Through vivid imagery and compelling metaphors “Dulce et Decorum Est” gives the reader the exact feeling the author wanted. The poem is an anti-war poem by Wilfred Owen and makes great use of these devices.
This poem is very effective because of its excellent manipulation of the mechanical and emotional parts of poetry. Owen’s use of exact diction and vivid figurative language emphasizes his point, showing that war is terrible and devastating. Furthermore, the utilization of extremely graphic imagery adds even more to his argument. Through the effective use of all three of these tools, this poem conveys a strong meaning and persuasive argument. To have a better understanding of the poem, it is important to understand some of Wilfred Owens history.
Owen enlisted in the Artists Rifles on October 21st 1915. He was eventually drafted to France in 1917. The birth of Owens imagery style used in his more famous poems was during his stay at Craiglockhart War Hospital, where he met Siegfried Sassoon (another great war poet). Owens new style (the one that was used in “Dulce et Decorum Est”) embelished many poems between August 1917 and Septermber 1918 (Spartacus Internet Encyclopedia). On November 4, 1918, Wilfred Owed was killed by enemy machine gun fire as he tried to get his company across the Sambre Canal (Lane 167).
The poem tells of a trip that Owen and his platoon of exhausted soldiers had while they were painfully making their way back to base after a harrowing time at the battle front when a gas shell was fired at them. As a result of this, a soldier in his platoon was fatally gassed. Owen has arranged the poem in three sections, each dealing with a different stage of this experience. He makes use of a simple, regular rhyme scheme, which makes the poem sound almost like a child’s poem or nursery rhyme.
This technique serves to emphasize the solemn and serious content. In stanza one, Owen describes the soldiers as they set off towards the army base from the front line. The simile “Bent double, like old beggars”(1) not only says that they are tired, but that they are so tired they have been brought down to the level of beggars who have not slept in a bed for weeks on end. Also, the simile “coughing like hags”(2) helps to depict the soldiers poor health and depressed state of mind. Owen makes us picture the soldiers as ill, disturbed and utterly exhausted. He shows that this is not the government-projected stereotype of a soldier, in gleaming boots and crisp new uniform, but is the true illustration of the poor mental and physical state of the soldiers.
By telling us that many of the platoon are barefoot, Owen gives us an idea of how awful the soldiers journey already is; it then gets even worse. Owen tells us that the soldiers, although they must have been trained, still do not notice the deadly mustard gas shells being fired at them from behind; such is the extent of their exhaustion. In the second stanza, the pace of the narrative is increased. Owen describes the flurry of activity that takes place when it dawns on the platoon that they have the hazard of gas to deal with. He begins by writing “Gas, GAS!”(9), which instantly grabs the attention of the reader, and by writing it first in lower case and then again in capitals, he gives an impression of the rising alarm in the solders.
Owen uses the expression “an ecstasy of fumbling”(9) to describe the soldiers trying desperately to get out and fit their gas masks, the word “ecstasy”(9) being used to give us the impression of the complete, all consuming panic which the soldiers feel when they notice the gas shells. This is effective because it is a complete contrast to the image of the soldiers before the shell, at first they were trudging on, “drunk with fatigue”(7), but are suddenly forced into an “ecstasy of fumbling”(9) by the falling of the gas shell. The description of the gas masks as “clumsy helmets”(10) tells us that the equipment given to the soldiers is heavy and substandard. Owen then describes one member of the platoon who was not quick enough in fitting his mask, and is now yelling out in pain and stumbling around.
Owen describes himself as looking at the man “as under a green sea”(14). The dying man is said to be “drowning”(14). By the use of this word we are reminded that the mustard gas from the shells corrodes the lungs, so not only is he being deprived of air, he is drowning in his own bodily fluids. Stanza 3 goes on to describe how the ghastly picture of the poor soldier who is flung in to a wagon and trundled back to base haunts him. Owen and his comrades know that there is no hope for their friends survival, but despite the fact that they would be fleeing the hazard of the gas, their sense of humanity and mutual concern will not allow them to abandon their comrade.
They load his body into a lorry and walk along, unable to stop his suffering, showing us that the individual soldiers are caring, but have been manipulated. The vocabulary and imagery used by Owen in this stanza is deliberately shocking to force his readers to react. For example, the simile “obscene as cancer”(23) is effective, because everybody fears cancer; it is a horrible way to die, much as war is in Owens opinion. Also, the mentioning “Of vile incurable sores on innocent tongues”(24) not only tells the reader how the troops will never forget the experience, but also how they are frightening tales, ones that the troops will never be able to tell without remembering the extremely painful experience. The poem’s use of excellent diction helps to more clearly define what the author is saying.
Words like guttering, choking, and drowning not only show how the man is suffering, but that he is in terrible pain that no human being should endure. Other words like writhing and froth-corrupted say precisely how the man is being tormented. Moreover, the phrase “blood-shod”(6) shows how the troops have been on their feet for days, never resting. Also, the fact that the gassed man was “flung” into the wagon reveals the urgency and occupation with fighting. The only thing they can do is toss him into a wagon.
The fact one word can add to the meaning so much shows how the diction of this poem adds greatly to its effectiveness. The most important means of developing the effectiveness of the poem is the graphic imagery. They evoke such emotions so as to cause people to become sick. The images can draw such pictures that no other poetic means can, such as in line twenty-two: “Come gargling from the froth corrupted lungs”(22). This can be disturbing to think about. It shows troops being brutally slaughtered very vividly, evoking images in the reader’s mind.
In the beginning of the poem the troops were portrayed as “drunk with fatigue”(7). With this you can almost imagine large numbers of people dragging their boots through the mud, tripping over their own shadow. Anyone wanting to fight in a war would become nervous at the image of himself running out into a blood bath. The graphic images displayed here are profoundly affecting and can never be forgotten.
The poem ties it all together in the last few lines. In Latin, the phrase “Dulce et decorum est pro partria mori” means, “It is sweet and becoming to die for one’s country.” Owen calls this a lie by using good diction, vivid comparisons, and graphic images to have the reader feel disgusted at what war is capable of. This poem is extremely effective as an anti-war poem, making war seem absolutely horrid and revolting, just as the author wanted it to. Bibliography Lane, Arthur E. An Adequate Response.
Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1972. Owen, Wilfred. “Dulce et Decorum Est”. Literature and the Writing Process. Fifth ed. Ed.
Elizabeth McMahhan, et al. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999. 582-583. “Owen, Wilfred,” Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2000. http://encarta.msn.com “Wilfred Owen.” Spartacus Internet Encyclopedia 2000. http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Jowen.htm