«Dulce et decorum est», Wilfred Owen (1917, 1920)
«Dulce et decorum est» is a poem written by British poet Wilfred Owen, during World War one, in 1917. The translation of the Latin title is: «It is sweet and proper». The completed sentence is as follows: «It is sweet and proper to die for one's country». This forms, what the writer refers to as, «The old Lie». The poem holds a strong criticism towards the conventional view of war at that written time. I shall now comment briefly on that time's traditional ideas of war and heroism. Further on, I shall have a concise look at some information about the author and his context. Then, I would like to put to light the perception of war introduced by Owen in this poem, and thereby, show how the poem could, in several ways, said to be an attack on traditional ideas of war, warfare and heroism of that day.
By the first decade of the 20th century, the official attitude towards war had been positive. People did not have a realistic view of the war. They did not know much about either the warfare techniques used on the battlefields, or anything about how their soldiers died. News was heavily censured. The war was merely seen as a wonderful opportunity for young men to show their courage. The portrait of a soldier was of a hero, fighting beautifully and honorably for their country. Men who wanted to join the war had to enlist as volunteers. The authorities made it quite difficult for men not to enlist, by the use of propaganda, making war out to be for the honourable men. There were pro-war slogans at every corner, which created a common notion that men who did not enlist were the opposite of the ones who 'couragesly' went to fight. They became cowards in the eyes of society. The men were not only pressured by the authorities, they met pressure from the women as well. One of the aspects of this was the message of the white feather worn by women during the time of war. The white feather bore the question of why the men were not in uniform, fighting for their country. By the little knowledge of the war, few knew what to expect, and the outcome of World War one came as a shock for many. No one thought it would go on for so long and to the extent it did. Many, many men died.
Wilfred Owen was born in England in 1893. At a young age he knew he wanted to become a poet, but he felt pressured by the war-propaganda to become a soldier. He enlisted in the Artist's Rifles and participated in World War one. He did not write much poetry of importance until he witnessed action in France in 1917. In spite of that experience, he felt distant to the war. But he soon started to become critical to the war, and started writing disparagingly about it. Owen had personally witnessed the inhuman conditions at the frontline. He wanted to tell people the truth about how the war was truly like, and show what a wrong impression people had on it. By depicting the horror and cruelty of the war and warfare in «Dulce et decorum Est», Owen showed how far the common belief of war was from the truth.
«Dulce et Decorum Est» is a war poem. The poem was originally written in dedication to Jessie Pope, who was a propagandist for the War. But Owen clearly thought that it would be relevant to others as well, as it also speaks to a greater audience. The setting is a battlefield in World War one, and the narrator is Owen himself. It starts off with a group of soldiers retreating from the frontline. The soldiers are wounded, and they are slowly trudging through mud, away from the «gas-shells dropping softly behind» them. Suddenly, they are hit by an attack of gas-shells. The soldiers manage to put on their protective equipment, which would be their helmets, just in time. But, «someone was still yelling out and stumbling». There is one of the soldiers, who did not manage to escape the danger, and got hit by the gas-shells. The next lines is a description of this man, dying. The speaker, Owen, is haunted by this...
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