English Literature
Dulce et Decorum Est

Dulce et Decorum Est

Shiken premium Upgrade Banner

Wilfred Owen's 'Dulce et Decorum Est': Exposing the Brutal Reality of World War One

Wilfred Owen's renowned poem 'Dulce et Decorum Est' sheds light on the harsh experiences endured by soldiers during World War One. Through the story of a soldier who succumbs to mustard gas poisoning, the poem reveals the traumatic and inhumane nature of war.

Overview of the Poem

In 1920, Wilfred Owen composed 'Dulce et Decorum Est', a fusion of two sonnets primarily written in iambic pentameter. The rhyme scheme follows ABABCDCD, and Owen skillfully employs poetic devices such as enjambment, caesura, metaphor, simile, consonance, assonance, alliteration, and indirect speech. The poem's tone is bitter and enraged, with frequent references to violence, warfare, and the loss of innocence and youth. Its central theme is the horrors of war, rejecting the glorification of dying for one's country.

Context of 'Dulce et Decorum Est'

Biographical Background

Wilfred Owen, a British poet and soldier, lived from 1893 to 1918. He was raised in Plas Wilmot and later relocated to Birkenhead in 1897 with his family. Owen joined the Artists Rifles in 1915 and was eventually promoted to a second lieutenant in the Manchester Regiment. Suffering from shell shock, he received treatment at the Craiglockhart War Hospital, where he encountered his fellow poet, Siegfried Sassoon.

World War One

The First World War initiated on July 28, 1914 and lasted for four years until an armistice was declared on November 11, 1918. Over 8.5 million soldiers lost their lives during the war, with the deadliest casualties occurring during the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916.

Owen was educated at the Birkenhead Institute and Shrewsbury school. In 1918, he returned to active duty in France and was tragically killed in action on November 4, just a week before the armistice. His mother only discovered his death on Armistice Day through a telegram.

Shell Shock and Siegfried Sassoon

Owen was diagnosed with shell shock (now known as post-traumatic stress disorder) due to the psychological impact of witnessing the horrors of war. The term was coined by British psychologist Charles Samuel Myers. Siegfried Sassoon, another renowned war poet, was also treated at Craiglockhart hospital and became a close friend of Owen's.

Literary Context

Most of Owen's poems were composed between 1917 and 1918 while fighting in World War One. Other well-known anti-war poems by Owen include 'Anthem for Doomed Youth' and 'Futility'. The war sparked an era of war and anti-war poetry, with numerous soldiers and writers utilizing poetry to express and cope with their experiences. Notable examples include Sassoon and Rupert Brooke, both veterans of the war.

Owen wrote the majority of his poetry while being treated at Craiglockhart hospital, where his therapist, Arthur Brock, encouraged him to convey his war experiences through poetry. Only five of his poems were published during his lifetime, with the rest being released posthumously in collections like 'Poems' (1920) and 'The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen' (1963).

Analysis of 'Dulce et Decorum Est'

The poem opens by describing soldiers as 'old beggars' trudging through the sludge, exhausted and frail. They are likened to 'hags', their coughing and hunched postures reflecting their deteriorated physical state. The use of enjambment and caesura magnifies the soldiers' struggle and the harsh reality of their situation.

As the soldiers march, they are suddenly disturbed by 'haunting flares' and must turn their backs for safety. The word 'haunting' instills fear and dread, while 'flares' symbolize the violence and danger of war. The line 'Men marched asleep' conveys the soldiers' extreme exhaustion, and the phrase 'all blind' exposes the effects of gas warfare.

As gas shells begin to drop, the soldiers panic and the use of repetition in 'Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!' heightens the sense of urgency and chaos. Struggling to put on their gas masks in time, one soldier is seen 'floundering like a man in fire or lime'. This vivid imagery paints a painful, deadly picture of mustard gas on the battlefield.

The poem concludes with the speaker recalling the death of a fellow soldier from gas poisoning, with the soldier's drowning portrayed metaphorically.

