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The Harsh Reality of War in Wilfred Owen’s Poem Dulce et Decorum Est

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Wilfred Owen’s poem “Dulce et Decorum Est” makes the reader acutely aware of the impact of war. The speaker’s experiences with war are vivid and terrible. Through the themes of the poem, his language choices, and contrasting the pleasant title preceding the disturbing content of the poem, he brings attention to his views on war while during the midst of one himself. Owen uses symbolism in form and language to illustrate the horrors the speaker and his comrades go through; and the way he describes the soldiers, as though they are distorted and damaged, parallels how the speaker’s mind is violated and haunted by war.

Chaos and drudgery are common themes throughout the poem, displayed in its form; it is nearly iambic pentameter, but not every line fits the required pattern. This is significant because the poem’s imperfect formulation is Owen making a statement about formality, the poem breaks the typical form to show that everything is not functioning satisfactorily. The poem’s stanza’s also begin short, but become longer, like the speaker’s torment and his comrades movement away from the open fire. The rhyming scheme of ABABCDCD is one constant throughout the poem, but it serves to reinforce the nature of the cadence as the soldiers tread on. The war seems to drag on longer and longer for the speaker, and represents the prolonged suffering and agony of the soldier’s death that is described as the speaker dwells on this and is torn apart emotionally and distorts his impressions of what he experiences.

The words Owen chooses to use in the poem describing the soldiers are peculiar choices. The speaker refers to them as “[b]ent double, like beggars in sacks” (line 1), very different from a typical idea of a soldier. From the beginni...

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...e pleasing title.

Owen’s poem uses symbolism to bring home the harsh reality of war the speaker has experienced and forces the reader to think about the reality presented in romanticized poetry that treats war gently. He utilizes language that imparts the speakers experiences, as well as what he, his companions, and the dying man feels. People really die and suffer and live through nightmares during a war; Owen forcefully demonstrates this in “Dulce et Decorum Est”. He examines the horrific quality of World War I and transports the reader into the intense imagery of the emotion and experience of the speaker.

Works Cited

Griffith, George V. “Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est”. Explicator 41.3 (1983): 37. Print.

Owen, Wilfred. “Dulce et Decorum Est”. Literature: A Pocket Anthology.

Ed. R.S. Gwynn. 4th ed. New York: Penguin-Longman, 2009. 615-616. Print.
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