Many poems are concerned with a sense of loss or deep sadness at a particular event. The poem ‘Dulce et decorum est’ by Wilfred Owen deals with both loss and deep sadness. Immediately in the poem there are very strong images being used throughout the poem and this shows the sadness from the very start. Figures of speech are used to bring out these images and make them stronger.
The meaning of ‘Dulce et decorum est’ is –“it is sweet and honourable”. This makes you think that it will be a poem encouraging war, but as soon as you start to read the poem you realise that it is the complete opposite. The simile’s that are used in the first verse give strong images such as:
“like old beggars under sacks” and “coughing like hags”. These are used to describe the way in which the soldiers were walking. They show that they were extremely tired and ill. In the first verse it gives you an idea of the poor conditions the soldiers had to cope with using statements like:
“many had lost their boots
but limped on, blood-shod”.
The first verse is said with a slow rhythm, which greatly emphasises the sadness of what is being said and makes the horrific images stand out.
In the second verse the rhythm speeds up as the situation changes giving a more frantic feel. The images are still all there though from lines like:
“Gas! Gas! Quick, boys” – an ecstasy of fumbling” and
“As under a green sea, I saw him drowning”. St the start of this verse there is someone warning of gas and is calling the soldiers “boys” adding to the horrific pictures as it shows that they are young, then going on to tell of the death of one of these “boys” when they he can’t get his mask on. Powerful images are used to describe this event like: “He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning”. This line has great effect as it gives you the picture of someone drowning but you know there is only gas so the words “choking” and “drowning” show that it is the effect the gas is having on him and he is having a slow, painful death. This quote uses alliteration and onomatopoeia in the last few words, which adds to the effect of the already powerful words.
Wilfred Owen keeps using words like “we” or “I” showing that these things happened to him personally and such horrible ways of dying and suffering really happened to these soldiers he talks of. Even small words like these are very important in the poem as they show the real-ness of the events.
The third verse is the longest of the three and this moves onto talking to the civilians, the people at home or even the generals, basically the people who sent them to fight, as it sounds quite angry. To show this he uses phrases such as:
“If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we fling him in.”
He keeps starting of a line with “if you could” as if he’s saying, you all say that war is great but look what it does to us. It talks of what the man looks like in the wagon and it is quite tragic as you realise how many men actually died like this or in a similarly horrible way.
This verse greatly emphasises the feeling of loss that people suffered and even though Wilfred Owen is only talking about one man you know that there were many others just like him.
Two of the most effective similes that are used to describe the dead man in the verse are:
“His hanging face, like a devils sick of sin” and
“Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
These two alone present a very strong picture in your mind of what the man looks like just lying there and within all the other images surrounding thee lines there is a very clear and horrid image of one man’s horrific death knowing there were many others like it.
The third verse ends in a very simple yet extremely effective way:
“The old lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.”
The words “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” mean – it is sweet and honourable to die for one’s country. These two lines sum up the whole poem saying that this phrase is a complete lie and there is no way this could be true after what he had seen and been through.
Wilfred Owen has put across to the reader the emotions of loss and deep sadness in very effective ways using figures of speech combined with strong imagery to describe the horrific-ness of war. The change of rhythm is also very effective as it conveys different emotions in different situations as they change. The poem deals with very strong emotions and for Wilfred Owen to write such powerful poems his emotions must have been even stronger.
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