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.
Summary of Dulce Et Decorum Est :
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.
Tone of the Poem: The poem is anti-war in tone. The narrator describes the whole incident in first person manner thereby putting himself among the helpless soldiers so as to give the poem a real picture. From the beginning of the poem, the soldiers are shown as lame deaf, blind etc. then it narrates the death incident. It is followed by Owen’s universal message to the warmonger. In all these incidents, we don’t have any glorious things to see. This is the reality of any war. It only causes destruction of youths and their dreams. Concerning invocation and request and the message of reality, the poem is a parody about war and its delusions. Owen’s intention is only to present the reality of war and thereby mocking the ambiguous sentimentality about war.
Theme of the Poem:
The principle theme of the poem is ‘war’ and the ‘destruction it causes’, informally we can say that- it is about the war and “the pity of war.” It is an anti-war poem where Owen mocks the war mongers who promulgate the young men to join the warfare. Thematically, the poem paints the acute reality of the battlefield where the soldiers are helpless to die for their country. It vividly projects the soldiers who are victims of chemical gas. The boys are bent over like old baggers carrying sacks and they curse and cough through the mud until the “haunting flares” tell them it is time to limp with bloody feet as they had lost their boots. All are lame and blind, extremely tired and deaf to the shells landing behind them. Suddenly the poem focuses on the gas and the consequence of the death of the soldiers. The principle target of Owen is to send message to the war mongers not to tell any glorious words about war.
Finally, we can say that Owen has realistically portrayed the horrid picture of the battlefield. In other poems also Owen has portrayed the futility of war. In a global world as we live in, Owen’s poetic oeuvre is typically significant which can bring a perfect world of peace and out of destruction. This poem also projects the horror of the battlefield as well as the mental pain of the soldiers Owen directly hits the romantic illusion of war and attacks the warmongers. The Latin phrase, which was used at the time of the World War I, is proved to be useless. Owen requests people not to tell illusions to the children. It is universal in tone to request not to believe any glory of war.
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