it gives a firsthand account of what life was like for such front-line soldiers, and provides insight into the life of a soldier in contrast to the glory promised to those who decided to join the fight. As a man who had fought in battle for a number of years, Owen is able to give an in-depth view into the lives of World War I troops and the physically and emotionally taxing experience of war. From attempting to rest after countless hours of bloodshed and injuries, to living every moment on red alert, to learning to cope with shellshock and possibly post-traumatic stress disorder, it is clearly presented that life as a soldier was no easy task, and that everything such soldiers witnessed and experienced would remain with them for a long time. This makes the source historically significant as it sheds light on the effects of World War I from a more personal perspective, also giving readers a glimpse into what the mindset of a World War I soldier was like.
Similar to the given Latin quote, much of war propaganda was biased and flawed. It emphasized the idea that dying for one’s nation was both duty and a way of showing patriotism, and over-glorified the achievements which one would earn after surviving the war. However, the truth of the matter is that World War I caused a lot of destruction to the lives of civilians and troops, leaving them with trauma much longer-lasting than any short-lived feelings of glory. This is evident in the source as the speaker recounts seeing the dying soldier in all his dreams, still haunted by the sight even long after that particular battle. The poem does not gloss over the effects of war and presents the gory details as they are. Therefore, the source is significant in its portrayal of the harsh reality of war and its ability to point out the faults in how war propaganda falsely depicts warfare.