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The Face Of Death: Explication Of A Passage In “Dulce Et Decorum Est”

1242 words - 5 pages

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest / To children ardent for some desperate glory, / The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est / Pro patria mori (Owen, lines 25-28).
This segment of Owen’s poem depicts one of his comrades being poisoned by tear gas; this is clearly not a pleasant sight and is not wished upon anyone. This is of particular interest to me because it depicts the morbid horror of war. I believe the poem does a fine job of communicating the horrors of war much better than other modes of literature may be able to. It also challenges a lot of the idealistic feelings people have towards those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
The stanza comes at the end of the poem after the men labored hard and rucked through difficult terrain. The men were tired and exhausted and being shelled by 5.9 caliber shells. Owen then shifts the scene when someone warns of gas in the air and the chaos that ensues as people try to put on their gas masks. The conflict in the situation is that someone is without a gas mask and left out and the speaker of the poem describes the man choking towards him. In the final stanza, the graphic death of the unfortunate soul is described, and Owen ties it up with how it is a lie that people believe that “it is a sweet and fitting thing to die for your country.” I will explicate the last few lines of the poem by analyzing the point of view, Owen’s utilization of Latin, and the tone.
The first device that stands out about this poem is the point of view. It would be easy for Owen to write this in second person where the reader would feel more drawn into the story and see the horrors of war first hand. However, Owen used third person and slightly detached the reader from the story. The reasons for this are many. It is well known that Owen was opposed to the war. Owen also said that, “All the poet can do is to warn. That is why true poets must be truthful.” (Owen 18). So why didn’t Owen use the second person to make the reader feel the death of the poor soul much more vividly? Perhaps Owen was writing this for himself; this could have been a situation that Owen had witnessed and wanted to come to terms with. He does draw the reader into the mind with the final four lines when he addresses the reader as “my friend.” This shows that he is fulfilling his role as a poet of warning. He is telling the reader to be wary of those that may say that it is glorious to die for your country; his previous experience says otherwise.
The second literary device is the decision that Owen makes is to use the Latin phrase “Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori.” The effects of this are two-fold. First, it highlights the phrase and makes the reader think about what the speaker is trying to say here. It forces the reader to read the footnote in order to understand the full meaning. Second, it contributes to the poem’s idea that the saying is the old lie. By placing the phrase in Latin as opposed to English, Owen is making clear that...

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