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English Essay, SMU, Singapore: In Wilfred Owen’s poem, “Dulce et Decorum Est,” Owen tells a story of his horrific and gruesome experience fighting
University Singapore Management University (SMU)
Subject English Essay
Posted on: 5th Jul 2023

English Essay, SMU, Singapore: In Wilfred Owen’s poem, “Dulce et Decorum Est,” Owen tells a story of his horrific and gruesome experience fighting

In Wilfred Owen’s poem, “Dulce et Decorum Est,” Owen tells a story of his horrific and gruesome experience fighting in World War I and how it has since haunted him. Owen describes a day on the battlefield that has left the soldiers mentally and physically broken and bloodied. As the soldiers are returning to the base for the night, there’s an awful gas attack and the soldiers scramble to put on their gas masks.

Tragically, Owen helplessly watched as one of his fellow soldiers choked to death from toxic fumes. Owen is haunted by the excruciating death of his comrade. He addresses the people at home who promote war and urges them to stop encouraging young men to go to battle for personal and national glory. He wonders how they can keep advocating for war without ever experiencing the horror of it. In his poem, “Dulce et Decorum Est,” Owen reveals the idea that lofty patriotic ideals lead to disastrous consequences through his use of imagery, caesuras, and symbolism.

Owen uses imagery to show how powerful patriotic ideals preached from home can lead to disastrous consequences for millions of youth who have to go to war. Owen uses imagery in the first line of the poem to show how the soldiers are “Bent double, like old beggars under sacks.” (1) At the beginning of the poem, Owen does not introduce the soldiers as strong and mighty warriors, instead, he refers to them as “old beggars.” (1) Owen shows how the soldiers have suffered vast horrific events during the war by creating the image of beaten-down, haggard old men.

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This image gives the audience an idea of how weak these men have become after fighting in this horrific war. Youthful, strong men have become weak, old beggars. The men are “doubled,” (1) which implies that the soldiers are two different people. Before the war, they were youthful men who were full of glorified notions from the rhetoric given to them by the government. Now during the war, they have deteriorated into broken creatures fighting for survival. These young men who were once filled with heroic ideals are now suffering the consequences of a lifetime filled with physical pain and mental anguish.

Later in the poem, Owen describes the struggles he’s having with flashbacks of the traumatic events of the war. Owen writes, “In all my dreams before my helpless sight, / He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.” (15-16) This is a gruesome image of a soldier choking to death from the poisonous fumes. Owen writes, “He plunges at me” (16) to show the desperate action of his fellow soldier needing help. This takes a mental toll on Owen as there was nothing he could do to help his comrade except witness it. When Owen says “In all my dreams” (15), he is speaking of the relentless nightmares that haunt him for the rest of his life.

The national glory Owen thought he was going to gain from fighting in the war instead resulted in a never-ending nightmare. At the end of the poem, Owen describes how “You could hear, at every jolt, the blood / Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs.” (21-22) This image shows how youthful men are physically breaking down and deteriorating. Owen writes, “the blood / Come gargling” (21-22) to allow the reader to “hear” the gruesome sounds of a soldier’s suffering.

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