How Does Wilfred Owen Describe the Horrors of War in Dulce Et Decorum Est?

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The First World War was a time of great loss of life and bloodshed. Wilfred Owen, a soldier fighting with the British Army, wrote the poem Dulce et Decorum est to describe, possibly to the public, the horrific consequences of taking part and fighting in the war. During the poem, he describes the aftermath of a poison gas attack, and the injuries sustained by a soldier whom had inhaled the deadly substance. Owen uses gruesome imagery to vividly show in verse the horrible death the soldier faces, in the trenches of France. The poem Dulce et Decorum est is widely regarded as one of the greatest war poems ever written, and is a fine example of an anti-war protest in the form of poetry. The title of the poem is taken from an ode from a Roman philosopher and writer, published many hundreds of years before the poem. These Latin words are briefly translated into English as ‘it is sweet and right.’ The use of ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ in the title of the poem is essentially a use of sarcasm, using a common phrase in British Army culture at the time, to almost ridicule the idea that it is a wise thing to do to die in battle, for your country. The first verse of the poem opens with the soldiers walking through the landscape of the trench warfare system, in the thick of what would be a raging battle. These two first lines show the conditions the soldiers faced out on the front line, cursing ‘through sludge.’ After the battle, they ‘turn (their) backs’ on ‘the haunting flares’ and begin to slowly walk towards their ‘distant rest,’ an area where they may recuperate after long periods in the ferocious battle. In this section of the poem, Wilfred Owen describes the soldiers as ‘old beggars under sacks,’ and ‘hags.’ Both of these comparisons are presented in the form of separate similes. The effect that this creates on the reader is that of war being tiring and exhausting – as well as the toll that it takes on the soldiers’ mental and/or emotional state. This widely-known fact is documented in lines five and seven; ‘men marched asleep,’ and ‘drunk with fatigue,’ respectively. These uses of language suggest that even though they were constantly stressed and tired, the soldiers fighting were still able to make rational decisions, and could do tasks, even when they were in such a delusional state. This was probably because of the repetitive nature of their job. The last line of verse one describes how the 5.9cal (calibre) ‘Five-Nines’ were out of range, as the soldiers trudged away from the guns. Owen uses words in verse one which could be described as very ‘ugly in texture.’ For example, as mentioned earlier, the use of words like ‘beggar’ and ‘hag’ dismiss the image of a fit, athletic, healthy soldier that most would expect to be on the battlefield, and replaces it with a strikingly contrasting one, halting the poem as the reader makes light of the awful situation of The Great War. Another word that Wilfred Owen used, and that I have decided to comment on, is the word blood-shod. Although not used often nowadays, in this poem it is used to describe the visual state of the soldiers, covered in blood. It seems a dehumanizing image, as they are crushed by the constant strains of battle. The first verse, like the second, is written in sonnet form, however the rhythm loosens towards the end of the first verse as it leads up to an important moment at the beginning of the second verse. That important moment is put somewhat sharply to the reader, as it shocks them, with a very clever use of dialogue. The reason I think it is brilliant is because it jumps into the thick of the action, transitioning from the slow tempo of the end of battle (for that day!) to the panic and perhaps confusion of a poison-gas attack, all in just four words. Slight confusion can actually be perceived, as the ‘ecstasy of fumbling’ ensues, with the soldiers obviously struggling to fit ‘the clumsy helmets just in time.’ This ‘just in time’ part implies that everyone is okay, and...
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