Oppdatert: 24.02.2018

Dulce et Decorum est

A WWI-poem by Wilfred Owen

World War 1 in 6 minutes

All Quiet On The Western Front (1979)

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
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.

Wilfred Owen, March, 1918

About the poet:

"Wilfred Owen enlisted in the Artists' Rifles Officers' Training Corps in 1915 and he was sent to the frontier in France after training.
In France he fell into a shell hole and suffered concussion; he was blown high into the air by a trench mortar, and spent several days lying out on an embankment in Savy Wood amongst (or so he thought) the remains of a fellow officer. Soon afterwards, Owen was diagnosed as suffering from neurasthenia or shell shock and sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh for treatment.
In July 1918, Owen returned to active service in France, although he might have stayed on home-duty indefinitely.
Owen was killed in action on 4 November 1918 during the crossing of the Sambre–Oise Canal, exactly one week (almost to the hour) before the signing of the Armistice and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant the day after his death. His mother received the telegram informing her of his death on Armistice Day, as the church bells were ringing out in celebration."
Source: Wikipedia

About the poem:

"It begins with an ironictitle taken from the Horace meaning ‘it is sweet and honorable’ which is followed by pro patria moriwhich means ‘to die for one’s country.’Owen uses the irony as hebelieves this is the opposite of the truth, detailing the real but gruesome realityof the war.
The most poetic technique used is imagery and visual imagery, to be more specific. Its reading demands a high involvement from the reader and allows students many different conclusions and further discussions.
Owen brilliantly uses extensive imagery in this poem which is very productive for students’ imagination. He uses an effective language to convey painful but sincere message of war destructiveness using almost all of the figures of speech. Onomatopoeia and personification as well as metaphor, word connotation, alliteration, hyperbole, exclamations, epithets, simile are highly employedin describing the moments in the poem."
Source: MA Fahreta Fijuljanin and Professor Samina Dazdarevic, PhD in ResearchGate.net

Some questions:
  • Why are the soldiers knock-kneed and coughing like hags?
  • How do the narrator and the other soldiers feel and look?
  • Notice the verb in line two, which states the soldiers "cursed through sludge." What are the connotations of this verb, as opposed to "marched" or "walked"?
  • The poet creates a neologism in line six, "blood-shod." What do you suppose this word means?
  • What are Five-Nines?
  • Why does the poet capitalize the word "GAS" when he repeats it?
  • When the Five-Nines hit, why does the world become filled with "thick green light" "as under a green sea"?
    Why does the poet say the man next to him is "drowning"?
    How can you be drowning when there is no water nearby?
    How can he be drowning in fire or lime?
    What does the poet see each night in his dreams?
  • In the description, the dying man "plunges" at the speaker. Why would he be reaching out for the speaker, and why is that particularly disturbing?
  • What experiences might Owen have had to inspire this poem? How did he feel about those experiences?
  • Why would children be "ardent for some desperate glory"?
  • What is the meaning of the Latin phrase "dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori"?
    From what work is this quotation derived?
  • How would the Latin phrase change in its meaning if we read it without the context of the rest of the poem?
  • Do you think Owen’s poem is patriotic? Please give reasons.
  • Does the meaning of the poem change if we know that Owen was killed in action a few months after writing it?
Source: Dr. Wheeler's Web Site

  • Focus on relevant poetic devices like iambic pentameter, rhyming, stanzas, imagery and similes.
    Ensure that you understand what they mean and find examples in the poem.
    Explain how Owen's choice of poetic devices is important for your interpretation.

  • Study "The Soldier" by Robert Brooke.
    Compare these two poems about the same war.
    What are the obvious differences regarding poetic devices and contents?
    Reflect on the message of the each of the poems, and discuss the irony of the titles.

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oppdatert 24.02.2018
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