The poem stands as perfect example for a war poem. The poet brings out his war experiences in through this poem. In “Dulce Et Decorum Est”, Owen expresses his reaction to the war by using the seemingly perfect traditional poetic form with deliberate imperfect execution suggesting the topsy-turvy situation of war. Owen’s violation of the conventional poetic form coveys the break down of society’s value system that has been trusted for long. The awful images he uses in the poem effectively convey the dreadful images of war. Through this technique he suggests that war is not a romantic heroic feat as it is described to be. The reality is shockingly different. Thus, the poet has successfully set the tone of the poem. It conveys the horror of the war bringing out the irony of the lie that they have been told that it will be sweet and fitting to die for the mother land.
The uneven length of the stanzas in the poem conveys the odd realities of the battle field suggestively. The unpredictable situation of the battle field is well projected with the help of uneven stanzas. The first stanza has eight lines, the second stanza contains six lines, the third stanza has just two lines and the final stanza has twelve lines. The rhyme scheme for the four stanzas is: ABABCDCD, ABABCD, CD, and ABABCDCDEFEF. It suggests the ruggedness of the battle field. A more significant feature of the poem is it is written in Iambic Pentameter.
The poetic elements like figures of speech and imagery keep the poem focused and make it effective. Owen has done this brilliantly with the use of powerful images. These images are built around sleep or dreamy condition, drowning in the sea, inability to coordinate, and the loss of senses.
The images of sleep or dream like condition are spread across the poem. The image of ‘men marched in sleep’ perfectly brings out the sleeplessness of the soldiers on the battle field. It also suggests their extreme fatigue. They are dead tired. The use of words tired, fatigue, outstripped Five-Nines all bring the pictures of extreme fatigue the soldiers experience.
The images built around the dream also communicate the tired feelings of soldiers. The expressions ‘in all my dreams (line-15) ‘smothering dreams’ (line-17) do suggest their extreme physical fatigue.
The images of drowning like ‘floundering’ (line-12) ‘misty panes’(line-13) ‘thick green light (line-13) and ‘as under a green sea, I saw him drowning’ (line-14) ‘guttering, chocking, drowning’ (line-16) and ‘gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs’ (line-22) create the images of drowning vividly in the mind.
The images ‘bent-double’ (line-1), ‘knock –kneed’ and ‘lame and limped’ (line-6) clearly bring the pictures of soldiers unable to balance themselves being extremely tired without any sleep.
These images make the poem vivid with pictures of soldiers who are extremely tired unable to balance themselves, march very slowly as if they were in deep sleep. These images bring the pictures of soldiers totally worn out and extremely tired. It sees they are unable to move as fatigue has overtaken them.
The description in the first stanza is vivid with the powerful imagery. He says they are “Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, / Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge.”
The narrator of the poem is one among the walking soldiers who are totally tired and unable to walk any further. Then one of the soldiers notices the mustard gas being thrown on them. He shouts, “Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!” And they begin hastily to put on their “clumsy helmets.” But one soldier fails to get his gas mask on in time, and the speaker describes him saying : “But someone still was yelling out and stumbling / And floundering 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.” (Stanza-2)
The narration of the event with a sudden cry about the gas clearly brings us the uncertain nature of battle field. The life of soldiers is always in danger. It sets out the tone of the poem suggesting the terrible death that is following the soldiers like a shadow.
The speaker notices one of the soldiers falling down failing to keep the helmet on his head in time. The dying soldier’s picture is vividly portrayed with the expression
“And floundering 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. (Stanza-2)
These lines clearly bring the haunting picture of the dying soldier. He is unable to breathe properly and can not see any thing clearly except the green light as if he were under a sea.
The third stanza stands alone in the entire poem. The sudden death of the soldier is suggested with an abrupt two line stanza. It depicts the speaker’s mind. It is a haunting scene of death. He says,
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. (Stanza-3)
The speaker himself is in a helpless condition. His energy has totally dissipated and he could not even see clearly with his eyes wide open. Lack of sleep and rest has made him weak and his eye sight is poor. The image of the falling soldier is brilliantly conveyed through the last line of the stanza.
In the last stanza, the speaker directly addresses the reader and tells him the horrible experiences of war. He says he was lied. At the beginning of the war people encouraged them saying fighting for the country and dying for it is the noblest and greatest deed in his life. But the horror of war, the pain and suffering of it made him realize his mistake. He calls the reader his friend and tells him that it was a lie and they were deceived. He draws the reader’s attention to the promises that leaders and politician make with all the enthusiasm and promises. The last two lines of the poem end with the Latin exhortation saying that “how sweet and fitting it is to die for your native land”
The poet has brilliantly created the effect of war on the readers with the vivid and moving images of soldiers in the battle field. The structure of the poem, rhyme scheme and the imagery helped him to create the pictures of war and death effectively.