Dulce et Decorum est Essay
My first impression of the poem was a reaction to the title, “Dulce et Decorum est.” I didn’t know what the words meant or how they would relate to the poem itself - Dulce et Decorum est Essay introduction. I knew that the word “decorum” often refers to acceptable behavior within a particular group or society. This led me to think that the individuals in the poem might be doing something because they believe that it is what is expected of them. I thought about looking up the words online, but I decided that I would rather read the poem and decide the meaning of the title for myself. The first stanza brought to mind images from “Gone with the Wind”, when the soldiers returned home, exhausted and without transportation. The word “marched” implied that the men were soldiers, but I wanted to know what war they had fought and who or what the Five-Nines were. It was clear that the men were leaving an unspeakably horrific sight; at the same time, they would be returning home where they could rest and leave the horror behind. The condition of the men reveals that whatever it is they have been doing, they have been at it for a long time, possibly without assistance. I wondered why they had lost their boots, and this brought me back to the Civil War soldier theory. In our modern times, there is no reason that a man should lose his boots and not have a replacement available.
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The second stanza was a shock to my senses. I had just pictured these men marching home, definitely on land, and now I was given images of water and drowning. I was confused as to the request for gas and even more confused about the “misty panes” and the “thick green light”. This told me that the setting was more recent than I had initially thought and that the men in question might be firefighters. They were being attacked, as evidenced by the fact that they were able to put their helmets on without a moment to spare. The man that is choking and drowning was a bit confusing. He might have been in the process of being rescued; or, he was one of the men doing the rescuing and was caught up in the chaos of it all.
The third stanza mentions wagons, so once again I was brought back to the assertion that the events in the poem did not happen recently. However, this stanza once again provided another source of confusion. The man on the wagon seems less injured than he does ill. He is coughing up blood and has sores, which indicates that he might be the victim of some sort of plague. By asking the reader to imagine walking behind the wagon and seeing what the author is trying to convey, I had a greater sense of tragedy and doom. The end of the third stanza re-asserts my contention that the men in question were at war. The line, “To children ardent for some desperate glory”, tells me that teens or very young men went to war, expecting to be victorious and believing in the cause for which they are fighting. This brings to mind the war in Vietnam. Young men went, died, and expected to return home to a warm welcome and glory, only to find that the controversy surrounding the war drowned out the effort they had made. Finally, he refers to this longing as a lie, then once again reverts to Latin (as in the title) to explain just why it is a lie. When I saw the phrase, “Pro patria mori”, I used my bit knowledge of Latin to ascertain that patria means father (in some form) and that mori most likely refers to death. It was at this point that I decided I needed to find out the meaning of the foreign words.
The title of the poem is taking from Horace, and it means “it is sweet and right”. Therefore, I concluded that the title was referring to war, and more specifically, victory in war. The final words, “Pro patria mori”, when added to the title, means that it is sweet and right to die for the fatherland. This confirmed my assertion that the men were fighting a war, and that they believed that it was right to be willing to die for one’s country. The “lie” indicates that the men probably no longer believe that such an event is right; that in fact, they were lied to about going to war and are now a bit jaded over the horror they faced.
The idea of going to war brings up images of death, permanent injuries, and sights that one will never forget. No one can accurately account for the experience of war without having been in one. In his poem “Dulce et Decorum est.”, Wilfred Owen uses horrific war imagery and well-placed Latin phrases to convince the reader that soldiers go to war as the result of a common lie about glory and valor.
The poem begins with the images of men who are barely able to stand and who have been at war so long that many no longer have boots (stanza 1). They are injured and exhausted, and are getting no help from anyone, as indicated by “All went lame; all blind; Drunk with fatigue…”. This stanza serves to introduce the reader to the horrors of war by bombarding the reader with images of soldiers who have served their country and are barely able to get away from the action. In spite of their fatigue and injuries, they continue to fight on, as they have a mission to complete.
In the second stanza, the narrator indicates the relative age of the soldiers by referring to them as “boys”. They are not yet men, but they are fighting a war. This is an attempt to show the reader the dreadful circumstances of war. It is clear that the war is not over yet; the soldiers need to fumble for their helmets and continue to fight. “In all my dreams…” demonstrates that the narrator is not just recounting what he has heard in regard to the war, he has been there and is telling the story from his own memory. In the final stanza, Owen gains the reader’s sympathy by putting him or her in the place of one of the soldiers, marching behind a wagon containing injured and dying men. He continues to use the ghastly images of the dying men (“the blood/Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs”) to show the reader exactly what these men are going through.
Owen’s final attempt to convince the reader that these men are brave and undeserving of their fate comes in the last stanza. The first example is in the eighth line of this stanza when he refers to “innocent tongues”. Clearly, these boys have not been in war before, they are still innocent. In the next line, he states that “you would not tell with such high zest” as a way of showing the reality of war. It is not a glory-seeking event; it is a tragedy that requires the loss of human life and psychological scars. Finally, the last Latin phrase refers to the glory of dying for the fatherland, and the fact that such a concept is a lie.
Wilfred Owen wants the reader to take away one concept: no matter the cause, war inevitably leads to the injury and death of young soldiers. In spite of attempts to make war appear glorious, it is, in fact, an event to be avoided at all costs.