About Wilfred Owen• Wilfred Owen was born in 1893 in Shropshire, UK.• Owen wanted to become a teacher but his father could not afford the university fees. Instead he went to France in 1913 where he worked as a tutor.• In October 1915, he returned to England and enlisted to fight in WWI. He was then 22 years of age.• The poet spent a year in training. Letters to his mother reveal that he enjoyed the prestige of wearing the military uniform. His training finished at the end of 1916 and he took command of No. 3 Platoon.• His enthusiasm initially abounded but soon he was sent to the frontline and witnessed firsthand the awfulness of warfare - living in trenches,knee-deep in mud and water, the rotting corpses of soldiers, the dreadful war injuries.
• Late in 1917 Owen received serious injury and was sent home, suffering from shell- shock. While recuperating in the military hospital, he met the anti- war poet, Siegfried Sassoon, who aided him in polishing his war poetry.• Owen felt that his poetry could have a far deeper impact if emanating from a soldier in the trenches.• He re-enlisted for the army and, in October 1918, he rejoined his company in France. This time, however, he appears to have identified himself with the soldiers and took tremendous risks in battle.• During one encounter, he captured a German machine gun and used it to decimate a host of enemy soldiers, for which deed he won the Military Cross. Although he denied it in letters to his mother, he appears now to have become a killing machine.
• In early November, just one week before the armistice which ended the war, he supervised the construction of a bridge to cross the Sambre and Oise Canal. Wave after wave of his own men were massacred in the attempt. Wilfred Owen too fell in a flurry of machine gun bullets.• He was buried in a small British cemetery in northern France. He was then just 25 years of age.
STANZA ONE• A band of soldiers is retreating to their base and come under attack of the German artillery which is using chemical weapons in particular chlorine gas.• The soldiers have spent weary and dreary days at the frontlines and every one of them carries physical reminders of their ordeal. If not scarred, bruised or injured they are “like old beggars under sacks” meaning that exhaustion is bringing them closer to collapsing. they can be compared to hags (old, ugly women), though they are young!• The men are moving towards a “distant rest”, there is still much to go through before this ordeal is over and they can get any relief. For some this could also imply a ‘permanent rest’.• The soldiers are aloof of their surroundings, many “marched asleep” and scores of them trudge through the muddy and rocky terrain with no protection on their feet except their own blood.• Even these horses with metal shoes are better off than the bare- footed men. The soldiers’ desperation and their being “drunk with fatigue” could also be a blessing, the soldiers are so exhausted they are unaware of their pains and sufferings and can only focus on the hope that the “distant rest” offers them.
STANZA TWO• The soldiers are now under heavy attack by the German artillery using long-range chlorine gas shells and have been warned by their commanding officer to put on their gas masks on. Even then, an unlucky few are unsuccessful in applying the life-saving order.• Following the officer’s command, “ecstasy (of fumbling)” seems to be an unusual word until we see that it means ‘a morbid state of nerves in which the mind is occupied with solely one idea’.• This would perfectly describe the state of the soldiers, they would even have forgotten why they were putting the masks on and in their frayed nerves and hurry would be fumbling to get the masks on.• Then we are shown through Owen’s eyes the unlucky soldier who quite could not manage the effort to put his mask on and as the poet watches on horrified through his goggles the seemingly ‘distant’ man “flounders” in the mud like a man drowning in water thrashing his limbs in an effort to break free of the dim green envelope that surrounds him.
STANZA THREE• From straight description Owens now looks back from a new perspective in the light of a recurring nightmare with a more personal touch. The “haunting flares” in stanza 1 only foreshadowed a more terrible haunting in which a friend, dying, “plunges at me” before “my helpless sight” an image that Owens could never forget.
STANZA FOUR• The tone of the poem becomes colder and harder, Owen is lashing back at the men and women who sent the soldiers to their dooms and are peacefully sitting within their homes unaware of the war’s realities.• He describes his experience as a nightmare (“smothering dreams”) which replicates in small measures the victim’s sufferings and wishes that the war organizers could experience this.• The urgency and immediacy of the situation is so great that the soldiers can do nothing for their comrade save having “flung” him into a wagon. Even there he continues to disturb Owen.• The victim’s head is “hanging” out of the wagon and he is hit by jolts as the wagon rolls on, there is no stretcher-bearing for this dying man. Owen describes the chilling state the man is in with blood gurgling out of his mouth and the “froth-corrupted lungs” struggling to catch every breath. The “devil’s sick of sin” shows pain contorting the face of the victim.
• There is also a hint of hell everywhere which is what the soldiers are going through. The “vile incurable sores” are the bitter memories that will remain imprinted in the soldier’s minds (innocent young tongues) in such a manner that they will never be healed and will remain unbearable.• Also, for a majority of the soldiers this would have been their first view of such horrific devastation and suffering, the images of which too could never be erased from their minds.• The “you” that Owen addresses in line 21 could generally imply people but there is also one person in particular that it could refer to, the “my friend” identified as Jessie Pope, a children’s fiction writer whose patriotic poems epitomised the glorification of war that Owens so despised.•
• The Latin phrase “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” is from an Ode by Horace and means “It is sweet and becoming to die for one’s country”. Owen decries this and claims that it is nothing but a lie that was manufactured in the dawn of civilization and has been handed down from one generation to the next by propaganda pushers who are often interested only in their own gains
• The theme of the poem “Dulce Et Decorum Est” is that war is terrible and tragic. The sufferings and horrors should be shown clearly to the public so that any misconceptions of heroes and bravery are dismissed from their minds and they accept war as the destruction that it really is.• Basically an anti-war poem, it also criticizes the fact that the people planning wars are the safest of the lot in their protected bunkers.
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