Theme of Soldiers’ Life in Owen’s Poem Dulce Et Decorum Est

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

Soldiers deserve the utmost respect, but they deserve it for the right reasons. They give up their lives to protect their country. Giving up their lives means that they are giving up time to spend with families, giving up certain freedoms, and sometimes it could even mean giving up mental health. Owen was one of the first poets to present a different image of war through his poem “Dulce Et Decorum Est”, as Lutz said, “Generally regarded as the [stet] poet of World War I, Wilfred Owen broke with many of the literary conventions of war literature in his poetry” (Lutz 1). Most literature did not give the day-to-day accounts of the war, instead, they told the bigger story, “Where conventional Great War writing in newspapers, novels, and official histories tended to take up crowds and nations” (Puymbroeck). Society only wanted to show the great things about the war, and leave out the day-to-day conflicts. In the poem, “Dulce Et Decorum Est” Owen wants to show that the war is much more gruesome than literature has previously depicted.

Owen wanted to use this poem to change society’s point of view of the war. Most literature during the early 1900’s only told about what society wanted to see of soldiers. They did not want to see the pain and death, only the soldiers standing, saluting the flag, and winning the war. This soldier is someone society can look at, praise, and encourage. Owen uses “Dulce Et Decorum Est” to show some of the hardships soldiers went through every day, “Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots” (Owen 5). Owen uses the whole first stanza just to show that the soldiers had been through so much, that nothing phased them anymore, “Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots/ Of disappointed shells that dropped behind” (Owen 7-8). The soldiers were so worn out that they didn’t even care that bombs and guns were being fired right behind them. This state of the horror of the war was Owen’s point of view, and this is what he wanted society to see before telling their children that they should die for their country, “Dulce et decorum est/ Pro Patria Mori” (Owen 27-28).

The tone and the mood that the speaker portrays in this poem are both very negative. These two elements are very similar in the fact that both are regarding emotions, but the difference is in who is feeling those emotions. The speaker is talking to the society who are encouraging their children to enlist in the war. He is angry that literature has not given the full picture of the war, and yet it is still encouraged. The tone of “Dulce Et Decorum Est” is very depressing and aggressive. This poem is in the first person “we cursed through the sludge” (Owen 2), he makes the point of showing that he went through the war, he was not just a bystander. Because the subject is personal, it would make sense why the tone would come across as very aggressive. The speaker is angry that society is lying to young children. He uses aggressive words and phrases throughout the entire poem and ends by talking about children. He starts the poem with a depressing tone by talking about what soldiers went through on a day-to-day basis. He quickly changes the tone by speeding it up, “Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!” (Owen 9). The mood is very similar to the tone. The mood could change for every reader, but there was not much room for guessing with “Dulce Et Decorum Est”. Because no one had given society a true glance at what war looked like, this poem came across as very surprising and sad. How the speaker used to tone and mood in this poem give a very negative sound towards the war.

The form of a poem can add a lot of character to it. In “Dulce Et Decorum Est” the author used the form to reemphasize the point he is trying to make. Although the form is a very subtle element, it can help to pack a punch without the reader knowing it is even happening. “Dulce Et Decorum Est” is broken up into four different stanzas. The first stanza has eight lines, the second has six lines, the third has two lines, and the last stanza has twelve lines. Each stanza has a specific purpose towards the poem and creates a different mood than the previous one. In the first stanza Owen creates a sad, depressing feel by making the lines longer and the words bigger, “Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through the sludge” (Owen 2). The second stanza creates a more exciting feeling in the reader by speeding it up, adding exclamations, and using smaller words. Because the third stanza is so short, it comes as a surprise. The fourth stanza finishes it off by combining everything to prove that war is not the same as the image that society has put out. The other important factor of this poem is that it is formed as a story.

He starts at the beginning and the reader progresses as the story does. The reader hears the story in the order that it happened. This story form makes the poem easier to read, people learn as children to read stories. People will also relate to a story more; they tend to relate to the characters. In lines where the soldiers moved quickly, the reader feels that they need to speed up as well, “Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time” (Owen 10). The form of this poem helps to create a physical picture of what Owen is trying to prove.

Owen uses sound to incorporate emotions into his poem. In the first stanza, he creates a very slow sound which in-turn creates a sad emotion. He makes this slow sound by using bigger, hyphenated words like, “knock-kneed” (Owen 2) and “blood-shod” (Owen 6). Owen also uses long vowels to make it sound slower. He uses slow sounding phrases, “we cursed through sludge” (Owen 2), and “began to trudge” (Owen 4). The author then quickly changes the sound to a much quicker exciting sound, which changes the mood or emotion of the reader to the excitement. He goes from long lines straight to quick words, “Of disappointed shells that dropped behind/Gas! Gas!” (Owen 8-9). Owen uses this difference in sound to show the reader that in war everything could change in the blink of an eye. Towards the end of the poem, the sound gives the reader angrier emotion. He shows this anger through his word choice, “writhing…devil…cancer, bitter” (Owen 19-23). The author is using this anger to show that society has been lying about what war really looks like.

The imagery that the author uses in “Dulce Et Decorum Est” is also essential to the point that he is trying to prove. Owen is wanting to destroy the image that society has put on soldiers and war. From the very beginning, he gives a different picture of a soldier, “Bent double, like old beggars” (Owen 1). This imagery in the very first line of the poem completely destroys the typical image of a soldier standing in a straight line in attention. Owen uses the imagery of dreaming several times, “In all my dreams… if in some smothering dreams” (Owen 15-17). He compares the imagery of a nightmare to the war. Then, Owen uses the imagery of someone drowning to describe a soldier choking on gas. This imagery gives the reader a little glimpse into what it was like for this soldier choking on gas and what it was like to watch him, “He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning” (Owen 16). Owen also used strong words to describe the war with imagery like, “smothering… devil… cancer… vile” (Owen 17-24). Even though he may not have been directly relating these words to the war itself, all of these words create images for the reader, and then the reader will relate what they reading back to the war. Imagery is a very strong tool that Owen uses in this poem so that he can show the world that the war is not like what they have been told.

Literature always illustrated war as something amazing, it was encouraged, and Owen used his poem to make sure everyone knew that war came with a huge cost. Owen uses as many elements as he can to make his point as clear as he can. Even down to how he structured the line length and each stanza. Owen uses “Dulce Et Decorum Est” to tell the story of soldiers going through a gas-attack (Moran 1). His entire poem has a very negative feel to it even the title, “but by the end of the poem, the title becomes (like many other moments in the poem) ironic and bitter” (Moran 1). All society had seen from the literature of soldiers was strong images of them or parades as they marched through, so they encouraged young children to join. Owen painted a different picture of war and soldiers to give society something to think about before they tried to draft their own children.

Work Cited

  • Lutz, Kimberly. ‘Overview of ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’.’ Poetry for Students, edited by Michael L. LaBlanc, vol. 10, Gale, 2001. Literature Resource Center, 
  • Moran, Daniel. ‘Overview of ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’.’ Poetry for Students, edited by Michael L. LaBlanc, vol. 10, Gale, 2001. Literature Resource Center, 
  • Owen, Wilfred. “Dulce Et Decorum Est” The Norton Introduction to Literature, edited by Kelly J. Mays, shorter 12th ed., 2016, Norton, pp. 878-879
  • Puymbroeck, Birgit Van, and Cedric Van Dijck. ‘Apollinaire’s Trench Journalism and the Affective Public Sphere.’ Texas Studies in Literature and Language, vol. 60, no. 3, 2018. Literature Resource Center,     


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