Wilfred Owens, a former soldier in WW1, defies the perception of war in his poem ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ by unraveling a sample of the horror that comes from warfare, on and off the battlefield, to denounce the ‘old lie’, that is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country. Owens’s poem contrasts the expectations and assumptions held by the authorities and the public of soldiers, by describing the disheveled conditions in which the enlisted soldiers are in.
He describes the gruesome sufferings of soldiers when experiencing a gas attack. Owens then proceeds to express the long-term psychological consequences of war shown in recurring nightmares, then delves into a more detailed, and graphic imagery of the effects of the gas attack of an unnamed soldier to morally support his claims, that there is neither nobility in war, nor honor in fighting for your country. But instead, there is tragedy, futility, and waste of life.
Throughout the poem, Owen contradicts the title of his poem ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, which translates to how glorious it is to die for one’s country, by elaborating on the harsh truth of war through his clever use of irony and simile. “Bent double, like old beggars under sacks “This conjures images of poverty and destitution while evoking the difficulties of the soldier’s movement through the sludges and degradation war brings. ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ is a quotation Wilfred Owens derived from an ancient Roman poet, Horace. He and the English held the same belief that it was sweet to die for one’s country, which is ironic because nothing about Owens’s poem glorifies anything about warfare. But instead bombards the reader with how disturbing and graphic war experiences and subconsciously circles back to how tragic, futile, and a waste of life war is.
Furthermore, Owen’s description of an event regarding a gas attack highlights another type of tragedy soldiers would undergo. “Gas! GAS! Quick boys!-“The author capitalizes the second “GAS” to suggest the urgency to the reader. “As under a green sea, I saw him drowning” The author’s use of personal pronoun indicates to the audience that he is experiencing it firsthand, which allows the readers to sympathize with the author more. All these excruciating deaths Owens had witnessed only solidifies why the reason for war is futile and a waste of life.
Additionally, the author succeeds in delving into the long-term psychological consequences of war painted in the form of recurring nightmares. “In all my dreams before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, getting, choking, drowning” The poet is half talking in the present and half in the past, evoking how slowly and painfully the man died Infront of him and also his post-traumatic flashbacks to this moment. His use of ‘plunges’ reiterates the idea of drowning and uses the present particle verbs to emphasize how very evident it is in the persona’s mind but also emphasizes the anguish of the gassed soldiers. Owen’s description of visual imagery imprints the image of his comrade in his readers’ minds, forcing them to ponder over the uselessness of war.
Moreso, the composer, uses detailed imagery of the effects of the gas on the unnamed soldier to further morally support his scathing denunciation of those who advocate the nobility of war. Owens establishes this through alliteration and simile. “And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,” this provides an evocates to the audience. “His hanging face, like a devil sick of sin” the simile is iron because sin to a devil is the be all and end all of existence. If a devil becomes sick of sins, he’s effectively questioning everything that has been so far seen as value.