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(Wilfred Owen)
“Dulce et Decorum est” is a war poem written by Wilfred Owen, one of the most significant war poets, during World War I.
He was born in 1893 in Shropshire and he was educated in Liverpool. He tought English in Bordeaux in 1913 and he retourned to England in 1915 to enlist in the army. He caught trench-fever on the Somme and was hospitalised in Edinburgh. He went back to fight in France and in 1918, was decorated for bravery and was then killed on the Sombre Canal one week before the Armistice was signed.
His experiences of the war led him to represent the war through crude and realistic details, but also with pity and human sympathy.
Now considered the most important ot the “war poets”, Owen wrote poems particularly relevant as experiments in poetic technique.
The “war poets” were the first who denounced trench life or death by gas, but also who revealed the sense of exaltation and the spirit of adventure that marked the first years of the war.

“Dulce et Decorum est” is an example of Owen’s statement of the horor of war and the hypocrisy and ignorance of patriotism. The poem focuses on the terrible new chemical weapon of World War I: Gas.
“Dulce et decorum est” is divided in four irregular stanzas. Each stanza deals with a precise point, in fact we can notice that in the first the poet introduces the situation, in the second he describes the gas attack, then in the third we can find the description of poet’s dream-nightmare and at the end he describes the soldier’s death and produces the poem’s message.
The narrator is the poet himself as we can infer by reading line 14:”…I saw him…” and “…in all my dreams…”(15), “he pluges at me…”(16), “my friend…”(25). In fact we can see that Owen doesn’t write from “without” but from “within” the war, he is inspired by his own experiences and by the small and great tragedies of thousand of unknow people involved in a nightmarish, hallucinating reality.

The first stanza is made up of 8 lines and describes some men who are marching away from the front, as we can understand by reading in line 4: ”towards our distant rest”, and in line 8: ”that dropped behind” which are jambic verses conveying tiredness.
There is also represented a frontal attack on the enemy’s tranches. We can say that it isn’t an heroic scene because the soldiers are given grothesque traits such as: ”like old beggars”(1) and “coughing like haugs”(2).
Moreover by reading line 3 ”we turned our backs”, we can notice that they are withdraw before meeting the enemy.
The scene is described from the point of view of a soldier who is the poet himself, in fact he says: “we”, “our”, and he gives us a description of the exhausted soldiers. He uses a lot of adjectives suggestive of weakiness and exhaustion as we can infer by reading: “asleep”, “lame”, “blind”, “drunk”, “deaf”.
The idea of exhaustion is also suggested by the use of compound words as we can infer by reading “bent double”, “knock-kneeds” and “blood-shod”, and by the use of metaphors as in line 6 and 7:”blood-shod” and “drunk with fatigue”.
It is important that through metaphors we can also realize that this is not an heroic combat because the soldiers have been badly wounded and mutilated. In fact, many have lost their boots as we can read in line 6 “blood-shod” and in lines 7-8 “the hoots of gas shells”.

The second stanza is different from the first, in fact it is made up of 6 lines and there is a change in tone and rhythm.
This change of atmosphere is provoked by the sudden gas attack, and the urgency of the warning is rendered through the word “gas” which is repeated twice, the use of exclamation marks and the printing of the word “gas” first in small and then in capital letters.
This second part begins with the two words “gas, GAS!” but the first “gas” is linked to the preceding section where the soldiers are deaf because of the noise of gas shells. The second word in capital letters wakes them up from their sleepiness in time to put the masks on.
In line 9 the word “ecstasy” may mean frenzy beacause the soldiers seem crazy after the gas attack and it suggests animal instincts, awkwardness, confusion, blind panic, frantic movements.
Moreover, the image of frantic movements and confusion is emphasized by the use of some “-ing” verbs as: “flumbing”, ”fitting”, “yelling out”, “stumbling” and “floundering”.
On the second stanza the poet focuses on the description of the one soldier who was too late in putting his “helmet” and who is introduced by the indefinite pronoum “someone”, and on the presence of the gas.
By analyzing the word “green” we can realize that the gas used in World War I was chlorine. By reading from line 13 to line 14 we can understand that the poet is seeing the horrible scene through the green glass of his gas-mask.
Moreover the presence of the gas is described indirectly through the use of adjectives as “dim”(13), misty”(13), “thick”(13), “green”(10) and the use of a simile as “as under a green sea”(14).The simile of the gas vapours looking like a sea is emphasized by another image of the man drowing.

The third stanza is made up of 2 lines and it focuses on the poet’s nightmare. The dream-nightmare in lines 15-16 is both real and imaginary. Its function is to build up an emotional climax before the final address of the last stanza: “in all my dreams”(17), “if in some smothering dreams you too could pace”(17).
The poet’s dream introduces the reader, in fact the poet wishes him to experience himself the awful reality of war, instead of sending other people to die.
Some expressions convey that the dream is a nightmare, for example: “all my dreams” reveals that the dream is recurrent. Moreover, as usually happens in nightmares, the dreamer is “helpless”. The word “helpless sight” may refer both to the dreams in which the poet sees the soldier but can do nothing; and to the very tragedy happened, when he saw the man through his “misty panes”(13) who suggests a moment of suffocation.
In this stanza the soldier’s condition in underlined by three “-ing” verbs which are “guttering”, “choking” and “drowning”.

The idea of suffocation continues in the fourth stanza through the presence of the adjective “smothering”.
The dreams are defined as “smothering” because they are nightmares, the poet recreates in his dreams the scene of the soldier’s death which is imprinted in his memory and he feels that he is also choking with gas.
The core of the stanza focuses again on the image of the dying soldier and dwells on him with schoking details to stress the horror of war, for example: “behind the wagon that we flung him in”(16), “the white eyes writhing in his face”(17), “his hanging face”(18), “the blood come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs”(21-22).
In fact, in my opinion, the poet wants to give us the real image of the war bacause he probably thinks that only by seeing war in all its crude horror, the reader can fully understand the poet’s acusation which grows at the end of the poem.
Moreover this tragical description is emphasized by the use of similies as “like a devil’s sick of sin”(20), “obscene as cancer”(23) and “bitter as the cud of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues”(23-24).
The description is made up so painfully on purpose, since the poet is talking to someone identified through the prsence of two words: “you”(17,21,25) and “my friend”(25). Perhaps the poet is adressing an idealist or patriot who is thinking or speaking of war in terms of glory while someone is sending young men to die on the front. In fact the soldier-poet asks the reader, who stays at home, to come along and see for himself the ugly face of death.
By analyzing the last stanza we can infer that “children” are opposed to the “men” described in the first stanza. In fact, the children are described as “ardent for some desperate glory”, instead men as “panic-stuck” and tired out, and thinking only of survival.
The poem ends with a latin tag “Dulce et Decotum est pro patria mori”(27-28) which is the epitome of a centuries-old tradition of patriotism. Owen defines this sentence as a false and an “old lie” because he wants us to understand that love for one’s country cannot justifie war.
Moreover, the latin sentence sounds noble and idealizing, while the contest is realistic and deeply disturbing. Owen underlines his opinion about the war which is considered as something horrible and to be avoided.