What Impression of War is created in Owen’s Poem Dulce et Decorum Est?
Main Point 1 – Owen tries to evoke pathos among the people at home.
Evidence: “sludge” “trudge”
Explanation: These words in the first stanza give the reader a clear idea of the conditions in the trenches.
· The word “sludge” has connotations of dirt and darkness and so therefore we associate these with the trenches.
· The hard “dg” sound contrasts with the soft s at the start of the word, creating a sinister, dark atmosphere.
· The word “trudge” gives us a feeling of the tiredness of the soldiers and therefore allows us to think of lack of sleep. This gives us other ideas of the horrific conditions they live in.
· The “udge” at the end of both words gives them a heavy, dull feeling. This feeling could be the soldiers or could be used to describe the surroundings.
Evidence: “Blood-shod” “all went lame”
Explanation: These phrases show that the disgusting conditions are affecting the men.
· “Blood-shod” uses very strong imagery. In the previous line, it was said that they had lost their boots. This implies that instead of boots they have blood on their feet.
· The phrase “all went lame” portrays the men as nothing more than animals. Animals live in horrific conditions by our standards and this could either be showing that the conditions are causing them to be like this or that they were horrible to start with.
Evidence: The list effect in the first few lines
Explanation: This implies that the soldiers lives are also like this. The monotony once again has a very dull heavy feel and by making us feel this, the persona makes us feel sorry for the soldiers.
Evidence: “clumsy” “stumbling” “fumbling”
Explanation: All of these words with the helmets a very dull, lifeless feel as well as making them seem in bad condition.
· The words “fumbling” and “stumbling” imply that the helmets are very useless as the soldiers are having trouble putting them on. The soft “um” sound is very similar to the one found in the word “clumsy” and these words have connotations or being exactly that.
Evidence: “misty panes”
Explanation: The superficial meaning of this word shows us that the helmets are old and have been used before. This generally makes the reader feel symphathy towards the soldiers as they have this terrible equipment.
Main Point 2 – Owen creates the impression that the war is inescapable.
Evidence: “In all my dreams” “smothering dreams” “haunting”
Explanation: The literal meaning for these sentences is enough to show that he is having dreams about the war.
· “In all my dreams” suggests using the all that the dreams are never ending or inescapable. The fact that he dreams about this stuff means that the image he is trying to portray must be very vivid
· “smothering dreams” shows how overwhelming these memories are. The word smothering suggests the inescapability of the memories and dreams the persona is experiencing.
Evidence: Enjambment is used in a few lines.
Explanation: The length of these lines, without commas at the end, suggests the inescapability of the soldiers as there is no stop to the line. This could show that the memories keep going like the lines of the poem
Explanation: This word had a very different meaning in the days when this poem was written to what it means nowadays. The ecstasy shows that it last a long time or in fact that the memories are never ending in a subtle way. It is once again overwhelming and has many powerful connotations that are emotions. This appeals to our senses.
Evidence: “helpless sight”
Explanation: This shows the helplessness of the persona. He is almost frozen as he can’t save his fellow soldier, and possibly friend, without risking his own life. This time freeze could be used to show his guilt as he chose to save his own life over the other soldiers.
Evidence: “misty panes” “thick” “I saw him”
Explanation: These words show the separation between the soldier and the persona. Although they are very physically close together, in the persona’s mind they are far apart. This distance could be created due to the guilt the persona is feeling.
Explanation: This is another sign of the personas guilt. The soldier would not be attacking him in this way, merely calling out for help. The fact that he sees the soldier attacking him could show that they are coming back for revenge inside the personas mind.
Evidence: “If you”
Explanation: These words emphasis the horrific images the men have seen. This shows how badly their lives have been affected by the things they have seen during their time fighting in the war.
Evidence: “all blind”
Explanation: Although the literal meaning of these words mean that they can’t see and they don’t have a choice, it could be that the men don’t want to see what is happening around them. If they can’t see the horrific conditions then they won’t be affected by them.
Evidence: “vile” “devil” “innocent”
Explanation: “innocent” contrasts with the other 2 words and so emphasizes the point of them. He is saying a lot of words related to hell and this could be a sign that he thinks their lives are ruined and that is where all the soldiers from the war will one day end up.
Main Point 3 – Owen creates the impression that there is no glory and that war is ignoble.
Evidence: “clumsy” “stumbling” “fumbling”
Explanation: These words either are or have connotation of being clumsy. This could show that the persona sees the soldiers this way or the death they die. The word clumsy has connotations of being slow and painful as clumsy people are often hurt
Evidence: repetition of the word “drowning”
Explanation: As we all know drowning is a very slow death. When used in a trio at the end of the third stanza, we feel that there is no pride or honour in dying in a gas attack like there is no honour dying by drowning. The repetition of this emphasizes the point that it is slow but also there is no honour involved.
Evidence: The fast panicky start to the second stanza contrasts with the slow painful death of the soldiers due to the gas attack.
Explanation: This contrast makes both seem more extreme. The gas attack seems much quicker and the death of the soldier much slower. The contrast makes us feel more involved in his death and we can almost watch it with the persona as he makes it very slow.
Evidence: “marched asleep” “limped”
Explanation: These phrases suggest that the men have been badly treated. The whole first stanza is about how they are walking home.
· “Marched asleep” is a contrast. Marching should be done by energetic soldiers and so by contrasting it with the word asleep, the persona is saying that these men are not soldiers, just weary people walking away from war.
