“Dulce et Decorum est” - Essay
A poem ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ by Wilfred Owen conveys the horrors of war and uncovers the hidden truths of the past century. This essay will explore on the poet’s ability to create effective imagery; his usage of expressive language and poetic techniques and how reading this poem leaves the reader to experience feelings such as pity. I consider Wilfred Owen a good poet from the very star as he shows his ability to captivate the reader into his story by applying and engaging heading.
‘Dulce et Decorum est’ reveals the hidden truths of the past century’s war, by uncovering the cruelties the soldiers were left to face. The poem is authentic as Wilfred Owen was ‘there’ to experience the atrocities of the first world war. The poem begins with a glimpse at the soldiers’ living conditions and their lifestyle which provided them with untimely age. The poet then describes a dreadful gas attack that follows along with its horrid outcomes. The Poem resumes Eventually, the poet confirms the present propaganda to be “the old lie” - as the glory of war is a myth. Reading this poem, made me realize my own luck and circumstance: I have been fortunate to have avoided the brutalities brought by world war one. The appalling conditions the soldiers were left to face made me appreciate that my own life has not been disturbed. I am devastated by the fact that even today, many innocent people are exposed to such barbarities.
The poem is started unexpectedly: in the middle of action. As if half-way through an incomplete event that has already started. The soldiers are trying to escape the enemy’s fire but their terrible health conditions dismiss them from strong and immediate actions.
“Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, knock-kneed, coughing like hags”
This statement provides the reader with an unexpected view and appearance of soldiers, as the army cadets are usually pictures as strong, healthy and brawny looking men. The poet erases this false image of an athletic soldier, replacing it with a description of a ‘beggar’ and a ‘hag’. This means that the war had caused the soldiers to age prematurely. The following extract from the poem’s first part hints that the poet was present throughout the events:
“we cursed through sludge,”
In this quotation, the poet uses his ability to create effective imagery and provides the reader with a feeling of pity for the soldiers. Soldiers are exhausted from their unhealthy lifestyle. This prevents excuses their slow pace. The following sentence reveals a glimpse at the soldier‘s actions.
“And towards our distant rest begun to trudge”
The finale onomatopoeia of ‘trudge’ is a description of the soldiers walking through the sludges. They ‘trudged’ which suggest their slow pace and difficulty of movement. This means, that they limped and dragged themselves through these terrible conditions towards a ‘distant’ rest that was still far away, nowhere to be seen. In this statement the poet conveys the horrors of war by showing the reader the soldier’s sufferings. This made me feel awful and I doubled my sympathy towards the unfair fate of soldiers.
Wilfred Owen varies his language and choice of techniques throughout the poem to the point when every word gains a carefully planned meaning and every sentence has a purpose. The poet never fails to shock the reader with his thorough description of the poem’s events.
“And floundering like a man in fire and lime…”
Floundering could suggest no control and panic, while the finagling ellipsis could mean that the following events are too personal or terrible for the poet to mention. ’Like a man on fire’ is a simile that describes the pains of the dying man. This sentence tells the reader that the man is out of control and his behaviour could be compared to a man’s in fire. The poet made the reader experience pity towards the man by the use of his expressive language. This situation already made me realise(at least in a small degree) how unfairly the soldiers had been persuaded into joining the army without the knowledge of what they were to come across. The poet had been haunted by his past and could not break free of what has happened to him.
“In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,”
The first part of thus statement suggests how the poet has been haunted by the dreadful life-taken images, while the following phrases uncovers his helplessness. The poet is trying to communicate his never-ending nightmare, as he has to face it every night , helplessly. The poet has used an effective example of imagery as reading this part of the poem the reader’s mind subconsciously creates a replica of this scene. I feel sorry for Wilfred Owen, because he was forced to accept his fait: being doomed to a never ending slideshow of horror. Throughout the poem, the poet develops our feelings of sympathy, especially through his description of the soldiers.
The poet was convinced and hopeful that nothing he experienced during world war one himself, would occur to his readers in any other circumstances. That is why, in the next example he shows his disbelief by saying that such things could only affect the reader in some subconscious vision. I consider this example as one of the most effective in the poem, as its context shocks the reader.
