Explication of “Dulce et Decorm Est”
“Dulce et Decorum Est” was written by Wilfred Owen and published in 1920 after his death. The title is Latin, taken from the Roman poet Horace; it means that it is sweet and proper. The poem contains four stanzas. The rhyme scheme is ababcdcd. The scansion is iambic pentameter. The poem is about a soldier recanting his experience on the battlefield and the resulting nightmares. The poem is the speaker’s struggle with the physical pain and the psychological trauma of war, which he is utilizing to convey battlefield conditions and the experience of modern warfare. At the beginning of the poem, the speaker is describing the soldier’s physical shape. He uses a simile to paint a picture to civilians at home what the soldier on the front line looks like: “Bent double, like old beggars under sacks.” In the second line, he uses another simile to make sure that the subject truly gets the picture: “Knock-kneed, coughing like hags.” He also makes a reference to the conditions of trench warfare when he remarks, “we curse through sludge.” These solders are physically tired and ill. In the next line, the speaker is telling the listener that the soldiers are leaving the front line: “Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs.” The speaker then describes the journey and that the rest they are heading toward is far away: “And towards our distant rest begin to trudge.” This could be that the speaker is saying that there is really no rest from war. The use of the word “trudge” is another reference to trench warfare. These lines are describing that the soldiers are overtired, and the thought of having to walk to the resting area makes them even more tired. In lines five and six, the speaker is trying to describe the physical exhaustion in a way that people back home can understand: “Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots/ But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind.” Again, the speaker is trying to describe the physical exhaustion in a way people back home can understand. By stating that “Men marched asleep,” the speaker is saying that they are going through the motions of duty. The phrase “blood-shod” indicates that they are covered in blood. In stating that “All went lame; all blind,” the speaker is relating the tired soldier to an actual disability. Looking at the last two lines of the first stanza, the speaker is telling us that the soldiers are now accustomed to the war: “Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots/ Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind” (lines seven and eight). “Drunk with fatigue” is used to convey a sense of being overwhelmed. “Deaf even to the hoots” seems to indicate that the soldiers are oblivious to the goings on of war; they are hardened. This is a psychological problem. In the last line the speaker writes, “Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.” In WWI, “Five-Nines” are a piece of German machinery that was used to shoot gas. The use of the words “tired” and “outstripped” seem to be indicating that even the machines seem tired. Nothing or no one seems to be spared from the physical toils of war. In the second stanza, lines nine and ten, the speaker jumps from a description of tired to a more frenzied description of the arrival of chloride gas: “Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling.” The use of exclamation marks conveys a sense of urgency. The speaker continues with this sense of urgency when he uses the term, “Ecstasy of fumbling.” He describes the soldiers being in such a state that they are scrambling. In line ten, the speaker says, “Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time.” This is a reference to the gas masks that soldiers in WWI were required to have since the introduction of chemical warfare. The speaker is beginning to share the psychological problems along with the actual physical attributes of a battlefield death. Through the use of the word “someone” in line eleven the speaker begins to draw...
Cited: Owen, Wilfred. “Dulce et Decorum Est.” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama and Writing. Eds. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 12th edition. New York: Pearson, 2013. 709-710. Print.
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