Dulce Et Decorum Est

Dulce Et Decorum Est ..by Wilfred Owen
It is 1916. Soldiers have been fighting terrible battles on the Western Front for over two years. On this night, a group of soldiers trudge slowly through the mud of no-man’s land as they make their way back to the trenches. They are exhausted; some have lost their boots and others seen to be asleep as they stumble onwards. Before they reach their own lines they are hit by a surprise gas attack. The soldiers fumble with their gas masks in the confusion. The smoke catches one soldier and, as he fumbles, he chokes on the fumes. Later, when the attack is over, the soldiers watch as his body is thrown on a wagon filled with other dead bodies.

The theme of ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ that there is neither nobility in war, nor honour for your country. Instead there is tragedy and waste of human life. Wilfred Owen fought in some of the major battles of World War I and the reality and horror of war shocked him. In the face of the desperate suffering he saw around him, it was no longer possible to pretend warfare was adventurous and heroic. Instead Owen recorded in his poetry how shocking modern warfare was and he sought to describe accurately what the conditions were like for soldiers at the Front:

      ‘Bent-double, like old beggers under sacks,
      Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge’

More importantly, Owen wanted the readers to see the reality and misery of war.

‘Dulce et Decorum est’ is built around three powerful and disturbing images. We find the first in the opening stanza: a group of soldiers’ moves through no-man’s land in attempt to get back to the relative safety of the trenches.
Owen wants us to imagine what it was like in these trenches; to see the detail ‘many had lost their boots’, and reality of dying in such a place. Look carefully at the words Owen uses to describe the condition of the men:

      ‘Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots