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

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
." 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.