Friday, 6 January 2012



Notes on Dulce et Decorum Est

1.  DULCE ET DECORUM EST - the first words of a Latin saying (taken from an ode by Horace). The words were widely understood and often quoted at the start of the First World War. They mean "It is sweet and right." The full saying ends the poem: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori - it is sweet and right to die for your country. In other words, it is a wonderful and great honour to fight and die for your country.
2.  Flares - rockets which were sent up to burn with a brilliant glare to light up men and other targets in the area between the front lines (See illustration, page 118 of Out in the Dark.) 
3.  Distant rest - a camp away from the front line where exhausted soldiers might rest for a few days, or longer 
4.  Hoots - the noise made by the shells rushing through the air 
5.  Outstripped - outpaced, the soldiers have struggled beyond the reach of these shells which are now falling behind them as they struggle away from the scene of battle  
 6.  Five-Nines - 5.9 calibre explosive shells 
7.  Gas! -  poison gas. From the symptoms it would appear to be chlorine or phosgene gas. The filling of the lungs with fluid had the same effects as when a person drowned
8.  Helmets -  the early name for gas masks 
9.  Lime - a white chalky substance which can burn live tissue 
10.  Panes - the glass in the eyepieces of the gas masks 
11.  Guttering - Owen probably meant flickering out like a candle or gurgling like water draining down a gutter, referring to the sounds in the throat of the choking man, or it might be a sound partly like stuttering and partly like gurgling 
12.  Cud - normally the regurgitated grass that cows chew usually green and bubbling. Here a similar looking material was issuing from the soldier's mouth 
13.  High zest - idealistic enthusiasm, keenly believing in the rightness of the idea 
14.  ardent - keen 
15.  Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori - see note 1 above.

Wilfred Owen was a Captain of the British Army and as such, witnessed the atrocities of war first hand. He wanted to dispel the notions associated with patriotism and nationalism that were propagated by the media during his lifetime; thus his poetry portrays war as a dehumanising and horrific event. His poems "Dulce et Decorum Est," "Anthem for Doomed Youth" and "The Send Off" are significant in conveying his negative attitudes towards the effects of war on the soldiers.
Within "Dulce et Decorum Est" the poet utilises a variety of powerful poetic devices in order to depict death in war as a brutal and horrifying experience. Alliteration serves to draw the attention of the reader, as expressed in: "And watch the white eyes writhing in his face," which creates a stark and confronting image within the reader's mind. Further, in "his hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin" it is through the use of simile that the poet arouses the sympathy of the responder as they witness the grotesque nature of such a death.
In addition, "Anthem for Doomed Youth" reveals that idea that the soldiers who died during war did not receive a proper burial. The opening rhetorical question, "What passing bells for these who die as cattle," is shocking and forces the audience to perceive their deaths as being likened to the slaughter of livestock. The sonnet structure is successful in establishing a change of tone between the octave and the sestet. The first stanza presents the action of the battlefield, through the evocative utilisation of alliteration and assonance in "only the rifles rapid rattle can patter out their hasty orisons." This demonstrates that rather than receiving the traditional burial, these men die to the deafening sounds of the battlefield. This concept is both alarming and evocative as it encourages us to empathise with those that lost their lives.
In contrast, the sorrowful tone of the second stanza is indicative of Owen's purpose, as he mourns the soldiers who have died. Here, the rhetorical question is used to draw the sympathy of the reader in, "What candles may be held to speed them all?" The final line of the poem, "And each slow dusk a drawing down of blinds," reveals the notion that although these men do not receive a formal burial, they will be remembered by their loved ones who must deal with the pain and grief of their loss on a daily basis. In this, it is clear that Owen attempts to present a more realistic portrayal of war, from the perspective of a soldier.


The theme of the poem is the subject with which the poet deals. It is the central
idea around which the event or experiences revolve. In this poem, the central
idea is the “horrors of war”. The ghastly image of war, the torture to which
soldiers are subjected, reflect the theme –
“the haunting flares”, “gas shells dropping”
“froth corrupted lungs” are evidence of the atrocities of war.

What does the poet hope to achieve?
The poet here, wishes to convey a universal message to the reader, that one
should not believe that it is noble to die for one’s country, because of the untold
miseries which soldiers experience.
To the poet, neither fame nor glory can compensate for the immense suffering
that war inflicts on humanity.

The mood conveyed in the poem is one of anger, revulsion and disgust.
The impact of the incident in which the soldier is caught in an explosion and the
agony he suffers is one of loathing and revulsion.
“I saw him drowning”
“guttering, choking, drowning” shows the immense suffering of a dying soldier.

The traumatic experience of a soldier who is caught in a sudden explosion while
returning to his camp.

The poet achieves his purpose or intention through his use of intense language
and vivid imagery.
These are the similes used by the poet to make the images interesting and
1. “Bent double, like old beggars under sacks.”
Here the soldiers returning from the battle field look like old beggars, bent with
age and exhaustion, carrying their sacks on their backs. The comparison is
appropriate as it appeals to the visual sense and brings the readers face to face
with the exhausted soldiers.
2. “knock-kneed, coughing like hags”
The image of the knock-kneed soldiers coughing like hags, shows the terrible
effect of the smell of gun powder, and gun shots. It appeals to the auditory sense
and reminds the reader of the sounds of old people coughing.
3. “And floundering like a man in fire or lime”
The image presents the soldier in a state of panic, unable to move in any fixed
direction as he is trapped in the fire.
The reader can see the movements of the soldier, like a blind man floundering
and fumbling to find his way.
4. His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin”
The comparison vividly describes the look of the soldier in agony and pain during
the final moments of his death.

These are some examples of the poet’s use of emotive and intense language
“We cursed through sludge”
“limped on blood-shod
“Drunk with fatigue”
“He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning”
“White eyes writhing in his face”
“Froth-corrupted lungs”
The language used is both appropriate and effective and evokes the sympathy
of the reader.

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