What Impression is Created of War in Owen’s Poem Dulce et Decorum Est?
MAIN POINT 1: The war is ignoble and remorseless.
1. The soldiers are treated inhumanly and with cruel brutality.
Evidence: “All went lame”, “The wagon that we flung him in”
Explanation: The government, recruiters and some of the people back at home do not seem to care about the way these soldiers are treated. They are used as nothing more than animals.
- “All went lame” is a phrase generally employed to describe animals.
- “The wagon that we flung him in” shows that the soldiers may not have had a choice, and were simply forced to go to war. They were not treated as people, but more as objects. In addition, there is alliteration in ‘w’s, which creates an innocent and weak image of a soldier.
2. Many soldiers experience a slow and painful death, either by being gassed, shot at, etc.
Evidence: “guttering, choking, drowning”, “floundering like a man in fire”
- “guttering, choking, drowning” is a very powerful triad used to emphasize the suffering and the fact that war is immoral (ignoble). It symbolizes the never-ending length of time that it takes for a soldier to die. In addition, it resembles the “life” of a candle, as the soldier is like a lit candle, more specifically the flickering flame. This soldier desperately tries to remain in this ongoing battle, where the goal is to survive.
- “floundering like a man in fire”, a simile, shows that the dying soldier is struggling to survive. Floundering is a term generally employed to describe fish out of water. The ‘f’ sounds in this line are repeated- through alliteration, Owen has given emphasis to the atrocious side of war.
3. The soldiers don’t have access to hospitals, doctors or even basic medicine; they are ill, injured and unhealthy because of this.
Evidence: “bent-double, like old beggars under sacks”, “limped”, “blood shod”, “deaf even to the hoots”
- “Bent-double, like old beggars under sacks” suggests that the soldiers have rapidly become older and are pressurized immensely mainly because of the constant tension, injury, and stress of the trenches. This line also creates pathos and sympathy, as there is a significant perception that all of their pride has been lost.
- “Like old beggars under sacks” illustrates the contrast between the cliché of strong, young and manly soldiers, and another image: weakened, hopeless and exhausted soldiers.
- “Limped” implies that the soldiers are worn out, almost pliable and elastic. It contradicts the line above, where armies are shown to be marching. They are injured, so therefore it is difficult for them to continue fighting.
- “Blood shod” reveals that the soldiers were not equipped with proper material, as they are battling bare-footed. The blood is a metaphor for the shoes that they are “wearing”: they are in fact wearing ‘shoes’ of blood.
- “Deaf even to the hoots” shows that the soldiers have heard the sounds of “gas shells dropping softly behind” indefinitely, and that they have gotten used to this deafening sound and are not able to hear anything anymore. With the use of hyperbole, or exaggeration, Owen has achieved in creating a sense of pathos: the reader feels sympathy towards the poor soldiers.
MAIN POINT 2: The soldiers are described as permanently weakened both physically and mentally by the war (both during and after the war).
1. The soldiers are too weak to save their friends, and can only save themselves.
Evidence: “I saw him drowning”, “In all my dreams before my helpless sight”, “He plunges at me”
Explanation: - “I saw him drowning” shows that Owen, the witness, found it extremely tragic and simply unbearable to watch this horrific death.
- “In all my dreams before my helpless sight”: Owen is completely powerless; he will not be saving his fellow friend although he seems desperate. His guilt can be felt through this phrase.
- “He plunges at me” illustrates the anger of the soldier that Owen was incapable of saving. He is almost haunted by this illusion that appears like vengeance.
2. Even after the war, the soldiers are haunted by memories and faces of their friends, showing that the haunting experience of war is eternal.
Evidence: “If in some smothering dreams”, “In all my dreams before my helpless sight He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning”
- The dreams and memories are overpowering, crushing, devastating. There simply isn’t a single escape from them, as they overwhelm the soldiers. These dreams are more like nightmares that suffocate them.
- The word “dreams” is repeated, which lays emphasis on the fact that the damages of war are permanent. In addition, there is enjambment from the first line to the other to illustrate how war is slow and inescapable.
MAIN POINT 3: There is no escape from the horrific conditions.
1. Although they are injured, ill and fatigued, they cannot stop to just give up.
Evidence: “We cursed through sludge”, “But limped on”, “drunk with fatigue”
- The word “cursed” shows that they angrily swear whilst marching. In addition, it sounds like they have been cursed themselves. “Sludge” gives us an impression that they are failing and struggling to escape, or that they are stuck in the filthy, resisting substance.
