The poem ‘’Dulce Et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen describes a gas attack on a group of soldiers returning to base during World War One. Unfortunately, one man fails to fit his gas mask on time and suffers a slow and painful death due to the horrific effects of mustard gas. This essay will show how poetic techniques are used to make the description vivid and consider what effect this has on the reader. Owen is writing from personal experience as he fought in the war from 1915-1918. In the war, Owen suffered from shell shock. He also spent a period of time in a military hospital, where he met poet, Siegfried Sassoon. It was Sassoon that encouraged Owen in his poetry. While at war, Owen wrote until his unexpected and tragic death in 1918-one week before the war ended. Owen viewed the war as cruel and a waste of time, and his poetry is full of bitterness.
In the poem “Dule Et Decorum Est,” Owen expresses his feelings about the war. The theme in “Dule Et Decorum Est” is idealism vs reality of war, modern warfare and suffering, all of which are detailed in this poem. ‘’Dulce Et Decorum Est’’ is Latin for ‘’It is sweet and right to die for one’s country’’, an idea that Owen strongly denies throughout the poem. The poem opens with a vivid description of trench life and the conditions faced by soldiers. In the poem’s opening line, readers are introduced to the soldiers and how the war has affected them. The stanza begins with the simile: ‘Bent double, like old beggars under sacks’
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Owen is describing the soldiers as so tired that they cannot even stand up straight. It also shows that the uniforms are now tattered and hanging off them. This idea continues as Owen compares them to ‘hags, ’ creating the horrifying image that the soldiers are old and ill, resembling an old woman rather than the brave, heroic solider many people ignorant of the reality of the war expect. Owen continues to us imagery such as: ‘Men marched asleep’ and drunk with fatigue’ The metaphors above really emphasize the sheer exhaustion the men faced, and the word ‘drunk’ suggests that the soldiers are so tired that they are losing their balance and falling all over the place. The slow rhythm of this stanza adds to the idea of the soldier’s exhaustion. This would be very dangerous at the war front because they would not be one hundred percent focused.
Owen’s imagery creates a vivid picture of the suffering the men endured, making the reader sympathize with the men. It also helps to highlight the realities of the war as cruel and combats and brave image many would have had of soldiers at that time. In stanza two, Owen opens with a description of a gas attack. Owen helps to convey the sense of panic as the poem continues to quicken in rhythm and pace. The first line of stanza two gives the reader a sense of how terrified one man is as he shouts: ‘’GAS! GAS! Quick boys – An ecstasy of fumbling.’’ Owens’s use of capital letters and exclamation marks gives a strong impression of how rushed and scared the men are and the situation’s urgency. The reader will sympathize with the men as they all rush to get their masks on, knowing they could be gassed alive in the process. Owens’s very clever word choice adds to and awakens the reader even more to this sense of panic.
The men begin ‘’yelling’’ and ‘’stumbling’’ as they fit their helmets helping the reader sympathize by creating a picture of the panic. The readers are indicated that the mustard gas is surrounding the men, and they are starting to stumble and lose confidence as one of the soldiers does not make it to his mask on time. This creates a vivid image in the reader’s mind of how traumatizing this must have been, as the men could die if they do not get their masks on in time. Thus, he beings to suffer a most traumatic death. Owen remembers the man as he plunges at Owen ‘guttering’, ‘chocking’ and ‘drowning’ because of the mustard gas. The words Owen uses to describe the dying man, such as ‘’chocking,’’ tell the reader that the dying man’s lungs have been filled up with mustard gas so much that he cannot take anymore and is choking to his death.
It makes the readers feel sick to think of a soldier dying and suffering in such a manner due to sacrificing their lives to fight for their own country. The horrors that the dying man goes through are horrific as it is a harsh death. The horrors of the war make the readers think that the men dying at the war front are painful death because it is a slow death. Owen makes this vivid as he helps create an image in the reader and my head of how horrific dying by mustard gas is as it fills up their lungs which would be very painful. Also, Owen’s word choice of ‘’drowning’’ emphasizes vividly that the dying man cannot even barely breathe because of this gas that he is drowning inside of mustard gas.
The word choice that the poet uses, such as ‘’guttering’’, helps the readers to create a vivid image of how scared and terrified the man must have felt as the mustard gas burned his inside alive. This helps the reader sympathize as they will feel sorry and piti the men. The effective use of ‘’guttering’’ helps create a picture in the reader’s mind of the man being in a panic because he cannot breathe. The author’s techniques create an image of sadness and horror amongst the readers that the soldiers suffered such horrific deaths. Wilfred Owen is clearly affected by the gas attack. The first line of stanza three tells the reader that Thoughts of this man’s death so consume owen: ‘’In all my dreams before my helpless sight.’’
Owens’s use of word choice helps create an image of the nightmares Owen must have had because as much as he wants to escape from all of the war, he cannot, and he needs to live with horrific nightmares that have taken over his mind. Owen cannot escape these nightmares. Owen imagines and remembers the solider ‘plunging’ and ‘guttering’ towards him and the awful feeling of helplessness that he could not hide. It makes the reader feel sorry for Owen as he is scarred for life with memories he does not want. The poet is making the incident vivid as he tells the readers of his nightmares and unwanted sights, which are of a dying chocking man. Owen is trying to send a message to the reader of how cruel the war was and a waste of lives and how soldiers are affected by this. In stanza four, Owen effectively describes the dying man’s last moments. The poet describes the man’s face as a vulgar simile: ‘’His hanging face, like a devil sick of sin.’’
The poet has helped the reader create an image of connections of ugly and disturbing. The poet’s use of a simile tells the readers that he is comparing the dying man’s face to a ‘’devil sick of sin’’. The dying man’s face had a horrific look on it as he knew it would be a painful death. Owen describes the ‘blood gargling’ because the man is chocking, whilst the blood is draining from his body. The reader can create a vivid picture of the man chocking to death on the gas. It helps the reader picture sounds of the man chocking on his own blood as he desperately seeks air. The words such as ‘corrupted lungs’ suggest the damage of the gas he breathed into his lungs. The poet has mentioned this to create a strong, vivid image of how painful his death was.
Owen is talking to the readers in the final stanza by saying, ‘my friend.’ Still, through such graphic imagery and personally addressing his readers as ‘you.’ He does this to really involve the reader, making their event strong and vivid for Owen. The poet thoroughly describes the dying man through his word choice: ‘’Of vile, incurable sores’’ Owen wants his reader to imagine the horrific significance of the word ‘vile’ as it relates to death. This would give the reader a vivid image of death because of the poet’s word choice. Owens’s careful word choice tells the readers that these sores are horrific and terrifying. The readers know this by the vulgar word choice such as ‘vile.’ This gives the readers a hint of death. Incurable sores also give the reader how much pain and torture the dying man was in as he knows he will die.
In the final stanza, the poet is talking about how much pain the dying man is in. Owen is trying to tell the reader that the truth and memories of the war are too much to tell as the war is a dangerous and petrifying place to be. The poem ‘Ducle Et Decorum Est’ vividly describes the gas attack and subsequent death through effective use of word choice, striking imagery and similes. The reader can visualize the event and be shocked at the soldiers’ condition as they are described at the start of the poem. My overall opinion of this poem is that the stanzas help us create images in our heads as the words are very effective. The stanzas also use techniques such as onomatopoeia and alliteration, which makes the reader more sophisticated with the point that Owen is trying to get through. Overall the poem ‘Ducle Et Decorum Est’ deals thoroughly with the dying man and the gas attack on the soldiers.