“Dulce et Decorum Est” (1918), a poem by Wilfred Owen, provides readers with a view of war contrary to the romanticized portrayals common during the early 20th century. Owen, born in 1893, died fighting in World War I in 1918. This British writer amplified the basic theme of the poem by beginning the poem in iambic pentameter; later, he diverged from the poetic form to submerge the reader into the chaotic and desperate atmosphere of the poem. The author’s main idea reflects the haunting tragedy and irony of war in a passionate plea to those who appeal to the youth with glorified ideas of battle.
The dramatic situation, of this poem, provides information about the speaker, audience, and plot. “Dulce et Decorum Est” is told from the viewpoint of a soldier. The speaker is a character in the poem, and the use of “we” and “I” determine that the poem is written in first person point of view. The speaker addresses those who would present the idea of fighting as a soldier in the war, as a noble and heroic action. The story takes place during a gas-attack on a British company during World War I (Moran). The use of past and present verb tenses explains the impact of the events on the narrator and the tone of the poem. The past tense is used in describing the war scene and situation, but the present tense, used to describe the dreams of the narrator, exemplifies the unforgettable nature of the events. The tone of desperation, bitterness, and irony reflects the speaker’s motivation.
The first stanza of this poem immediately immerses the reader in the experience of battle, and it depicts the desperate and dilapidated nature of the soldiers. The use of the simile “Bent double, like old beggars under sacks” emphasizes the sad condition of the soldiers. The men, referred to as “hags,” are presented as old women who “trudge” away from battle in defeat and exhaustion (Lutz). The soldiers are “drunk with fatigue” and their senses are diluted, but they march forward without acknowledgement of the falling bullets behind them. This stanza portrays the severe condition of a soldier’s health during war, and it sets the stage for the depiction of death in the second stanza.
The second stanza provides the reader with a feeling of chaos associated with the gas attack on his company and death of a fellow soldier. Moran writes:
its first four words stressed and monosyllabic—heightens the reader’s sense of the soldier’s urgency; Likewise, the verbs “fumbling,” “stumbling,” “floundering,” and “drowning” are connected by the sounds of their ending a well as their depictions f the men made graceless and spasmodic. The image of the “green sea” of gas—and the soldier in it appearing to the speaker as a drowning man struggling for air but eventually collapsing under the pressure of the poison—conveys the speaker’s helplessness.
The second stanza suggests the irony of war when it describes the soldier as “drowning” although he is on land. The vivid imagery in...