World War I was known to be the chemist’s war because there were numerous technological advantages in chemical warfare. During the war, the Germans introduced the chlorine gas, which is a powerful irritant that can inflict damage to the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. They then introduced the mustard gas that is delivered in artillery shells. Once the gas has settled into the ground, it can stay there for hours, days, weeks, and months. All of these gases were extremely painful and most soldiers were strapped to their beds to be kept still. Wilfred Owen, author of the poem “Dulce et Decorum Est”, experienced the attack of the deadly gases up close and personal.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! –An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning (9-14).
The fumbling of the helmets indicates that the soldiers were vastly overwhelmed with being scared and nervous. The helmets are referred to the gas masks used to block the gases from entering the soldiers’ lungs. The green sea that is described in the poem refers to the green fog that is produced from when the gas is first exposed. The man that Owen describes must be suffering from the gas attack with lack of oxygen or having too much carbon dioxide in the lungs. A burning sensation is going through this man’s throat and lungs as he is yelling for help knowing that nothing can be done. In the opening stanza, the author describes a vision in a dream of a gas victim “guttering, choking, drowning.” The listed verbs are associated with a lack of air and death of the men who experienced the gas attacks. The language used in the sections representing the gas attack is strong, signifying both the torment of the victims of the gas attack as well as the effect on those haunted by what they have seen: “watch the...