Wilfred Owen served as a Lieutenant in the British army during the First World War, ironically he was killed shortly before the Armistice was signed.
Wilfred Owen’s Dulce Et Decorum Est is a compelling poem trying to depict the helplessness of soldiers caught in a Gas Chamber. The poet describes the general condition of the men involved in the war, their condition after a shock of a gas attack and then describing the effect of it on someone who lives through it.
First stanza – The soldiers are physically and mentally exhausted, using a simile the soldiers are compared to beggars carrying their bags. Cursing their plight, the soldiers are sick and crippled. The battle is about to end for the day, so the soldiers turn and begin to slog through the mud, walking back to the trenches. Many of the men walked sleeping. Some of the soldiers had lost their boots; however, they hobbled on with bloody feet. Everyone was crippled; without sight; exhausted; and deaf to the bombs that were dropped behind them.
Second stanza – It begins with the narrator who is a part of the experience. He too is a soldier. During World War I, the Germans began chemical warfare by dropping mustard gas on their enemies. It was able to get it on his face immediately. The gas is now detected. Someone tells them to get their masks on. The soldier fumbles around fitting his mask on just before the gas gets to him. Unfortunately, someone does not get his mask on and inhales the gas. His body is immediately devastated by the gas. He begins to yell, stumble, and struggle as if he is on fire.
Fourth stanza – In his dream, he sees again the wagon that the man’s body was thrown into. He sees his face, and his eyes rolled back in his head. His blood gurgled from his failed lungs. His lungs might have been cancerous. The body becomes a mass of blisters and horrid sores. Here is what the poem has been building toward: “It is sweet and right to die for one’s country.” which is directly mocked by the poet. Owens’s disdain for the war and the horrors that the soldiers experienced becomes evident throughout his poetry.
The poem is one of Owen’s anti-war poems during the First World War. It’s a combination of two sonnets, although the sparring between the two is irregular. It resembles a French ballad structure. The broken sonnet form and the irregularity reinforce the feeling of the other worldliness; in the first sonnet, Owen narrates the action in the present, while the second he looks upon the scene, almost dazed, contemplative. The rhyme scheme is traditional, and each stanza features two quatrains of rhymed iambic pentameter with several spondaic substitutions.
“Dulce” is a message of sorts to a poet and civilian propagandist, Jessie Pope, who had written several jingoistic and enthusiastic poems exhorting young men to join the war effort. She is the “friend” Owen mentions near the end of his poem. The first draft was dedicated to her, with a later revision being attested to “a certain poetess”. However, the final draft eliminated a specific reference to her, as Owen wanted his words to apply to a larger audience.
The title of the poem, which also appears in the last two lines, is Latin for, “It is an honour to die for one’s country” – The line derives from the Roman poet Horace’s Ode 3.2. the phrase was commonly used during the World War I era, and thus would have resonated with Owen’s readers. It was also inscribed on the wall of the chapel of the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst in 1913.
To read about the tone and theme of the poem, go to Page 2,
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