Dulce et Decorum Est - By Wilfred Owen … an analysis Rose Garofano
Overview Wilfred Owen's poem "Dulce Et Decorum Est" was written during his World War I experience. Owen, an officer in the British Army, deeply opposed the intervention of one nation into another. Is poem explains how the British press and public comforted themselves with the fact that, terrible that is was, all the young men dying in the war were dieing noble, heroic deaths. The reality was quite different: They were dieing obscene and terrible deaths. Owen wanted to throw the war in the face of the reader to illustrate how vile and inhumane was really is. He explains in his poem that people will encourage you to fight for your country, but, in reality, fighting for your country is simply sentencing yourself to an unnecessary death.
Written whilst receiving treatment for shell shock in Craiglockart, Dulce et Decorum Est is a bitter response to Owen's first hand experience of war and an attack on propagandists, most particularly Jessie Pope. The poem can be divided into three sections: a description of soldiers leaving the battlefield, a mustard gas attack and a challenge thrown out to those who glorify war.
Title DULCE ET DECORUM EST - the first words of a Latin saying (taken from an ode by Horace). The words were widely understood and often quoted at the start of the First World War. They mean "It is sweet and right." The full saying ends the poem: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori - it is sweet and right to die for your country. In other words, it is a wonderful and great honour to fight and die for your country. But the most important thing is that the title is ironic. The intention was not so much to induce pity as to shock, especially civilians at home who believed war was noble and glorious.
Imagery, symbols and word plays … Line 1: "Bent double, like old beggars under sacks" is a simile, which compares the men marching to beggars. Starting the poem off with an image of men "doubled" creates the possibility that the soldiers really have become two people: the men they were before the war and the creatures that they are now. Line 2: More similes. This time the men are "Knock-kneed, coughing like hags.”
Line 5: "Men marched asleep." Line five starts out with a stark image. People don't usually walk in their sleep, unless something is seriously wrong. Making abnormality the norm seems to be one of the major functions of this war. Line 6: The parallel construction of the lines "All went lame; all blind;" emphasizes misery as a universal condition. No one escapes. No one. Line 15: The speaker's reference to his "helpless sight" creates an almost paradoxical image: his sight works well. After all, he can see the image of the man dying – in fact, it's our speaker's all-to-active sight, which becomes the problem. What Owen is actually describing, however, is the helplessness of the speaker himself. If that's the case, then "sight" functions as a synecdoche, standing in for the speaker as a whole.
Line 18: The imagery created by describing "the white eyes writhing in [a soldier's] face" is horrendous. It's almost like the eyes have lives of their own: they've detached from the working of the body as a whole. Lines 21-24: Imagery -From gargling blood to cancer-like sores. This poem is a true house of horrors. We get to witness as a soldier's body breaks down entirely.
Allusion Line 20: Allusion to the devil - evil Lines 27-28: This is the allusion to beat all allusions. It's one of the most-quoted lines of 20th century poetry…and Owen didn't even write it himself! Referring to a popular school text allows Owen to take a swing at all the popular rhetoric about the glories of war. [Jessie Pope]
Onomatopoeia The poem is so deeply entrenched in the world of war that its language can't help but re-create the language and the pace of the battlefield. The repetition of hard consonant sounds like the hard "k" in "sacks," "knock," "coughed" and "cursed" makes our tongues perform some sharp attacks on the air in our mouths.
Punctuation The urgency and immediacy of the gas attack is presented through the use of the present continuous and the shouted exclamations "Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!". Owen uses an extended metaphor of the sea and drowning to recreate the froth-choked drowning caused by a gas attack. The next two lines are separated to show their purpose as a link between the reality of war and the warning to those who present it otherwise.
The alliteration in "watch the white eyes writhing" seeks to recreate the distortion taking place on the young man's face. It is the face that Owen concentrates on and wishes us to see. The unusual simile "devil's sick of sin" shows the extremes of human cruelty and depravity. We can cause anguish and atrocities that would even sicken Satan.
Structure This poem is structured in three stanzas. The first stanza consists of 8 lines, the second of 8 and the third one which is the most important part of the poem has 12 lines. It begins with a description of the landscape where they are going to fight and he is also describing in what conditions were the soldiers going to struggle.
Then, in the second stanza, as gas shells begin to fall, the soldiers fight to put their masks on. But, in the rush, one mal clumsily drops his mask, and the poet sees the man “yelling out and stumbling” (line 11). The image of the man “guttering, chocking, drowning” permeates Owen’s thoughts and dreams, forcing him to remember the nightmare again and again. In the final stanza, Owen writes that if readers could see the body of those soldiers dying, they would cease to send young men to war. No longer would they tell their children the “old lie”, so long ago told by the Roman poet Horace: “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, that is, “sweet and honorable it is, to die for the fatherland”
COMMUNICATIVE STRUCTURE In the poem he uses the first, second and third persons, He uses the first person singular and the second person plural to make us see that he experienced what he is talking about in the poem. He uses, for example, “we” in lines 2,3 and 18, and “I” in line 14, “my” (line 15) and “me” (line 16). We find the second person singular when he wants to make us think and make a reflection of the cruel reality of wars, for example: in lines 21 and 25. Eventually, we can see the third person singular in the first stanza when he is describing how the soldiers were going to fight (their physical problems).
Conclusion In Owen's opinion, this couldn't be further from the truth. Emphasizing the gruesome details of his real experiences during the war allows him to demonstrate the emptiness of war. If schoolbooks teach us what heroes ought to do, his poem seeks to show us just how un-heroic wartime action can be.