“If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,”
The first technique used by the poet is alliteration of ’some smothering dreams’; this emphasise of the letter ‘s’ captures the reader’s attention and makes it easier to remember. The word choice of ‘dreams’ hints the poet’s disbelief in something as such happening to any of the readers in reality. The word ‘flung’ could be counted as synonymous to treatment of something useless. These techniques all have an imaginative effect on the reader, as the spectator is subconsciously imagining what is taking place. All this suggests how meaninglessly and disrespectfully the bodies of the dead soldiers were treated. This extract is another example of the poet’s ability to create effective imagery by the use of imaginative language as reading this, in my head I saw what the poet was talking about. I was shocked at the disrespect paid to the dead, though my shock did not mix with blame towards the innocent soldiers.
Wilfred Owen knew very much about his fellow soldiers, including their age and experiences. And despite their difference in age, they shared their feeling with one another. That is why the poet uses sarcasm and sorrow in this next quotation.
“My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,”
The poet is being ironic, when he uses the address: ‘my friend’. By this, he is addressing the ‘higher ups’ and the government who were the reason for the death of so many, while thy could prevent it. The word ‘zest’ represents engagement and vigour with which the soldiers had been persuaded into the army. The word ‘children’ explains the age of the soldiers, roughly: the boys were not even men, but children. These boys had been desperate for the ‘false’ glory - ardent for it! - but they had not been informed that there was no glory in war. It is easy to detect the poet’s opinion from the study of this extract, and from what can be studied is his detest towards the ‘people of power’ as his sorrow.
Wilfred Owen feels a variation of negative emotions towards his subject, such as helplessness and hurt. Evidence to suspect that, will be the following quote.
“Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,”
The meaning of the word ‘vile’ is synonymous to villain; this negative description was addressed to describe the wounds received by the soldiers, as they were vile and incurable. This sentence contains two metaphors: ’incurable sores’ and ’innocent tongues’ from which both were used to describe the horrible experiences of innocent soldiers and their wounds that would not heal. This quote is a proof that the poet had conveyed the horrors of war through imaginative techniques and expressive language. Wilfred Owen captured my attention by the word choice he applied in this part of the poem.
Wilfred Owen had felt the need to write such a poem, because, as he went through life, he found himself stuck in the moment of horror, trouble and weakness. He discovered that his only chance to start living again would be creation of a poem that would let go of his emotions. Another reason the poet had for the creation of this poem was justice and hope he wished to inspire in the reader. Both ways were working towards his own relief. The following quotation is the last sentence of the poem and a more detailed explanation of the poem’s title.
“The old Lie: Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori”
The Capitalized letter ’L’ in the word ’lie’ is used to emphasise the poet’s opinion: his opposition to the old lie. Poet’s belief is clear: it is not sweet and right to die for one’s country. Wilfred Owen’s use of vocabulary and language, had made it easier for the reader to grasp the meaning behind his reflections. In this poem the poet is referring to the reader by his ironic address ‘my friend’, though in his address he means to affect the ’powerful’ part of the audience. The last sentence of the poem is definitely my favourite, as its meaning was the whole reason for Owen’s writing this poem; almost as if the whole poem has been written only for this last statement of truth. Wilfred Owen’s ability to use effective language in order to absorb the reader has been applied very correctly as I felt present for the whole time.
“Dulce et Decorum est” is a poem that made me realise my own amount of luck next to people such as the soldiers’. Reading this poem, had made me appreciate that my own life or the lives of my loved one’s had not been burdened with the terror of war. In this poem, the poet uncovered the hidden truths of the past century and he conveyed the horrors of was through the use of imaginative language and effective imagery. Studying this poem, I continuously developed and began to share opinions and emotions with the poet on the cruel treatment and indifference of the government. After multiple reflections, I began to detect a tint of irony within the title of the poem; “Dulce et decorum est” in translation from Latin gains a meaning “It is sweet and right”, and this sentence is only completes by the end of the poem, with an addition of poet’s conviction, based on experience, turning out as the irony and a consideration of ’a lie’ of “It is sweet and right to die for one’s country”. I predict that Wilfred Owen did not place his full meaning in the poem’s title, because he wanted the reader to decide for oneself whether they would agree with him in the end. I believe that the poet’s intentions in understanding of his poem were taken in by most of the readers, and I am positively sure that each of them felt the same variation of feelings throughout it.
