Commentary onDulce et Decorum est
World War One was a disastrous event which led to the deaths of over 9 million people, while drastically affecting and altering the lives of an entire generation worldwide. In the poem "Dulce et Decorum Est", the poet Wilfred Owen uses a variety of powerful literary devices in order to depict death in war as a brutal and horrifying experience. It is written in fist-person narrative and describes a situation of a scene in the trenches in the first world war. Dulce Et Decorum Est, meaning It is sweet and right, is an allusion to the ode by Horace which suggests the honours of dying for ones country, and thereby Owen is ironically mocking it through this poem. It can also be linked to another of his poems, Inspection. Owen wrote this poem during his stay at Craiglockheart hospital from October 1917 to the first few months of 1918. The poem was sent to his mother in a letter with the words Here is a gas poem, done yesterday...Through this poem Owen tries to express the horrors of fighting through an resentful as well as bitter tone and unusually striking descriptions.
The poem consist of four stanzas; each of which portrays the poets indignation about the tragedy of war using powerful auditory and visual imagery. The first stanza reflects the severe condition of the worn out soldiers which is implied by hyperbole, such as All went lame; all blind(line 6), expressing the vehemence of the poets feelings more than the tragedy of the soldiers. The auditory and visual images Owen conjures in this stanza, however, create a shocking contrast with Horaces idea that dying heroically for ones country is glorious, , blood-shod. Furthermore, by using the simile bent double, like old beggars under sacks in the first line, the poet further conjures the image of destitute persons, exhausted from the heavy weight of their bags and lack of sleep and creates a devastating contrast to sweet in the title. The poet use to show the readers back home in England that the soldiers instead of being strong and fearless, they are weak as seen by the simile coughing like old hags and the words knock-kneed. The onomatopoeic word sludge also portrays the difficulties the soldiers have with the mud. All these images created are ironic, as they are quite the opposite glorious, but are rather vivid and have a drastic effect on the reader. Through the use of the metaphor drunk with fatigue, the poet shows the reader that the soldiers can not think straight, and seem to be forgetting the reason they are fighting for. In the phrase out stripped five-nines that dropped behind(8), it is suggested that even the bombs are tired of the length of the war, and even the para rhyme in this phrase emphasizes on the sound of the slow bombs.
In the second stanza focuses on the gas attack and the tragic death of a soldier, as he can not put the gas mask on time and is therefore drowning in his own blood. It plunges the reader right into action, with the expression gas!, which also contrasts to the slow pace of the first stanza. The soldiers hastily try to find and put on their clumsy helmets. Through this transferred epithet we can imagine the inept and exhausted soldiers fighting for their life by trying to retrieve their helmets. However one soldier still was yelling out and stumbling even tough he must be in panic, exhausted and close to death, showing the reader the continuous struggle that the young men had to face. Alliteration of the letter s is also found in this phrase, which emphasizes on the sound of the shells. The soldier is compared to a man being burnt, through the word floundring, showing the reader in how much pain the soldier must be in. The image of the gas being dim through the misty panes of thick green light implies that the speaker managed to put his green-glassed mask on and is looking through it at the poor soldier in excruciating pain who is dying from the caustic substance burning inside his lungs. At the end of the sentence Owen uses ellipses, just like in The Sentry, which reflects on his inability to bear the memory of the young man fading into inexistence. The assonance used in this line captures the panic mood as well as the poing used to emphasize on the hardships experienced by the soldiers. The poet explains the unbearable sight of watching him drowning through the simile as under a green sea, the effective word green showing the denseness of the smoke. This image compares the death to drowning, however in this case the soldier is drowning in his own body, creating an shocking effect on the reader.
The separation of the third stanza consisting of only two lines emphasizes on the feeling of the poet to this situation; through the use of guttural onomatopoeic words.