'Dulce et Decorum Est': A Realistic Portrayal of the Horrors of War

Wilfred Owen's 'Dulce et Decorum Est' provides a critical perspective on the nature of war and how it impacts soldiers both physically and psychologically. The title of the poem, referencing Horace's ode 'Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori' (It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country), serves to further emphasize Owen's argument that the glorification of war is a deception.

Allusion: a reference to another text, person, or event.

Owen's poem forcefully shatters the notion of war as honorable and noble, as depicted by Horace's ode. The concluding lines of the poem, 'The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est / Pro patria mori', serve as a powerful reminder of the true nature of war and its consequences.

The phrase 'Dulce et Decorum Est' is taken from Horace's collection of patriotic poems, where he praises the idea of dying for one's country. However, having experienced the brutalities of the Roman civil war, Horace's viewpoint may not accurately reflect the reality of war. Owen's use of this famous quote serves to question the glorification of war and the notion of sacrificing oneself for nationalism.

The Structure and Form of the Poem

The poem adheres to the traditional structure of a sonnet, consisting of fourteen lines and primarily utilizing iambic pentameter (a metrical pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables). However, Owen subverts this structure by dividing the sonnet into four stanzas, each with its own distinct narrative shift.

Volta: a shift in the narrative in a poem.

The rhyme scheme (ABABCDCD) and the use of iambic pentameter are characteristics of the sonnet, a poetic form that originated in the 13th century. By breaking this structure, Owen challenges the conventional romanticization of war and dying for one's country. This serves as a commentary on the societal idealization of war and the ignorance towards the harsh realities faced by soldiers.

The first stanza, consisting of eight lines, depicts the soldiers as a unit, exhausted and suffering. The repetition of 'all' emphasizes their collective suffering as Owen describes them as 'lame' and 'blind'. The stanza foreshadows the imminent danger they face, being unaware of the approaching 'gas-shells' from behind.

In the second stanza, the focus remains on the soldiers as a group, but the tone shifts as they react to the threat of 'gas'. The use of 'deaf' as a homograph for 'death' further emphasizes the danger and highlights the constant fear of death for these soldiers.

The Sense of Urgency and Poetic Devices in “Dulce et Decorum Est”

The first line of the poem immediately establishes a sense of urgency through its exclamatory sentences and active verbs like 'yelling', 'stumbling', and 'floundering'. This intensifies the overall feeling of panic conveyed in the stanza. The third stanza, significantly shorter than the first two, signifies a volta or narrative shift as the focus shifts to a single soldier suffering from mustard gas. The briefness of the stanza puts a spotlight on this crucial moment.

The final stanza, consisting of twelve lines, describes the soldier's death and how his fellow soldiers hastily 'flung him' onto a wagon as they continued their march after the gas attack. In the last four lines, the poet directly addresses the reader, referred to as 'my friend', and warns them that the phrase 'Dulce et decorum est / Pro patria mori' is an 'old lie'. The final line breaks the iambic pentameter, drawing attention to the statement.

The poem's concluding lines almost appear cyclical, once again emphasizing that it is not 'sweet and fitting' to die for one's country. The deceitful lie perpetuated by war is as merciless as the war itself. The structure of the poem further reinforces this idea, as it begins and ends similarly.

Poetic Devices in “Dulce et Decorum Est”

The use of enjambment throughout the poem creates a seamless flow from one line to the next, while the iambic pentameter and ABABCDCD rhyme scheme add structural constraints.

The Brutal Effects of War on Young Soldiers

War is often glorified, but its true impact on young soldiers is far from noble. In his poem "Dulce et Decorum Est," Wilfred Owen vividly portrays the harsh realities of war and the disconnect between its romanticized image and the brutal truth.

Owen's use of indirect speech in the second stanza creates a sense of urgency and panic, emphasizing the chaos and terror of a gas attack. Through fragmented rhythm and exclamatory phrases such as "Gas! GAS!" and "Quick, boys!," the poem humanizes the events and makes them more vivid and real.

