What Impression is Created of War by Owen in his poem Dulce et Decorum Est?
Decorum Est was a war poem written by Wilfred Owen, a soldier in the British
army who portays his memories and experiences of war in the poem. The poem was
set in the first War World, where
Owen depicts war as being ignoble with no presence of glory and honour. Instead of dying “glorious” and “dramatic” stereotypical deaths of a war, the men are suffering slowly and painfully. Owen creates this impression by painting vivid images of men that are ‘guttering, choking, drowning’. This triad suggests that the suffering of the soldiers is continuous and constant. The word ‘guttering’ often associated with the image of when a candle is on the verge of dying out, creates the image of the energy and will to fight in the soldiers slowly dying out. This vividly contrasts with the general expectation that soldiers being hearty with an upbeat atmosphere. The lack of glory is emphasised by the repetition of ‘drowning’, which is commonly associated with being a slow and painful death, the repetition implying that this type of death is common and often reoccurring. In addition, Owen powerfully creates the impression that war is ignoble by revealing that the man under gas attack is ‘floundering like a man in fire’, his lungs being ‘froth corrupted’. The word ‘floundering’ helps the reader conjure the image of someone drowning and making desperately gasping for air and seeking help, showing how desperately these men want to be saved from war.
Owens’s point that war is ignoble is further emphasised by the men’s ‘froth corrupted lungs’. The ironic idea is that lungs are essential to survival is the main cause of one’s death; the use of this irony accentuates the irony of the whole situation of war. It makes Owens’ point that war is ignominious powerfully clear; the difference between what war actually is and what it is expected and thought to be. This is reinforced with the connotations of ‘corrupted’, both linking to the idea that the lungs are almost a form of betrayal to the man. The word ‘corrupted’ is commonly associated to with being contaminated and spoiled, it is also often linked with corrupted government, which might a reference towards Owens bitterness and anger of the people who are responsible for the men at war. Furthermore, another effective Owen uses to convince the readers that the warfare is unheroic is through the description of the men’s conditions as ‘absences as cancer’. ‘Cancer’ is often linked with being a terminal and incurable illness that generally involves continuous suffering and a slow death. Additionally portraying the cancer as an object that is constantly following the men around.
Owen also makes use of enjambment to suggest that the death of the men spans over the course of a long period of time. The image of the soldier ‘gargling’ on his ‘froth corrupted lungs’ creates the impression that the man is gargling on his own blood. The use of the onomatopoeia appeals to the reader’s sense, it allows them to completely grasp the experience from the point of view of the persona, right down to the minute detail of how death in war really sounds like. However, Owens’ most effective method of convincing the reader that war is ignoble is through the use of irony, that is a reference towards Owens feeling of betrayal. The irony allows the reader to comprehend the irony within war, there is constant betrayal, and also it creates the impression that the idea of war is a contrast to what it actually is.
Furthermore, Owen conveys the impression that the treatment of the men after death is inhumane. The man was ‘flung’ behind the wagon. The word ‘flung’ used to describe the disposal of the almost dead man creates a very vivid image, suggesting that this human being is worthless, not even worthy of an animal and instead, described as if an inanimate object. It almost suggest that deaths during gas attacks occurs so often that even the soldiers are not desperately attempting to save him, the almost detached approach to the matter makes Owens’ point that war is inglorious painfully clear.
The poem also portrays an impression that war is inescapable. In particular, that war is physically inescapable. This is depicted through the regular alternating rhyme of the words ‘sludge’ and ‘trudge’, the ‘udge’ endings make the words sounds heavy and a lack of upbeat tone. The repetition implies that the horrific conditions of war are never ending, additionally, creating a sense that the energy is constantly being sapped out of the soldiers. However, Owens’ most effective method of convincing the reader that the war is physically inescapable is through the subtle use of rhythm within the first stanza, regular rhythm creates a sense of never ending and monotony.
