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Dulce et decorum est is a famous anti-war poet written by Wilfred Owen in 1917, during the WWI. It portrays war as a brutal and dehumanizing experience by utilizing a number of horrific, gruesome imageries effectively. This poem is based on a quotation from a Latin poem, “Dulce et decorum est – pro patria mori”, which means “It is sweet and proper to die for one’s country”. However, there is absolutely nothing in the actual poem that is sweet, nor is there any description that associates directly to its title. The poem is ironically dedicated to Jessie Pope, a children’s book writer and a poet known to write poems that deliver patriotic messages. It also objurgates the media that propagated the innocent soldiers for attempting ignoble political maneuvers, and also those who glorify war without any just purpose. The poem can be divided roughly into three sections: the soldiers leaving the battlefield; a scenery of the soldiers suffering from an unexpected gas attack; and a blistering criticism against those who glorifies these soldiers.
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The first stanza describes how the soldiers are mentally and physically distressed from the brutal and horrifying experiences of war. It mainly focuses on the discomforts and grieves of the soldiers who are in desperate need of medical supplies and attention. Wilfred Owen draws a sharp contrast between these old war-stricken soldiers described as “Old beggars under sacks” and the glorious and virile images people tend to have against soldiers. This stanza clearly highlights the fact that they are NOT marching towards the battlefield with patriotic spirit, but instead trudging exhaustingly like “Hags” who are completely worn out and mutated. They march by putting forth all the little strength left in them and walking “Knock-kneed” so that they can at least keep on moving forward. Many have lost their boots from cursing “through sludge”, and in retreat from warfare, many drag their feet, shod in their own blood with desperate need of recovery from the accumulated fatigue.
The poem consist a number of 28 lines, and has a convectional rhyming structure. It uses full rhymes such as “sack” and “back”, “sludge” and “trudge”, “boots” and “hoots”, and so on. The rhyme scheme is in alternative groups of four, ABAB CDCD EFEF GHGH IJIJ KLKL MNMN. However, the stanzas are broken up irregularly into 8, 6, 2, 12 lines, and are not presented as quatrains.Â In the first section, with a stanza of 8 lines, an octave which basically explains the environmental conditions and the deplorable situations the soldiers are in, and one of six, a sestet,, it can be assumed to be an Petrarchan sonnet, although it is not tenacious to the classical form since Wilfred Owen does not seem to strictly adhere to the actual rhyme scheme.
The poem starts off with an slow pace, creating an ambience of dismay and dejection by utilizing words such as “Sludge” and “Trudge”. Owen’s illustrative use of imagery here allows us to picture and understand the poor environmental and physical conditions they are in. It shows how the soldiers are not merely tired, but that they are coming close to losing all the hopes they may have had for their bright future. A very good use of simile can be seen in the first verse where the soldiers are described to be old, crippled reprobates, who are “Bent double, like old beggars under sacks / knock need, coughing like hags”, even though many must have been very young. By saying so, Owen effectively breaks the widely accepted image of soldiers being brave, patriotic and highly motivated. Another intriguing term that deserves a mention here is “Distant rest” which can be interpreted in two ways: one interpretation may simply mean to have a long-awaited rest to recover from exhaustion, but it also implicitly refers to “Rest In Peace” as a destiny for many engaged in war.
The second stanza prompts the readers to an abrupt alarm of danger. “Gas, GAS! Quick, boys!” Just as the boys were heading for a peace of mind by retreating from the front line, gas shells drop beside them. As soon as they hear the warning, the soldiers begin to hastily wear their “Clumsy helmets” to save their own lives in “ecstasy of fumbling”. Terrible and shocking images of the gas attack are highlighted by focusing on the unfortunate one who does not get to wear the mask in time and is slowly but surely poisoned to death. The notion of lung burning “And floundering like a man on fire or lime” creates a terrifying image of the man writhing and suffering from the symptoms of intoxication.
The poem consist a number of 28 lines, and has a convectional rhyming structure. It uses full rhymes such as “sack” and “back”, “sludge” and “trudge”, “boots” and “hoots”, and so on. The rhyme scheme is in alternative groups of four, ABAB CDCD EFEF GHGH IJIJ KLKL MNMN. However, the stanzas are broken up irregularly into 8, 6, 2, 12 lines, and are not presented as quatrains. In the first section, with a stanza of 8 lines, an octave which basically explains the environmental conditions and the deplorable situations the soldiers are in, and one of six, a sestet,, it can be assumed to be an Petrarchan sonnet, although it is not tenacious to the classical form since Wilfred Owen does not seem to strictly adhere to the actual rhyme scheme.