The violence and warfare are recurring themes in the poem, with words like "blood-shod," "yelling," "drowning," and "writhing," and phrases like "flares," "gas!," and "helmets" painting a vivid picture of the horrors of war. This stark imagery contrasts the glorification of war, highlighting the suffering of soldiers.

Owen also uses imagery of youth to accentuate the negative impact of war on young soldiers. Describing them as "boys" and "children ardent for some desperate glory" highlights their vulnerability and innocence, exposing the cruel and unfair nature of war.

The theme of suffering is also central, evident through the litany of verbs like "plunges," "guttering," "choking," and "drowning," which emphasize the soldiers' desperate struggle for survival. This suffering is further highlighted in the line "Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues," which showcases the physical and emotional toll of war on soldiers.

Owen's tone throughout the poem is one of anger and bitterness, as he rejects the idea of dying honorably for one's country. His graphic and unflinching portrayal of the horrors of war is a product of his own experience with shell shock, making it a powerful anti-war statement.

The main theme of "Dulce et Decorum Est" is the horrors of war. Published posthumously in 1920, this powerful poem remains a reminder of the devastating effects of war on young soldiers. Owen, an anti-war poet, wrote it while recovering from shell shock, giving it an added level of authenticity and impact. The poem challenges the belief that it is honorable to die for one's country and exposes war as a brutal and cruel reality, rather than a romanticized notion.

In conclusion, "Dulce et Decorum Est" by Wilfred Owen is a powerful anti-war poem that challenges the glorification of war and highlights its brutal and horrifying realities. It serves as a poignant reminder of the toll war takes on young soldiers and the need to acknowledge and address its devastating effects.

"Dulce et Decorum Est": A Timeless Critique of War and Heroism

Despite its deviation from the traditional sonnet structure, "Dulce et Decorum Est" consists of two sonnets with a consistent ABABCDCD rhyme scheme and maintains the use of iambic pentameter throughout its lines. Wilfred Owen, the poet behind this work, employs various literary devices, such as metaphor, simile, and indirect speech, to convey his powerful message.

This haunting poem delves into the themes of violence, warfare, youth, and suffering, painting a vivid and brutal image of the lasting effects of war on young soldiers. Through masterful use of imagery, Owen effectively challenges the societal belief that glorifies death for one's country as heroic and noble.

Breaking Down the Meaning of "Dulce et Decorum Est"

The title of this poem is derived from a Latin saying, "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori," which translates to "It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country." However, Owen's choice of this saying as the title serves as a bitter irony, as the following lines portray the harsh reality of war and the untold suffering of soldiers.

The Context in Which "Dulce et Decorum Est" was Written

Owen wrote "Dulce et Decorum Est" while recovering at Craiglockhart Hospital from 1917 to 1918. This powerful poem was published posthumously in 1920, as Owen tragically died in battle shortly before the end of World War I.

The Message Behind "Dulce et Decorum Est"

The overall message of this poem is a poignant critique of the notion that dying for one's country is a heroic and honorable act. Owen portrays soldiers as victims, forced to endure unimaginable horrors and ultimately meet their demise in horrific ways. By doing so, he exposes the falsity and harmfulness of the belief that it is "sweet and fitting to die for one's country."

The Irony Peering Through "Dulce et Decorum Est"

The irony in this poem lies in the juxtaposition of the saying with the brutal and gruesome experiences of soldiers, as depicted by Owen. Through powerful imagery, such as the soldiers' physical struggles and the gas attack, the stark contradiction between the glorified idea of war and its devastating consequences is highlighted.

In conclusion, "Dulce et Decorum Est" stands as a powerful and thought-provoking piece of literature that sheds light on the realities of war and challenges societal notions of heroism and patriotism. Its critical analysis of the lasting effects of war on soldiers serves as a poignant reminder of the true horrors of conflict.

Join Shiken For FREE

Gumbo Study Buddy

Explore More Subject Explanations

Try Shiken Premium
for Free

14-day free trial. Cancel anytime.
Get Started
Join 20,000+ learners worldwide.
The first 14 days are on us
96% of learners report x2 faster learning
Free hands-on onboarding & support
Cancel Anytime