A War StoryThis is a wartime poem written during World War I, this was a time when new technology was used to annihilate people protecting their country from destruction and oppression. In William Owens's "Dulce et Decorum Est" we get the soldier's perspective of war on a daily basis. The main themes are glory vs. death and they are both important factors in this poem.
The beginning of the poem starts out very depressing, the soldier talks as if they are old men on their death beds. ""Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge"(2), this line implies how miserable the soldier's are, their sick, weak, and enduring unbearable conditions. They are walking toward their camp, which the poem tells us is quite a distance away. But they are so tired they are sleeping as they walk toward the camp. These men don't even have sufficient clothing, some have lost their boots and most are covered in blood.
"Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots / Of tried, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind"(6-7). This line tells us that these men are so exhausted they have become numb to the war and blood-shed around them. The soldier's have become numb to the 5.9 inch caliber shells flying by their heads, the bombs bursting behind them, and their fallen comrades body's lying next to them.
"Gas! Gas! Quick Boys!-An ecstasy of fumbling, / Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time"(9-10), these lines are revealing the poison gas that was used to kill soldiers. Unfortunately one soldier couldn't get to his helmet in time, "And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime"(12) fire or lime refers to the type of poison gas the man inhaled; it's a chalky white substance that burns human tissue. In this case it's burning the inside of the man's lungs. The soldier narrating the poem sees this man's painful death through the eyepieces' of his gas mask. In the third stanza the dying soldier lunges at our narrator gasping for life.
"Behind the wagon that we flung him in, / And watch the white eyes writhing in his face" (17-18) . In the final stanza this soldier becomes just another causality of war; a statistic. His eyes are darting about his head, which is an effect of the poison gas running through his veins. The way the soldier describes the dead solider, it seems as if it's traumatized him; although he's most likely seen death before. Even though the poem doesn't say, we could possibly assume that he was close to the dead soldier and that's why he described him in such a way. "Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs"(22) although the soldier is dead, the fluids from inside him are making noise and causing foam to protrude from his mouth. By the end of the poem the soldier is starting to realize that you could never tell a war story to a child, and portray it as a glorified war story. You couldn't do this, the soldier says because "The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est / Pro patria mori"(27-28). Which translates to, "It's not sweet and right to die for your country".
Work CitedOwen, Wilfred. "Dulce et Decorum Est." Literature: Reading and Writing with Critical Strategies. Ed. Steven Lynn. New York: Longman-Pearson, 2004. 731-32.