Owen again makes uses of similes to describe the affect the gas attack is making to the man. “And floundering like a man n fire or lime”. Also capital letters and exclamation marks are utilized as accents to emphasize the sense of urgency and panic, and to make the image even more graphical. “GAS! Gas! Quick, boys! — An ecstasy of fumbling”. He deliberately uses the word “ecstasy”, which usually means to be rapturous, to dramatize the overflowing sense of panic and fear the soldiers are in. Owen applies words such as “floundering”, “clumsy” and “stumbling” not only to pace up the poem, but to communicate the sense of emergency, and the chaotic turmoil the soldiers find themselves in. However, then there is a sudden slowing down of pace led by the daunting imagery of fatal silence prevailing over the soldiers “drowningâ€¦under the green sea” of poisonous gas. Also, there is a use of double entente seen here “Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light / As under a green sea, I saw him drowning”. Not only does the imagery of the green sea imply the luminous gas misting in the air, but it also portrays the view the soldiers see through the dim lenses of their gas masks. The ones who are protectively accoutered in mask passively observe the life of the unprotected relentlessly fading away
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The two lines “In all my dreams before my helpless sight” and “He plunges at me, guttering, chocking, drowning” are thoughtfully separated to show all those who believe blindly that war in reality is not about brevity or winning or for anyone’s country but is simply about survival and an desperate escape from an overwhelming fear of becoming crippled both physically and mentally. Owen continues to utilize metaphors linked to sleep walking, dreams and nightmares, to assert how terrible, and relentless the returning image given is. The “helpless sight” indicated here is describing the guilt feeling of how the speaker “I” is unable to help the gas-poisoned comrade. He enumerates continuously a number of verbs to accentuate the immediacy of the section, and to reiterate the unimaginable suffering of the comrade as he drowns deep in the “green sea”.
And at last, for the last stanza, Owen describes the soldier’s death mask as a “devil’s sick of sin”, to implicate that an once innocent youth has fallen into the pitfall of hell. The last four lines here are very ironic and cynical, as if they are Wilfred Owen’s own words. The poem ends with an asseveration that “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori,” is a complete lie, In the last verse, Owen, for the first time, employs the second person “you” to directly address us readers in an attempt to wake us up to see the ugly reality of war that he unveils. In the phrase “Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues”, Owen reminds the readers that these soldiers in the battlefield were also once the “children ardent for some desperate glory”, who were brainwashed to sacrifice their lives in such a pitifully poor environment. In the last lines, his anger, ill feeling and strong sense of denunciation towards the absurdity of war are vividly expressed in a manner that is highly convincing to the readers not to let the “old” lie be passed on unnoticed to the next generation. “My friend, you would not tell with such high zest / To children ardent for some desperate glory”
In the last sentence, Wilfred Owen purposely does not apply the use of iambic meter, as if there is no meaning, or no point in making an effort to place the words within the proper metrical structure, to emphasize his anger and sense of distrust towards the “old lie” in the most straightforward manner.
Although the pace is still speedy, the word choices here become forthright and very striking, as if to emulate a war reporter with a doomed eye uttering whatever comes up in his mind out of desperation. In this stanza, he graphically pictures the dreadful images of a man tormented by the gas attack, giving revolting descriptions related to body parts, which are horrifying and visually disturbing. “And watch the white eyes writhing in his face / blood gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs”. I assume the phrase is intended to stir the readers’ emotions as powerfully and shockingly as possible, by meaningfully describing the facial appearance of a soldier, who is normally stereotyped as a handsome and virile youth, deform into an gruesomely dehumanized face, as a result of the poisonous gas he could not help inhaling.
What we observe from the poem is that Wilfred Owen has been successful in employing various literary devices, to create the ghastly and horrifying images of the war. He implicates that war is brutal and vile, and completely contradicts the idea of how “sweet and proper it is to die for one’s country”. He overall gives a very steady progression in the poem, in despite of the frightful imageries of the soldier suffering from the plaguing gas attack. In addition, Wilfred Owen makes use of irony to criticize not only Jessie Pope, but to all those people who believe “warfare” to be honoring and splendiferous tradition.
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