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“Dulce et Decorum Est” is a short, four stanza poem written by British soldier and poet Wilfred Owen. Dulce describes the horrors of war as illustrated by the description of weary soldiers and the scene of a mustard gas attack as illustrated in the second stanza. Sadly, this poem was perhaps a bit prophetic as Owen died in action in 1918 at the age of 25, shortly after penning it, while attempting to lead his men across the Sambre canal at Ors. The phrase, Dulce et Decorum Est is translated from Latin to mean; “It is sweet and is the beautiful”.
Unlike the common belief that it is sweet and becoming to die for one’s country as espoused by the Roman lyrical poet Horace, Owens poem, written while recuperating from injuries sustained on the battlefield, months before his return to the field of battle leading to his eventual death declares the opposite. “Dulce” illustrates the reality and brutality of modern trench warfare. One can also assume that Owen actually experienced and witnessed what was described in the poem.
Pulling from his time in the trenches Owen, “often graphically illustrated both the horrors of warfare, the physical landscapes which surrounded him, and the human body in relation to those landscapes. ” (Wilfred Owen Biography) World War I, was known as the “War to End all Wars”. This term was coined by British author and social commentator H. G. Wells when he published a number of articles in the London newspapers, “which subsequently appeared as a book entitled The War That Will End War” (Wager 147). Additionally, World War I was also at the time one of the most technologically advanced wars in history.
It was also a confusing time in terms of modern warfare as many new ways to kill their fellow man were introduced, yet old battle tactics were used. Inventions such as airplanes, submarines, flame throwers, machine guns, tanks, and poison gas, made this one of the most brutal and violent wars in the history of mankind. “First World War can be characterized as a clash of 20th-century technology with 19th-century warfare in the form of ineffectual battles with huge numbers of casualties on both sides” (Technology During World War I)
As Owen opens his narrative, he describes the battle weary march of soldiers, in desperate need of medical attention and supplies. In some aspects it seems that Owen is the speaker describing his fellow soldiers. He says they are “Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, / Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge. ” (Owen. Stanza 1) If it is not enough that the soldiers are weary and out of supplies, but the horror begins with the cry; “Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! An ecstasy of fumbling” (Owen. Stanza 2) Because they had to deal with their “clumsy helmets. ” one soldier did not get his gas mask on in time, Owen describes his slow and agonizing death. “In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. ” (Owen. Stanza 3) Mustard gas affects the respiratory system and floods the lungs with fluid, essentially drowning the victim, Owen is quite accurate in this portrayal of the dying man.
The sight “under a green sea” is according to the US Army Chemical Reference handbook is the way the air would look after mustard gas had been released in the atmosphere. The air looked like the sea, and the man who failed to get his helmet on in time is therefore drowning without even being in water. As one of the most insidious chemical concoction designed to maim and kill, “Mustard is a poisonous chemical agent that exerts a local action on the eyes, skin, and respiratory tissue, with subsequent systemic action on the nervous, cardiac, and digestive systems in humans …
Under extreme circumstances, dependent upon the dose and length of exposure to the agent, necrosis of the skin and mucous membranes of the respiratory system, bronchitis, bronchopneumonia, intestinal lesions, hemoconcentration, leucopenia, convulsions with systemic distress, and death occur. ” (Dacre) Perhaps knowing he would die on the field of battle, Owen used the final stanza to convey his belief that “Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori” was a lie. “It is sweet and glorious to die for one’s ountry,” was not true according to Owens in this writing. It seems though he would be more in agreement with U. S. General George Patton, who a few short years later in World War II was attributed to have said, “You don’t win a war by dying for your country. You win a war by making the other son-of-a-bitch die for his! ” ? Works Cited Dacre, Goldman M. “Toxicology and Pharmacology of the Chemical Warfare Agent Sulfur Mustard. ” United States Army Biomedical Research and Development Laboratory, June 1996. Web. 1 June 2011. . Owen, Wilfred. “Dulce Et Decorum Est”. From The Bedford Introduction to Literature: Reading, Thinking, Writing (9th Edition), Michael Meyer. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2011. 852-853 print “Technology During World War I. ” World News. World News Network. Web. 02 June 2011. Web Video. . Wagar, Walter Warren. H. G. Wells: Traversing Time. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 2004. Print. Wilfred Owen Biography. Poets. org – Poetry, Poems, Bios & More. Academy of American Poets. Web. 01 June 2011. .