“Dulce et Decorum est” - Essay
A poem ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ by Wilfred Owen conveys the horrors of war and uncovers the hidden truths of the past century. This essay will explore on the poet’s ability to create effective imagery; his usage of expressive language and poetic techniques and how reading this poem leaves the reader to experience feelings such as pity. I consider Wilfred Owen a good poet from the very star as he shows his ability to captivate the reader into his story by applying and engaging heading.
‘Dulce et Decorum est’ reveals the hidden truths of the past century’s war, by uncovering the cruelties the soldiers were left to face. The poem is authentic as Wilfred Owen was ‘there’ to experience the atrocities of the first world war. The poem begins with a glimpse at the soldiers’ living conditions and their lifestyle which provided them with untimely age. The poet then describes a dreadful gas attack that follows along with its horrid outcomes. The Poem resumes Eventually, the poet confirms the present propaganda to be “the old lie” - as the glory of war is a myth. Reading this poem, made me realize my own luck and circumstance: I have been fortunate to have avoided the brutalities brought by world war one. The appalling conditions the soldiers were left to face made me appreciate that my own life has not been disturbed. I am devastated by the fact that even today, many innocent people are exposed to such barbarities.
The poem is started unexpectedly: in the middle of action. As if half-way through an incomplete event that has already started. The soldiers are trying to escape the enemy’s fire but their terrible health conditions dismiss them from strong and immediate actions.
“Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, knock-kneed, coughing like hags”
This statement provides the reader with an unexpected view and appearance of soldiers, as the army cadets are usually pictures as strong, healthy and brawny looking men. The poet erases this false image of an athletic soldier, replacing it with a description of a ‘beggar’ and a ‘hag’. This means that the war had caused the soldiers to age prematurely. The following extract from the poem’s first part hints that the poet was present throughout the events:
“we cursed through sludge,”
In this quotation, the poet uses his ability to create effective imagery and provides the reader with a feeling of pity for the soldiers. Soldiers are exhausted from their unhealthy lifestyle. This prevents excuses their slow pace. The following sentence reveals a glimpse at the soldier‘s actions.
“And towards our distant rest begun to trudge”
The finale onomatopoeia of ‘trudge’ is a description of the soldiers walking through the sludges. They ‘trudged’ which suggest their slow pace and difficulty of movement. This means, that they limped and dragged themselves through these terrible conditions towards a ‘distant’ rest that was still far away, nowhere to be seen. In this statement the poet conveys the horrors of war by showing the reader the soldier’s sufferings. This made me feel awful and I doubled my sympathy towards the unfair fate of soldiers.
Wilfred Owen varies his language and choice of techniques throughout the poem to the point when every word gains a carefully planned meaning and every sentence has a purpose. The poet never fails to shock the reader with his thorough description of the poem’s events.
“And floundering like a man in fire and lime…”
Floundering could suggest no control and panic, while the finagling ellipsis could mean that the following events are too personal or terrible for the poet to mention. ’Like a man on fire’ is a simile that describes the pains of the dying man. This sentence tells the reader that the man is out of control and his behaviour could be compared to a man’s in fire. The poet made the reader experience pity towards the man by the use of his expressive language. This situation already made me realise(at least in a small degree) how unfairly the soldiers had been persuaded into joining the army without the knowledge of what they were to come across. The poet had been haunted by his past and could not break free of what has happened to him.
“In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,”
The first part of thus statement suggests how the poet has been haunted by the dreadful life-taken images, while the following phrases uncovers his helplessness. The poet is trying to communicate his never-ending nightmare, as he has to face it every night , helplessly. The poet has used an effective example of imagery as reading this part of the poem the reader’s mind subconsciously creates a replica of this scene. I feel sorry for Wilfred Owen, because he was forced to accept his fait: being doomed to a never ending slideshow of horror. Throughout the poem, the poet develops our feelings of sympathy, especially through his description of the soldiers.
The poet was convinced and hopeful that nothing he experienced during world war one himself, would occur to his readers in any other circumstances. That is why, in the next example he shows his disbelief by saying that such things could only affect the reader in some subconscious vision. I consider this example as one of the most effective in the poem, as its context shocks the reader.
“If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,”
The first technique used by the poet is alliteration of ’some smothering dreams’; this emphasise of the letter ‘s’ captures the reader’s attention and makes it easier to remember. The word choice of ‘dreams’ hints the poet’s disbelief in something as such happening to any of the readers in reality. The word ‘flung’ could be counted as synonymous to treatment of something useless. These techniques all have an imaginative effect on the reader, as the spectator is subconsciously imagining what is taking place. All this suggests how meaninglessly and disrespectfully the bodies of the dead soldiers were treated. This extract is another example of the poet’s ability to create effective imagery by the use of imaginative language as reading this, in my head I saw what the poet was talking about. I was shocked at the disrespect paid to the dead, though my shock did not mix with blame towards the innocent soldiers.
Wilfred Owen knew very much about his fellow soldiers, including their age and experiences. And despite their difference in age, they shared their feeling with one another. That is why the poet uses sarcasm and sorrow in this next quotation.
