This poem titled Dulce Et Decorum Est is written by the poet Wilfred Owen during World War One. Dulce Et Decorum Est is a part of a common phrase that was tossed around during Owens’s time, the full phrase is Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori, which loosely translated into English means, “It is sweet and becoming to die for one’s country” or “It is sweet and seemly to die for one’s country.” In this poem, this phrase to quoted as being the “old Lie”; alluding to the fact that Owen believed that this proposed patriotism especially in face of a war was a lie.Order now
This poem is one of the many anti-war poems that Owen had written and is one of the many poem’s that was only published after the war was over. It is important to note that this poem centers around the retelling of a gas attack, one of the battlefield methods that were common in Owens’s day, this could be seen as a focal point or even an extended metaphor that extends throughout the poem.
It is also interesting to consider that this poem is believed to have been written in 1970, when Owen was recuperating in Craig Lockhart Hospital, this could explain the structure that was previously lacking in his earlier poems. This poem comprises of four sections, which are literally translated into 4 parts. The first paragraph describes the numbness of the shell-shocked soldiers, the second giving an account of a gas attack, the third detailing the haunting effect of this gas attack and the fourth and last paragraph divulges gory details that are told in an invective tone that is further heightened by the rousing climax of the last 2 lines, “Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori.”
This poem is written in a loose iambic pentameter, using 9, 10 and 11 syllables per line, instead of the usual solid 10. It gives the poem a loose sort of structure as it goes along, which helps the message that Owen is trying to portray; that of his distaste towards war. It is also written in a strict AB rhyme scheme, which also helps with the structure of the poem.
The poem’s speed and meter quickens as the poem goes along, with the introduction of the second passage, where there are words in caps and plenty of exclamation marks, “GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!” This quickens the pace of the poem and it shows the rapidity and suddenness of the war. This vivid description of the war, allows the reader to experience the horror of a gas attack and it invokes pity and sadness to the reader. Owens’s tone on the surface seems to be one of non-accusation, but as we read into the passage, we can see Owens’s seething anger to the people who quote the “old Lie”, with the use of vivid description such as “coughing like hags” and “Drunk with fatigue”.
Moving onto the meaning of the poem. As clearly stated in the description above, this poem is anti-war in nature. In conveys in no uncertain terms the disgust that Owen has towards the war. This retelling of a normal gas attack, allows the reader to experience, the suddenness, the unexpectedness, the sheer horrific nature of it all, therefore invokes feelings of sadness and pity in the reader. Let us begin with the portrayal of the soldiers, the physical aspect of them.
They are described as “Bent double, like old beggars under sacks”, “Knock-kneed” and “coughing like hags” The first impression we have of the soldiers is that they are tired, exhausted to the point where they can be referred to as “beggars”, they are “coughing like hags”, showing how ill they must feel, the fatigue is taking a toll on them, they are like beggars and hags, are similes that carry ark imagery, showing and emphasizing the darkness and dullness of war. The alliteration of “Knock-kneed” again brings poignancy to these opening lines of the sheer exhaustion of these soldiers. The usage of the word “sacks” could carry a hidden meaning of the government putting wool over these soldier’s eyes, putting sacks over them that cloud their better judgment.
The next paragraph describes a gas attack; the quickening of the pace has already been expounded earlier in this commentary so I shall go more into the detail of this paragraph. These soldiers are “floundering like a man in fire or lime”; they are not clear and hidden by “misty pains and thick green light” and are “drowning”. This detailed description of the poison gas just show the intense horrors brought about by this war, and it leaves the reader shaken as you can literally feel the white-hot intensity of that moment, where people are running like on fire, people slowly sinking to the ground like they are drowning. These people are in the multitudes to the point where they all seem blurred, unreal even. These vivid descriptions are just characteristic of Owens’s poetry, where his no holds barred policy leaves great impact on the reader.