Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys -- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

- Wilfred Owen, 1920.

The name of the poem translates roughly from Latin to "It is sweet and noble"; the concluding lines in the poem fill us in: "to die for one's country."

An Essay on "Dulce et Decorum Est"

Wilfred Owen once wrote, "All a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true Poets must be truthful." Keeping in line with his pronouncement, Owen addresses the true nature of war in his poetry and counteracts the popular message that war is noble and glorious. In early drafts of "Dulce et Decorum Est," Owen ironically dedicates it to Jessie Pope, a writer of children’s books and conventionally patriotic poetry. Owen’s depiction of an incident between troops and poisonous gas clearly denies the tenet of resplendent patriotism spread by war recruiters and idealistic poets, such as Pope. By combining gruesome imagery and effective metaphors with the subtle nuances of the poem’s form, Wilfred Owen decries the belief of war’s glory in "Dulce et Decorum Est."

Owen initiates the reader to drastic contrast between the real and purported soldiers’ lives from the onset of the poem. Even the title is ironic. Owen quotes the beginning part of the phrase, "Dulce et decorum est / Pro patria mori," which means "It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country." There is, however, nothing that is sweet in his depiction of war. The similes "Bent double, like beggars under sacks" and "coughing like hags" give the impression that the characters are weak, dirty and poor. However, these "beggars" and "hags" are soldiers, men in their prime. If the conditions are such that strong, young men are no longer healthy or capable of standing tall, then the situation must be deplorable. By portraying the soldiers in this sordid light, Owen begins to negate the glory of war.

Owen refutation continues as his use of imagery allows the reader to not only picture, but understand the poor environmental and physical conditions. "And towards our distant rest began to trudge. / Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots / But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; / Drunk with fatigue." These men are not merely tired. They are at the end of their strength. Their feet are caked with blood, and they are barely making their way through the "sludge." The mud can only tire the soldiers more, as it weighs down their uniforms and legs. Even their uniforms have lost their militaristic crispness, as Owen describes them as "sacks." This picture is a definite contrast to the idealized marching formations of troops. In fact, Owens’s word choices in the line "But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;" give the feeling that these men have become dehumanized and degraded into an animal-like state. The use of the term "shod" evokes a connection to horses as opposed to men. The overall picture Owen creates is quite startling and dismaying.

The action rises in the second stanza as one soldier fails to don his gas mask in time. The stanza begins with dialogue, set apart by a hyphen. "Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – an ecstasy of fumbling," The meter is inconsistent at this line, possibly awaking or drawing attention from the reader as the voice does to the soldiers. The alert comes too late for that one soldier, and much of the second stanza is an extended metaphor regarding him. "As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. / In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, / He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning." This metaphor works well because it helps the reader understand the feeling of being trapped by poisonous gas. The man in the poem, literally, cannot breathe. Similarly, when submerged underwater, a person dies by taking water into the lungs. This man dies gruesomely after he inhales the gas. Owen reinforces his metaphor by rhyming "drowning" with itself, and illustrates the soldier’s powerlessness.

Another aspect of the second stanza is the imagery and word choice. The imagery used to describe the unlucky soldier is frightening. "But someone still was yelling out and stumbling / And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…." The ellipses at the end of line twelve suggests that the soldier’s "flound’ring" is drawn out. In addition, the word choice offers interesting juxtaposition to the drowning metaphor. Owen describes the soldier’s "flound’ring" as if he was "a man in fire or lime…." The notion of burning, combined with the idea of drowning, creates a terrifying situation. This is neither a glorious nor a noble death. Owen makes his main point in the third and final stanza, after describing the soldier’s corpse. Instead of only using description, Owen also addresses the reader. "If in some smothering dreams you too could pace / … / If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood / … / My friend, you would not tell with such high zest." By addressing the reader, Owens separates those who have experienced war versus those who have not. This stanza bears the validity of a testimonial and gives the gruesome imagery added impact. The narrator walks behind the wagon bearing the corpse, and he offers the reader a description. "And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, / His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin; / If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood / Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs." Owen’s description is revolting. This is not the picture many people see when they think of war. In fact, the desecration of the body continues well past the point of death, due to the nature of the gas. "Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud / Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues…." The use of the word "cud" brings to mind the slow chewing, swallowing, and regurgitating process of a cow’s eating habits. In this context, then, the reader is presented with the notion of this gas burning the flesh as it tries to escape the body it has contaminated. Owen goes from descriptive to preachy in the last quatrain in the last stanza. "My friend, you would not tell with such high zest / To children ardent for some desperate glory, / The old Lie…." Anger is apparent in these lines. The narrator obviously feels that those who propagate the idea that war is noble are doing a disservice to the youth. Looking back at the previous line "Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, –" the reader gets the idea that the soldiers are innocent. These soldiers were once the "children ardent for some desperate glory," brainwashed into the sacrifice of their lives under hideous conditions. Owen’s use of the hyphen in "Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, – " works as a dramatic pause and delineates the separation between his example and his main point.

By using such ghastly imagery and metaphors, Owens negates the idea of "Dulce et decorum est / Pro patria mori." He shows that war is brutal and ugly, and it is not "sweet and fitting to die for one’s country." In addition, Owen creates an ironic poem by maintaining the rhyme of patriotic verse but using an inconsistent meter. Through the inconsistent meter, he makes a subtle statement about the drudgery and variance of activity in warfare. It makes a direct contrast to the marching meter of patriotic verse. Owen makes use of many poetic and literary devices to attest to the horrors of war and the irresponsibility of war’s proponents.