“My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,”
The poet is being ironic, when he uses the address: ‘my friend’. By this, he is addressing the ‘higher ups’ and the government who were the reason for the death of so many, while thy could prevent it. The word ‘zest’ represents engagement and vigour with which the soldiers had been persuaded into the army. The word ‘children’ explains the age of the soldiers, roughly: the boys were not even men, but children. These boys had been desperate for the ‘false’ glory - ardent for it! - but they had not been informed that there was no glory in war. It is easy to detect the poet’s opinion from the study of this extract, and from what can be studied is his detest towards the ‘people of power’ as his sorrow.
Wilfred Owen feels a variation of negative emotions towards his subject, such as helplessness and hurt. Evidence to suspect that, will be the following quote.
“Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,”
The meaning of the word ‘vile’ is synonymous to villain; this negative description was addressed to describe the wounds received by the soldiers, as they were vile and incurable. This sentence contains two metaphors: ’incurable sores’ and ’innocent tongues’ from which both were used to describe the horrible experiences of innocent soldiers and their wounds that would not heal. This quote is a proof that the poet had conveyed the horrors of war through imaginative techniques and expressive language. Wilfred Owen captured my attention by the word choice he applied in this part of the poem.
Wilfred Owen had felt the need to write such a poem, because, as he went through life, he found himself stuck in the moment of horror, trouble and weakness. He discovered that his only chance to start living again would be creation of a poem that would let go of his emotions. Another reason the poet had for the creation of this poem was justice and hope he wished to inspire in the reader. Both ways were working towards his own relief. The following quotation is the last sentence of the poem and a more detailed explanation of the poem’s title.
“The old Lie: Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori”
The Capitalized letter ’L’ in the word ’lie’ is used to emphasise the poet’s opinion: his opposition to the old lie. Poet’s belief is clear: it is not sweet and right to die for one’s country. Wilfred Owen’s use of vocabulary and language, had made it easier for the reader to grasp the meaning behind his reflections. In this poem the poet is referring to the reader by his ironic address ‘my friend’, though in his address he means to affect the ’powerful’ part of the audience. The last sentence of the poem is definitely my favourite, as its meaning was the whole reason for Owen’s writing this poem; almost as if the whole poem has been written only for this last statement of truth. Wilfred Owen’s ability to use effective language in order to absorb the reader has been applied very correctly as I felt present for the whole time.
“Dulce et Decorum est” is a poem that made me realise my own amount of luck next to people such as the soldiers’. Reading this poem, had made me appreciate that my own life or the lives of my loved one’s had not been burdened with the terror of war. In this poem, the poet uncovered the hidden truths of the past century and he conveyed the horrors of was through the use of imaginative language and effective imagery. Studying this poem, I continuously developed and began to share opinions and emotions with the poet on the cruel treatment and indifference of the government. After multiple reflections, I began to detect a tint of irony within the title of the poem; “Dulce et decorum est” in translation from Latin gains a meaning “It is sweet and right”, and this sentence is only completes by the end of the poem, with an addition of poet’s conviction, based on experience, turning out as the irony and a consideration of ’a lie’ of “It is sweet and right to die for one’s country”. I predict that Wilfred Owen did not place his full meaning in the poem’s title, because he wanted the reader to decide for oneself whether they would agree with him in the end. I believe that the poet’s intentions in understanding of his poem were taken in by most of the readers, and I am positively sure that each of them felt the same variation of feelings throughout it.
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Dulce et Decorum Est surprises from the start. The opening lines contain words such as bent, beggars, sacks, hags, cursed, haunting, trudge - this is the language of poverty and deprivation, hardly suitable for the glory of the battlefield where heroes are to be found.
Yet this is precisely what the poet intended. Figurative language fights with literal. This is no ordinary march. Most seem asleep, from exhaustion no doubt, suggesting that a dream world isn't too far distant, unlike the resting place they're headed for.
The second stanza's first line brings the reader directly in touch with the unfolding drama and, although these are soldiers, men (as well as old beggars and hags), the simple word boys seems to put everything into perspective.
Note the internal line by line assonance, for example:
And again with drunk/fumbling/clumsy/stumbling/under/plunges/guttering/flung/corrupted/lungs/cud/dulce,throughout the poem this is almost like the background rumbling of distant explosions.
Alliteration occurs in lines five, eleven and nineteen:
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But someonestill was yelling out and stumbling,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
The iambic pentameter is dominant but occasional lines break with this rhythm - line sixteen in the third stanza - reflecting the strangeness of the situation.
outstripped Five-Nines refers to the type of shell being used, 5.9 calibre, which were not up to the speed of other shells used.
like a devil's sick of sin is a right in your face simile, whatever you think a devil looks like, one that has gone beyond the pale.
bitter as the cud is a term used in farming, where cud is the half digested food of ruminants which is chewed again to make it digestible. The suggestion is that the blood coming up from the lungs has to be chewed by the poor dying man. A sobering image. Note the first line of Owen's poem Anthem For Doomed Youth - What passing bells for these who die as cattle?
zest means enthusiasm.
ardent means passionate
The latin ending is perhaps a gentle reminder of many a slogan, many a motto and maxim held dear by clubs, military units, teams and families as an expression of belief and ideals. These are often displayed in latin which was of course the language of the ancient Romans.