- “But limped on” suggests that despite being worn out and fatigued, they feel obliged to keep going on and marching until they actually die.
- “Drunk with fatigue” is the portrayal of their brutal collapse: the reader can sense that they cannot go on like this, but have to continue anyway. It also shows that they are courageous regardless of being weary and tired.
2. They cannot escape from war.
Evidence: “gas-shells dropping softly behind”, “haunting flares”
- Snake-like sibilance is present in the first quote, and it creates an image of a slow and sinister moment. The harsh consonants also contribute to producing this powerful image. It appears that a contrast between two elements, “gas shells dropping” and “softly” describes how they are haunting and following the soldiers: it represents the ongoing battle of the soldier having to run away from perils.
- “Haunting flares” designates the flames that chase the soldiers. If the soldiers do not keep going, the flames will “burn” the soldiers.
MAIN POINT 4: The young soldiers have been betrayed by the recruiters and pro-war faction back home.
1. This lie has maliciously tricked both the soldiers who seem like desperate, naïve children.
Evidence: “My friend”, “To children ardent for some desperate glory”
- The first quote sounds as if Owen is saying and thinking it himself sarcastically, it passes on a bitter and ironic opinion of the war. It is addressed to the “friends” who have viciously tricked him into going to war. Also, it is one of the poem’s strongest points, as it is the final one, where Owen tries to make an impact and have an effect on the reader.
- The second quote, “To children ardent for some desperate glory”, portrays the extremely deep desire of the millions of inexperienced young men who want to be in the war simply for this so-called “glory”. It is the reflection of these soldiers’ desperation, and it is almost cynical, as the men will not become heroes, and neither will they discover the “glory” behind all the deaths, injuries and horrors.
2. The recruiters, propaganda and pro-war activists have caused many soldiers to die; they have convinced them that war is glorious although it is clearly not (war is a lie).
Evidence: “You too could pace Behind the wagon”, “The old Lie: Dulce et Decorum est, Pro Patria Mori”
- The phrase “You too could pace Behind the wagon” is directly addressed to the reader, but more specifically to the recruiters and pro-war activists such as Jessie Pope. Owen’s angry, bitter approach towards those people is shown through, as well as the way he has been betrayed by them. Also, it shows that the ones who have betrayed him should try being in the war as well, for the sole purpose of experiencing war itself. They do not seem to understand that it is an indescribably horrendous experience to be a soldier.
- In the second quote, enjambment is used to separate the word “sweet” (or Dulce) from “To die for your country” (Pro patria Mori). The word “Lie” is capitalized, in order to accentuate the fact that the saying “It is sweet and honourable to die for your country” was created to glorify the completely dishonourable war. It has been perpetuated through the ages, and almost looks human. The poem ends with a 3 worded phrase to show that the soldiers’ lived are ended, and they are then forgotten, almost as if they have become ancient history.
MAIN POINT 5: Owen’s anger and bitter attitude towards war accentuate the fact that war and the betrayal of these soldiers is shameful.
1. He makes great use of multiple sounds to awake the reader’s senses.
Evidence: “Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!” “If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood come gargling”
- This line is part of quite a dramatic stanza, where the soldiers are panicking and struggling to survive. “Gas, Gas, Quick, boys!” marks the beginning of this energy packed stanza. It is she beginning stage of a series of terrible, tragic battles, and is directly addressed to the soldiers.
- The first quote shows Owen wants people to see the ‘true’ side of war. It is quite a repulsive, disgusting phrase, as it explains that the soldier’s own blood is killing him, that he is responsible for his own death although it is not entirely his fault, but the recruiters’, and others sending him there to fight.
2. He used graphic terms to depict the image of war that he hates so much.
Evidence: “Bitter as the cud”, “Froth-corrupted lungs”, “Obscene as cancer”, “Incurable sores on innocent tongues”
- “Cud” is a substance produced by cows after they chew food and “release” it again. It is described as “bitter” and is contrasting with the concept that dying for your country is sweet and honourable.
- The three quotes that follow portray the inhuman conditions of war, and they also make the author’s attitude completely show through. The revolting truth of war is expressed perfectly in these few lines. “Cancer” is a dominant, human-consuming illness, just like war. “Innocent tongues” is the metaphor for the reality that a soldier being killed is total injustice.