Dulce et Decorum Est
Wilfred Owen [1893-1918]
Wilfred Owen uses vivid imagery and direct syntax to convey the brutal reality faced by an infantryman in World War I. The central fact of this poem is that it involves
human experience and suffering. The poet speaks with a particular voice because his experience demands it.

The poem is written as two sonnets, the first embodying the structure of a Petrarchan sonnet, an octave followed by a sestet, and the rhyme scheme of a Shakespearean sonnet, omitting the rhyming couplet at the end. In other words, the rhyme scheme is ababcdcd,efefgh. The second sonnet is similar to a Shakespearean sonnet in meter and
rhyme, except for the absence of a terminal couplet. gh,ijijklklmnmn.

Similes and metaphors are used in abundance, conveying in simple and direct terms the mood of the soldiers as they trudge towards a distant destination. "Bent double like old
beggars under sacks" (line 1), "coughing like hags" (line 2), "we cursed through sludge" (line 2), "drunk with fatigue" (line 7) all impart the fatigue and weak condition of the men in
battle.

Owen again uses similes to describe the gas attack. "And flound'ring like a man on fire or lime" (line 12) and, "as under a green sea I saw him drowning" (line 14) depict a man slowly dying, his lungs burnt by poison gas.

The gas shells are personified (line 7) as hooting down from the sky. This and the imagery used and thick green light" (line 13) creates a vision all the more horrible; the essence of war is conveyed. The onomatopoeia in "Gas! GAS!" (line 9) representing the release of the gas makes the image even more graphic.

Owen uses a double entendre twice in his poem. In the first, "Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs" (line 3) the word haunting also sounds like hunting. The flares light up the area, giving it a ghostly, haunted look. They also hunt the soldiers down and pursue them no matter where they turn. The flares shine on them and blind them. The second, "Dim through the misty panes and thick green light" (line 13) uses the word pane. It represents the small panes covering the eye holes in a gas-mask; the material used made everything look a little cloudy. It also represents pain in the sense of viewing the world through a pain-induced haze. This choice of words emphasizes the fear, pain and desperation Owen and the other soldiers felt at the time. Always moving, trudging through mud, constantly being shelled, gassed and illuminated by flares has made them so tired that
they can barely think.

This first sonnet describes what Owen witnessed in the war. The second sonnet is addressed to the reader. It describes his dreams of the event and what would happen
if we, the readers, had witnessed it.

The metaphor: "If in some smothering dreams" (line 17), the simile: "His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin" (line 20), and the personification of "innocent tongues" (line 24)
are all threads in this detailed tapestry. The vivid imagery (lines 17-24) of the bodies as seen in Owen's recurring dream further enforce the horror of war. In lines twenty-five to
twenty-eight, Owen states that if we had seen what he had, we would not tell our children that it is sweet and becoming to die for one's country. In saying this, Owen denies history because the willingness of people to die for one's country has started and finished countless wars.

This poem can be compared to another by Ezra Pound. The closing line "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" is echoed in Part IV of Ezra Pound's poem "Hugh Selwyn
Mauberly
." Pound also emphasizes the horror of war but his poem contrasts with Owen's in one important way; it was written for a different reason. Owen wrote his poem because he needed to write down his experience and feelings of war. As it turned out, he died a week before the armistice. Pound's is a post-war poem by a poet who didn't experience war. His poem's function is education about war and its consequences. It tells people of causes and the horrors of war, urging them to avoid its destructive power. This is apparent in this excerpt:

some in fear, learning love of slaughter;
died some pro patria, non dulce non et decor"..
walked eye-deep in hell
believing in old men's lies, then unbelieving
came home, home to a lie,
home to many deceits,
home to old lies and new infamy;

In part V of the same poem, Pound also mourns the artists, like Owen, who were swallowed up by the war:

There died a myriad,
And of the best, among them,
For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
For a botched civilization,

Charm, smiling at the good mouth,
Quick eyes gone under earth's lid,

For two gross of broken statues,
For a few thousand battered books.
The last line of Owen's poem alludes to Book III of Horace's Odes, poem II which talks of the nature of war and youth. It begins:

Angustam amice pauperiem pati
Robostus acri militia puer
Condiscat et Parthos feroces
Vexet eques metuendus hasta

To suffer in hardness with good cheer,
In sternest school of warfare bred,
Our youth should learn; let steed and spear
Make him one day the Parthian's dread;

This enforces the belief that real manliness is to die for one's country.

However, the quote from Horace in Owen's poem is quite ambiguous. Decorum comes from decus, meaning fitting; nothing is right or wrong, only what is fitting. Thus,
a soldier who is a coward is wrong but being a coward is not wrong.

Owen, who died when he was twenty-five, used the simple and most basic literary devices in his poem because he hadn't had any time to learn or develop other stylistic techniques. At that period, Latin was taught in schools, so Owen would have been familiar with Horace's text. Indeed, it was a known cliche. I don't think Owen had Horace's dual meaning of decorum in mind. Rather, he used the phrase, expressing his disgust of war and his desire that later generations will not be swept away by its tides.

It is ironic to note that when Horace, who seemed to believe in dying for one's country, experienced war, he dropped his shield and ran, so that he could live to fight another day. Owen, who didn't believe in dying for one's country, died while fighting on the front line. Horace did what he thought was fitting. Owen did not.

Also compare this poem with `The Latin One' by 10,000 Maniacs. It is an adaptation of the above poem, set to music. In true early-10,000 Maniacs style, the sombre lyrics stand in sharp contrast with the reggae-inspired new wave-ish pop music.

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