Wilfred Owen’s war poem, “Dulce Et Decorum Est” portrays and condemns the horrific nature of war. Through the use of imagery and metaphor, Owen relates the idea that the hypocritical nature of politicians and civilians causes the alienation of soldiers from the political and societal realm of humanity. Owen implores politicians and civilians to consider the damaging aspects of war as its true depiction as opposed to their commonly-held and much-heralded view that war is patriotic.
The first stanza of the poem is characterized by a sense of duty and union. This is seen with phrases such as “Men marched asleep” (Owen 5) and the speaker’s use of the terms “we” and “us”. The sense of union is broken when Owen refers to his fellow soldiers as “boys” (9) in the second stanza as compared to “men” (5) in the first stanza (Class Discussion: “Dulce”). The short sentences and abrupt punctuation that characterize the first line of the second stanza also break the sense of union created by the first stanza. They create a sudden sense of “every man for himself” as each man puts on their “clumsy helmets just in time” (Owen 10). The “someone still… yelling out and stumbling” (Owen 11) further heightens this sense of abandonment as no one is able to come forward to help this soldier. The speaker’s regret at not being able to help the soldier drives him to challenge the status quo behind war.
The poem altogether is divided into four stanzas; however, the second and third stanzas appear to be connected to one another as together, their rhyme scheme is consistent with the rest of the stanzas. Owen’s choice to split the stanza into two parts mirrors the fragmented society of his day: the war-torn soldiers and the sheltered civilians. These usages of language allow for Owen to explore his own experiences as a soldier through the use of a lyric ego while putting forth issues of his own time; essentially, Owen’s poem “think[s] about itself in ways that inspire us to think with it” (Melville 6). Thus, Owen demonstrates the usage of language inherent in a piece of literature.
Owen’s use of imagery in “Dulce Et Decorum Est” attempts to invoke within his reader an emotional response to the text. The speaker’s usage of phrases such as “obscene as cancer” (Owen 23) and “vile incurable sores” (Owen 24) maintains his tone and unpleasant imagery while putting the situation into well-known terms people of Owen’s time would have been familiar with and would have empathized with. Likewise, phrases like “devil’s sick of sin” (Owen 20) appeals to the Christian mentality of Owen’s audience. Relating war to the devil and diseases allows the speaker to appeal to the common person’s emotion, “[d]rawing on the power of sentiment” (Melville 9) to make his point. This is another proof that Owen’s poem is literature: it uses language and thought to derive an emotive reaction from its readers.
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