“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.
© Copyright 2018 Luna A Phoebe. All rights reserved.
What does Owen mean by "the pity of war"?
Owen did not want to write poetry that glamorized war, or made it seem exciting and glorious, rife with opportunities for heroism. Regarding this subject matter, he famously declared, "the poetry is in the pity". His subjects are naive young men, not conventional heroes. They cry, sleep, jest, mourn, rage, and die. Even when the war is over, the survivors must deal with the aftermath of the conflict in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder or horrific injury (see "Disabled"). Owen's poems were not deeply personal though they drew from his personal experiences; instead, they create a universal sense of what war was like and what war could do to a person. It is certainly not pretty nor something a reader would think that they would want to experience. Owen's poetry evokes pity for wasted life.
Who does the enemy soldier in "Strange Meeting" represent?
In "Strange Meeting" a soldier finds himself in hell, having a conversation with another soldier who proclaims that he is "the enemy you killed". It is not that straightforward, however, for the "enemy" soldier is commonly assumed to be more than just a dead German boy - he is actually the speaker's doppelgänger, a manifestation of another version of himself. The soldier is confronted with his double because, dead, he can longer be a witness to the truth of war. The other soldier is also seen as the speaker's poetic self; atrocity has stripped the soldier of his means of expression. Finally, other critics have referred to the dead soldier as the speaker's primal self/unconscious, from which he has been estranged while fighting in the war. This mythological journey has many literary precedents, but Owen's subterranean descent is one of the most memorable.
Who does Owen direct his fury toward in his poems?
It would be a mistake to label Owen as merely an "angry poet", but there is no doubt that many of his poems are dripping with scorn and anger, albeit couched in beautiful turns of phrase and admirable rhythm and sound. First, Owen is angry with the rulers of Europe and the military leaders for beginning, promulgating, and continuing past reason the First World War. He is angry that they waste young men, feeding them with specious patriotism and lies and caring not a whit for their loss of innocence and loss of life. He is angry that young men can so easily lie about their ages and enlist. Secondly, he is frustrated by the women back at home. They prefer to live in ignorance and placidity, not wanting to confront the ghosts of those who die in order to maintain their comfort and obliviousness. He is also deeply critical of poets and politicians who proclaim that the war is glorious; for him, "Dulce et Decorum est" is "the old Lie". He is angry at other poets - Robert Graves, Jessie Pope - who do not want him to dwell on piteous things. He is angry at the Church for promoting the war. Owen's anger makes his poems vibrant and incisive.
How do the soldiers in Owen's poems cope with the war?
Owen's soldiers do the best they can with the terrors of war they experience on a daily basis. They perform the basic functions of existence, such as eating, fighting, and sleeping, but they have to deaden themselves to the world in order to cope with such an excess of fright, despair, and confusion. They try to excise compassion, imagination, and tears as they dull their emotions. They are able to laugh, but only because it prevents them from fully contemplating what they are involved in. They are able to take some solace in their companionship, and mourn as much as they can when a friend dies. Owen's soldiers are profoundly relatable in their youth, naiveté, and earthly concerns. The soldier in "Disabled" laments his lost legs and wonders how a girl will ever find him attractive. They do not seem to focus on the big picture of why or how the war started and the complex relationships between nation-states, but rather on their individual selves and how they can deal with the tragedies they have participated in.
What was Owen's goal with his poetry?
Owen wanted to make very clear to the world the reality of war. He did not want to paint it as a glorious and heroic endeavor; rather, he wanted to show that it was terrible and senseless. He wanted to reveal the human side of the fighting, not just talk ambiguously about "casualties". He wanted to humanize the soldiers and understand their plight. He did not want to apologize for revealing the pity of war, as he explained in "Apologia Pro Poemate Meo". It was important to him to be authentic and unsparing in his imagery, tone, and message. For him poetry was not a way to excise personal demons but a universalizing medium that imparted overarching themes and realities.
What do "Disabled" and "Dulce et Decorum est" suggest about why young men went to war?
