?Dulce Et Decorum Est? Essay, Research Paper
In a poem titled “Dulce et Decorum Est”, life in the trenches is graphically detailed to paint a vivid picture of World War I fighting techniques for the reader. Many others wrote about the injustices and cruelties of war at this time, but only one, Wilfred Owen, did so in such a permanent and meaningful way. Owen is known as one of the most infamous WWI poets, and has undoubtedly had more impact on the public conscience of the tragedy of war than any other writer of his generation.
WWI introduced a new style of warfare known as trench warfare. Lines were created that were almost 8 feet deep and many were hundreds of miles longs. The lines were curved so that bullets fired within the trench from enemy fire couldn’t travel along the trenches. The enemy trenches were usually parallel and it was a constant give and take of land. Progress was minimal and many suffered from other diseases such as ‘trench-foot’ and depression, usually resulting in a mental collapse known as a nervous breakdown. Trench warfare was hell for all those involved, many returning home in a different state of mind than they left with. Also, WWI claimed the lives of many of America’s brightest minds, including doctors, writers, and novelists.
In this poem written by Owen, the events of a typical day in the war is detailed and described to show that war is not as glorious and honorable as those back home picture it. The title, meaning ‘how sweet and fitting it is to die for one’s country’, is actually very sarcastic and depicts the feelings of many of those that were fighting. The first stanza sets the scene and show what the soldiers would be feeling at the time. The men’s condition at the time was so wretched that they could be compared to old beggars and hags. These men seem to be physically and mentally crushed. Their feet are caked in blood, which is more or less a dehumanizing image because most associate horses with being shod, not men. By describing the goal of rest that the men were seeking as ‘distant’, Owen shows that the men knew that they had a journey in front of them. “Coughing” finds an echo later in the poem, while gas shells dropping softly suggests a menace stealthy and devilish. In line eight, the rhythm slackens as a particularly dramatic moment approaches.
Stanza two focuses on one man who couldn’t get in gas mask on in time. Following the officer’s command in line nine, “ecstasy” (of fumbling) seems a strange word until we realize that medically it means a morbid state of nerves in which the mind is occupied solely with one idea. Lines twelve through thirteen consist of a powerful underwater metaphor, with succumbing to poison gas being compared to drowning. “Floundering” is what they’re already doing – in the mud – but here it takes on more gruesome implications as Owen introduces himself into the action through witnessing his comrade dying in agony.
The third stanza is the aftermath of the events that just took place. From strait description Owen looks back from a new perspective in the light of a recurring nightmare. Those haunting flares in stanza one foreshadowed a more terrible haunting in which a friend, dying, “plunges at me” before “my helpless sight”, an image Owen will not forget. Towards the end of the stanza, Owen attacks those at home who uphold the war’s continuance unaware of its realities. If only they might experience Owen’s own smothering dreams” which replicate in small measure the victim’s suffering. Hell seems close at hand with the curious simile “like a devil’s sick of sin”. Owen’s imagery can only paint a picture that sticks in the heart and mind of the reader. The last lines are a repeat of the title, and also and added line to clarify the actual meaning of the poem. Owen mocks the idea of war being an honorable and nationalistic way to support ones country as he describes a situation in which death is detailed in gruesome detail. This poem is harsh, yet effective in displaying the acts of war and the affect the it has on all of the people involved, especially the foot soldiers who served in the front line, the trenches.
Owen serves as a great example of the losses that war brings. Many other poets, writers, and great minds were lost to the horrors and tragedies of war. Owen had a profound effect on the way that people view war and the events that take place. It also serves as a testament to what people involved with war had to go through, and what the survivors remember most of all, the sickening acts of voluntary torture.