Evidence: “all went lame, all blind”
Explanation: This phrase is very powerful. Lame literally means naked but in this case the persona chooses it because the soldiers have been stripped of their humanity at war. This gives the soldiers or men an animalistic feel. Then the persona follows this with the fact that they literally can’t see but this could mean that they can’t see their way back to humanity.
Evidence: “knock-kneed” “bent double” “old beggars” “coughing like hags”
Explanation: All these words show that the men are in a bad state due to their time fighting in the war. They have lost their pride.
· “Bent double” contains harsh consonants which shows that the soldiers are beaten down and suffering after defeat and weakness in the war. This shows their lack of pride in the first 2 words of the entire poem
· “Knock-kneed” is alliteration and also contains harsh consonants which show some of the harsh horrific conditions the soldiers endured and how they have come out with no pride and no glory.
· “old beggars” and “coughing like hags” shows that the men have been reduced to the lowest forms of humanity by the war. This once again shows that they have lost all their pride during this war.
Evidence: “a man in fire”
Explanation: In this phrase, the soldier trapped in the gas attack is being portrayed as a burning man. First this evokes pathos and appeals strongly to the senses. Second the young fit soldier is being portrayed as a simple man. This shows that lack of pride he is experiencing and how there is no honour in his death.
Sub Point C The soldiers are treated badly once they die.
Evidence: “flung him in”
Explanation: This shows how they were forced to treat him once he had suffered in the gas attack. Later on in the stanza we find out he is not dead at this point which makes the treatment of the man even worse. They treat him like an animal which shows that his life is meaningless to them.
Evidence: “jolt” “gargling”
Explanation: These words use sensory imagery to make the experience more realistic for the people at home. They appeal to the senses and make us feel like we are there with the soldiers watching the man dying.
· “gargling” also shows that he has an ignoble death. He is gargling on his own blood and therefore he is killing himself. It is a disgusting image created by the persona but it is easy to understand.
Evidence: “watch the white eyes writhing”
Explanation: This shows how awful the soldier dying must have been for the other soldiers. It is slow and painful for the soldier and the w alliteration almost makes it sinister. This makes us question the people in charge and how awful they have been.
Main Point 4 – Owen creates the impression of the betrayal of the soldiers by those at home.
Sub Point A The soldiers are portrayed as innocent and naïve.
Evidence: “children ardent”
Explanation: This portrays the soldiers as children and therefore innocent. Ardent means to be in love with and so could emphasis the fact that they have been tricked by the recruiters because the soldiers are definitely not in love with the war.
Explanation: This word emphasizes the desperation of the soldiers. They want to be men who are strong enough to fight the war but they are portrayed as weak and childlike especially in this poem.
Evidence: “innocent tongues”
Explanation: The word innocent contrasts with a lot of the things said in this stanza and so stand out to the reader. It emphasizes the innocence of the soldiers and how they are not the bad ones in the war.
Sub Point B War is a lie.
Explanation: The word “Lie” has been capitalized as though it is a pronoun. This almost personifies the word lie and therefore gives it human connotations and emotions. It has tricked the soldiers and is continued by the humans. This is a way of accusing everyone.
Evidence: “desperate glory”
Explanation: This phrase has a literal meaning that is very superficial. The persona uses the word desperate in a cynical tone and therefore suggests that there is really no glory or honour and that they have all been lied to and tricked including the soldiers.
Evidence: “Pro patria mori”
Explanation: This is the final sentence in the poem. It says many things to the reader subconsciously.
· This is a short definite ending to the poem. It is separated from the previous sentence “Dulce et decorum est” and so the persona has separated honour and dying for your country.
· It is ended short just like the soldiers that died in the war. He is saying that the soldiers died before they should have.
· The last word in this sentence/phrase is death in Latin. This is once again showing the idea that the soldiers lives are being cut off early. It is blaming it on the people reading the poem and the recruiters.
Sub Point C The people back home feel no guilt or responsibility.
Evidence: “My friend”
Explanation: The persona says this with bitterness and anger and so therefore it is easy to tell that he is being sarcastic. It shows that we are actually the enemy of the soldiers as we send them to war.
Explanation: This addresses the reader directly and also addresses the recruiters. The persona is accusing the public and the recruiters for all the terrible things that happen at war. It has many of the emotions that are portrayed to the reader in this final stanza attached such as anger, bitterness and betrayal.
Evidence: The change of perspective between the third and fourth stanzas.
Explanation: By changing the perspective of the reader from being part of the soldiers to being far away and uninvolved, the persona separates the reader from the soldiers. This is slightly accusing but also shows that the people at home, including the recruiters, have a choice between the lie of war and the truth. The poem tries to push people towards believing the truth.
Sub Point D There is an atmosphere of bitter anger created to show Owen’s emotions.
Evidence: “desperate glory”
Explanation: The contrast between these 2 words creates a very cynical tone. This is almost jeering at the people at home and is therefore a perfect example of the bitterness and anger that Owen is portraying in the last stanza.
Evidence: “if you could hear”
Explanation: By saying you were not there, Owen is showing some of the anger he is feeling towards the recruiters, or the betrayers. He is saying that the people at home sent them there without really knowing what it would be like for the soldiers.
Evidence: “dulce et decorum”
Explanation: The harsh consonants in this phrase show the bitterness that Owen is portraying perfectly. They are harsh and so therefore contrast with what is being said in the sentence. This may have been one of the reasons why the last sentence is in Latin.