In addition, Owen creates the impression that even after the war, the memories still haunt the soldiers; war is mentally inescapable. Owen emphasises his point though his depiction that the men are constantly having ‘smothering dreams’ that drags back memories from war. The description of the dreams as smothering suggests that the dreams are overwhelming, creating a sense of inescapability within the dream. The use of the word ‘smothering’ creates an image of the dreams literally suffocating the man. In addition, Owen portrays that the war has resulted in permanent damage through the use of ‘haunting flares’ that creates a vivid nightmarish image. The nightmarish image is further developed through the use of ‘haunting’ that has the connotations of being lingering, unforgettable and reoccurring. It also creates the impression that the memories and experiences of war are constantly following the man around. This is reinforced through the persona describing these memories as an occurrence ‘in all’ his ‘dreams’, which emphasises that the dreams are repetitive. Owens’ uses the points above to effectively create a sense of inescapability from war even when the men are unconscious.
Furthermore, Owen uses words that create highly vivid images, portraying it as if the dead soldiers are coming back to haunt the living men, emphasising how deeply scarred the men are. Owen uses the image of the dead soldiers that ‘plunges’ at the person, implying that the a figment of the persona’s imagination is coming back for revenge, suggesting that the persona feels guilty and powerless that he is unable to help his fellow soldiers. Owen makes his point more powerful by the use of the word ‘plunges’ that sounds very harsh, showing the man’s desperation for survival. This is accentuated by the use of enjambment within ‘before my helpless sight he plunges’, emphasising the inescapability from the situation and also creates the sense of repetition of the memory.
Moreover, Owen emphasise that war inescapability of the war that is felt by the soldiers as they ‘cursed through sludge’ towards their ‘distant rest’ by creating an image that the men are continuously swearing but still persevering on. However, the word ‘cursed’ also suggests that the soldiers are cursed of suffering and death, creating a sense of inescapability from this spell that is accentuated by the use of ‘distant rest’.
Owen conveys the sense that the war has a toll on the men, rendering them powerless and physically exhausted. He portrays the men ‘bent double like old beggars’ who are ‘knock-kneed’ but still continuing to ‘limp on’, these words undermine the image of the hearty and brave soldiers and also shows sharp contrast between the reader’s expectation of the soldiers and how they should be. Instead the men are portrayed as weak and powerless. In addition, ‘limped’ suggest a lack of pride and heroism in the men’s stride. This idea is further developed through the use of harsh consonants in ‘bent double’ to show that the men are beaten down, a sense of defeat portrays though their body language, depicting the men as old people, with lack of energy. The idea that the men are ‘knock-kneed’ uses alliteration to suggest that the men are exhausted to the point that they can barely support their body weight. The physical exhaustion is further developed through a triad of disability to describe the men being ‘deaf’, ‘lame’ and ‘blind’. The use of hyperbole and repetition with ‘all’ shows the clear absence of glory and also portrays the men as being disable. Additionally, ‘blind’ carries the connotation of being lost, implying that the men cannot find their way back in humanity.
Owen also portrays the soldiers as powerless and emphasises the helplessness of the men. The ‘misty panes’ of the gas mask that the soldiers have to wear creates a sense of distance between the persona and the person that is being poisoned. The distance creates an imaginative barrier between the persona and the men in suffering, almost as if the persona is unable to break the barrier. The use of ‘misty’ creates the impression that the persona cannot even make out what is happening clearly, let alone how he is able to aid the men. In addition, the image that the soldiers are ‘under a green sea’ presents signs of helplessness and disconnection from the persona and the situation. In addition, Owen creates irony within the situation by describing the men as ‘under a green sea’, with ‘sea’ having the connotations of being peaceful, a sharp contrast to the gas being lethal.
The poem also depicts the conditions of war as horrific. The physical dilapidation of the soldiers are emphasised as they ‘marched asleep’, ‘drunk with fatigue’, numerous men that ‘lost their boots’ and instead are ‘blood shod’. Owen uses the image of men ‘marching sleep’ to show the degree of the exhaustion of the soldiers, creating a contrast between the word’ marched’ which is commonly associated with being upbeat to the word ‘asleep’, portraying the soldiers as being zombie-like with no life left in them. This is developed through the use of short sentence that create impact. Additionally, the image of men that have ‘lost their boots’ creates pathos in the reader and also makes the situation appear worst. Instead, the men are portrayed as ‘blood-shod’, implying that the men are severely injured, almost as if death is creeping up on them. It also creates the horrid image that the ground the soldiers are marching on is saturated with blood from the deaths of other men.
