Dulce et Decorum Est
by Wilfred Owen
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 gas-shells dropping softly 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.
Summary of Dulce et Decorum Est
- Popularity: “Dulce et Decorum Est” is a famous anti-war poem by Wilfred Owen. It was first published in 1920. The poem presents strong criticism of the war and its aftermath. The poet details the horrors of the gas warfare during WW1, and the miserable plight of the soldiers caught in it makes up the major point of the argument of the poet. Since its publication, the poem has won immense popularity on account of the presentation of the brutalities of war.
- “Dulce et Decorum Est” as Criticism on War: As this poem is written in the context of war, the poet describes the gruesome experiences of war. As a soldier in the WW1, he experienced the sufferings of the war and its pains. By depicting the death and destruction caused by the war, he declares that war is not a heroic deed. Many innocent souls are lost for the sake of their country. He considers war as a devil’s work that brings violence, destruction, and ruination to the people. In the first part of the poem, he tells about a specific war-related past event. The tired, limping and wounded soldiers are returning from the battlefield when there is a gas attack, and the speaker observes the helplessness of coughing, choking and dying soldiers. He seems immoveable from the incident when he watches a soldier succumbing to the deadly gas. Later, this image of the floundering soldier constantly haunts him. The second part of the poem further illustrates the pathetic and frenzied events of the war. What enchants the readers is the lifelike images of traumatic incidents demonstrated by the poet to explain the inhumanity of war.
- Major Themes of “Dulce et Decorum Est”: Death and horrors of war are the major themes of the poem. The poet incorporates these themes with the help of appropriate imagery. He says that those who have lived these miserable moments will never glorify war. He negates the glorious description of the war by presenting the brutal graphic realities of the battlefield. These themes are foregrounded in powerful phrases such as “like old beggars under sacks,” “haunting flares”, “blood-shod”,” guttering, choking, drowning” just to show that the poem depicts this universal thematic idea.
Analysis of the Literary Devices used in “Dulce et Decorum Est”
Literary devices are used to bring richness and clarity to the texts. The writers and poets use them to make their texts appealing and meaningful. Owen has also employed some literary devices in this poem to present the mind-disturbing pictures of the war. The analysis of some of the literary devices used in this poem has been discussed below.
- Alliteration: Alliteration is the use of the same consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /s/ in “But someone still was yelling out and stumbling” and /w/ sound in “And watch the white eyes writhing in his face.
- Simile: Simile is a figure of speech used to compare something with something else to describe an object or a person. Owen has used many self-explanatory similes in this poem such as,” Bent double, like old beggars under sacks”, “Knock-kneed, coughing like hags”, “like a man in fire or lime” and “like a devil’s sick of sin.”
- Metaphor: There is only one metaphor used in this poem. It is used in line seven of the poem, “Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots.” It presents the physical state of the men.
- Onomatopoeia: It refers to the words which imitate the natural sounds of the things. Owen has used the words “hoot”, “knock” and “gargling” in the poem to imitate sounds.
- Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the /r/ sound in “Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs.”
- Synecdoche: It is a figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole. For example, the word “sight” in the second stanza represents the speaker.
- Imagery: Imagery is used to make the readers perceive things with their five senses. Owen has successfully used a lot of imageries to create a horrific picture of war, pain, and The following phrases show the effective use of imagery as he says, “old beggars under sacks”, “had lost their boots”, “His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin” and “white eyes.”
- Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as /o/ sound in “Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues.”
The careful glimpse of literary analysis shows that the poet has skilfully projected his war experiences under cover of these literary devices. The appropriate use of the devices has made this poem a thought-provoking piece for the readers.
Analysis of Poetic Devices in “Dulce et Decorum Est”
Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.
- Structure: The poem is a combination of two sonnets. In the first sonnet, the poet describes his experiences of the war whereas in the second sonnet he becomes analytic and attempts to correct the outlook of others about the war.
- Sonnet: A sonnet is a fourteen-line poem in which a single idea floats throughout the poem.
- Rhyme scheme: The whole poem follows the ABAB, CDCD rhyme scheme in iambic pentameter.
- Iambic Pentameter: It is a type of meter consisting of five iambs. The poem comprises iambic pentameter such as, “Bent Double, like old beggars under ”
Quotes to be Used
- These lines can be used when describing the awful situation of the people facing droughts, illness or diseases.
“Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge.”
- These lines can be used when narrating any personal experience of pain or depression.
“Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.”