Owen believes that young men went to war for reasons that were understandable, but it was unlikely that they would be able to deal with the atrocities they would witness and commit. In "Disabled" the boy goes to war for reasons that are seemingly superficial but also achingly resonant. He was a football hero and looked for similar success on the battlefield. He also dreamed of impressing a girl. His thoughts were on the glory and the camaraderie, not the "fears / Of fear". In "Dulce et Decorum est" the young men presumably join the war because their heads are filled with "the old Lie" that it is an honor to die for one's country. At school and church boys were told that it was their civic duty to fight and that they would gain honor and glory. Owen is understanding about the soldier in "Disabled", but he is certainly derisive and angry about the lies perpetuated by the authority figures alluded to in "Dulce".
Why has Owen's poetry sometimes been called by critics "full of echoes"?
The critic Paul Norgate remarks in an article about the Soldier Poets that Owen's poetry is "full of echoes." This refers to the fact that his poetry is heavily indebted to other poets, both of years past that he read and studied, and of his own day. While not derivative, Owen is certainly a poet's poet. Owen read the Romantics and the Victorians, including Keats, Shelley, and Tennyson. He read his fellow Georgian poets like Graves, Brooke, and Sassoon. He also alludes in many of his poems to classical literature and the Bible (see "Parable of the Old Man and the Young"). Norgate observes, "in Owen's war poetry, reference and allusion has almost always an ironizing function." What he means is that Owen is using those sources to critique war itself, or to critique some aspect of the original text. Thus, the line from Horace that lends itself to the title "Dulce et Decorum est" turns Horace's laudatory phrase into something ironic and false. Owen sought to expose and elevate the truth of soldiers' existence via modes and allusions to romantic poetry.
What is the tension between message and form in "Dulce et Decorum est"?
The structure of "Dulce" features a regular meter and rhyme, with two quatrains of rhymed iambic pentameter. The pararhyme that Owen was known for does not play a major role in this poem, which sticks to the largely traditional rhyme scheme. The message of Owen's poem, however, is not traditional. The glory of war is not emphasized; rather, it is the horror and irrationality of war that Owen aims to impart. As Andrew Williamson writes, "this verse form seems to stand at odds with the pandemonium that Owen's words describe." However, Owen's form isn't entirely traditional, for at certain points he breaks from it in simple yet impactful ways. This reinforces the instability of the action and boosts his message that war is terrible and incomprehensible.
How does Owen portray death in his poems?
It is not surprising that a war poet would depict death in his poems. For Owen, though, death is not necessarily a heroic event. It is an opportunity to come face-to-face with one's self and the opportunities one will now miss ("Strange Meeting"). It is painful, gross, ignoble, lingering ("Dulce et Decorum est"). It is absurd ("Apologia Pro Poemate Meo"). It is something that those on the home front want to ignore ("The Kind Ghosts"). It is a sudden and insensible end to a life, and a waste of those lived years ("Futility"). It is something that is maybe even preferable to a life after the war that is far less fulfilling than expected ("Disabled"). It is something that lacks ritual or glory or comfort or meaning ("Anthem for Doomed Youth"). It is something so commonplace that it is not worth shedding tears for ("Insensibility"). And finally, it is something done to young men by old men in order to play out their global games of pride and domination ("Parable of the Old Man and the Young").
How did Owen's life experiences influence his poetry?
That Owen's poetry derives from his own battlefield experiences is well-known to critics and readers alike. He wrote to his mother of his experiences and discussed what he had seen and done in the war with fellow soldier-poet Siegfried Sassoon. "Dulce et Decorum est", for example, was based on a poison gas attack that Owen himself witnessed. His poetry also reflected other elements of his life, however. His religious upbringing manifests itself in his ruminations on the dangerous role of the Church in the war. His discomfort with women and the hint of his homosexuality can be seen in his poems excoriating women and lauding the relationships between men. His humanitarian leanings and compassion for the downtrodden can be observed in his deep sympathy for young, imperiled soldiers.