Furthermore, the conditions of the war being horrific is emphasised through the men being ‘deaf to the hoot of gas shells’ that are ‘dropping slowly behind’. The use of ‘s’ sibilance makes it appear sinister and also foreshadows death. The soldiers being ‘deaf’ to the sounds of gas shells emphasises the horrid conditions of war; typically, gas shell attack are associated with death, such an event would strike immediate panic in an ordinary person. However, this has become a day-to-day affair for the men at war, acting as a constant reminder of war, suggesting the man are slowly stripped of humanity. This point is further emphasised through the gas shells ‘dropping softly’ behind, suggesting that death is slowly creeping up, creating a sinister image of behind attacked from the back- an animal like attack.
Finally, Owens’s representation that the young soldiers are being betrayed by the people back home into going to war. Owen emphasises that the “men” are war are only ‘boys’ and ‘children ardent for some desperately glory’. This creates pathos and also reveals the true age of the men at war and the innocence and naivety that is commonly possessed by young ‘boys’. The desperation of these boys to prove that they are men is portrayed in a cynical tone, suggesting these boys were misled into thinking war is glory and it also emphasises the contrast between what the boys had expected and what the reality of the situation was. This is reinforced by the degree that these boys are being misled; the word ‘ardent’ who possesses the connotations of love suggest that these young men are being misled to the point where they literally love the idea of war.
In addition, Owen expresses his bitterness and anger at the people that are misleading these young men. He makes his point that the presentation of war that is given is nothing by an ‘old lie’, telling the people that ‘if you could pace’, ‘if you could hear’ to witness the suffering of the men at war, ‘you would not tell with suck high zest’. The use of personal pronouns indicates direct address and an accusation of the reader, in addition, it also implies that the people misleading the men were not there to personally experience the suffering of the war, creating a sense of bitterness that these men that are responsible for the propaganda, such as Jesse Pope, know little or nothing about what the effect of their actions are or how much they have twisted the truth.
The bitterness of Owen is further expressed through the bitter and sarcastic tone in the word ‘friend’. The use of ‘friend’ is insincere, revealing Owens’s anger towards the people; this powerfully shows the betrayal felt by Owen, the irony that “friends” held majority of the responsibility for the soldiers fighting at war.
Moreover, Owen completely disagrees with the propaganda “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori”, which translates into “ It is sweet and honourable to die for your country’. Owen describes this propaganda as an ‘Old lie’, capitalising the word ‘Lie’ to suggest that the Lie is human and has been kept going by humans, as if the Lie has tricked the people maliciously. Additionally, the harsh consonants of the ‘d’s indicates a bitter tone. The poems also ends with the last word being ‘mori’ which means ‘dead’ suggesting that dead men were the only result of the war and also a solemn sense of finality and bluntness to it, furthermore, the poem appears to be cut of early, a reference to the lives of the soldiers being ended abruptly. Finally, the propaganda is written in Latin, implying that this lie has been continuously perpetuated over the ages. The language it is written in also is the language of the educated, majority of those only involved in the war as holders of higher ranking positions and not the soldiers that are fighting in the trenches, conveying the idea that the propaganda itself is the language of the liars.
Essentially, the poem ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ is a powerful poem which reveals the true identity and atrocities of war and the suffering endured by the soldiers who had to experience the horrid conditions of trench war on the battlefield. This poem explores the irony and contrast between the expectations of and war and the irony that all the men that signed up had enlisted out of their own free will. Owen’s poem allowed him to tell his story from the perspective of the men fighting on the frontline, a perspective of great contrast to the common expectations of war at that time- war led to uncountable damages, a sharp contrast from being “sweet and glorious”, “Dulce et decorum est”.