Poetry Essay: Dulce Et Decorum Est

Poetry Essay: Dulce Et Decorum Est

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Poetry Essay: Dulce Et Decorum Est

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The title of Wilfred Owen's famous World War I poem, 'Dulce Et Decorum
Est', are the first words of a Latin saying which means, 'It is sweet
and Right'. The full saying, which ends the poem, 'Dulce et decorum
est // Pro patria mori', means it is sweet and right to die for one's
country. This was the saying that was commonly understood and used
widely in the propaganda at the beginning of the War. It made war out
to be honourable and heroic. Owen shows in this poem, by depicting the
horror and cruelty of the War, how far the common belief that war was
proud and honourable, was from the truth.

In the first stanza we are introduced to the setting of the poem as
well as to a few of the horrors of the war. The men are leaving the
battlefield and are moving to a place of rest when they are hit by gas
filled artillery shells. It gives a description of how fatigued and
weary the men were and how badly injured many of them were after
spending time in the trenches of the front lines. The image of
tiredness and sleep is introduced in the first stanza phrases such as
'Bent-double' (line 1), 'distant rest' (line 4) and 'Men marched
asleep' (line 5). The men are so tired they turn their backs on the
flares that are sent up to show the bombardiers where to shoot their
shells. Another image that Owen uses that appears in the first stanza
and is seen through out the poem is how there is a lack of
co-ordination and sense. This can be seen by 'Knock-kneed' (line 3),
'limped', 'lame' and 'blind' (line 6) and 'drunk' and 'deaf' (line7).
Owen shows how these men's senses had been numbed by the ghastly
occurrences in the trenches and how these numbed senses cause the men
to not realise they are under attack until it is almost too late.

The second stanza describes the dramatic reaction the men have when
they realise they have been attacked by gas. The ecstasy of fumbling -
shows how desperate the men where to find the odd fitting gas masks,
how a mask was the difference between a cruel death and life. Owen
compares the unlucky man to someone who has fallen in a fire or pile
of lime and is being engulfed by the pain. He is compared to a
drowning man; he is drowning in the gas, in the pain of death. The gas
is so thick that it takes on a liquid appearance.

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The 'misty panes'
(line 13) of the gas mask are made to symbolise portholes looking into
the 'thick green light' (line 13) of the sea. Owen also uses this
imagery of drowning in several instances in the second and third
stanzas.

In the third stanza Owen, describes the man's horrific death, which
happens in front of the helpless speaker. He tells the reader how he
sees this nightmarish scene over and over in his own dreams. The
speaker cannot ever escape this horror. Again the imagery of lack of
senses and of drowning are used. The word 'guttering' (line 16) could
be used to describe the sound the man made during his last breaths as
he went 'chocking, drowning' (line 16) to his death.

In the final stanza Owen uses images of the man's death to give the
reader a true picture of the war. He uses the man's death to show the
reader exactly how much "pride" there is in war! He compares the
mixture of blood and bodily fluids which 'come gargling from the
froth-corrupted lungs' (line 22) to something which is 'obscene as
cancer' (line 23) and as 'bitter as the cud' (line23). He is saying
the War is the cancer that has caused this mans death. He asks the
reader to try to imagine the 'vile, incurable sores' (line 24) which
were left on the tongues - and minds - of the "innocent" (line 24)
young "children" (line 26) who were conscripted to the army under the
false lure of how " sweet and right' it is to die for ones country.

Wilfred Owen portrays to the reader a vivid and horrific picture of
war and uses above mentioned imagery to show us the incredible irony
and true moral of the poem: that it is not in fact a "sweet and right"
fate to die for one's country even though it may be deemed as
something heroic and proud.
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