Hello there, we’re going to be having a look at Wilfred Owen his most famous poem Dulce et Decorum Est.
The poem is written in 1917 when Wilfred Owen was in Craig Lockhart hospital, having been diagnosed with shell shock, and while at the hospital oh and met another very famous poet, Siegfried Sassoon, who played a very important role in encouraging Owens poetry and editing his early drafts.
The central image in this poem is of a soldier suffering from the effects of chlorine gas, which was one of several chemical weapons used during the First World War Two immobilize or kill soldiers.
The poem is written in the first person, and much of it is in the present tense to the terrible realism of this event is enhanced not only by recognizing that Wilfred Owen is describing something that he will have seen firsthand.
But also by Wilfred Owen inviting, and in some sense, insisting that the reader watch alongside him.
Don’t check the quarter mess is part of Latin phrase, don’t check the quartermaster pro-Patreon Mori, which literally means it is sweet and fitting to die for your country.
And the purpose of this poem is to state with absolute passion, and certainty not only how wrong this sentiment is.
But more importantly, how wrong it is for those back in England to be using slogans like this as a way of persuading more young men to go out and fight.
The poem begins with an image of a group of soldiers leaving the front line trenches and walking slowly, and we’re really towards a place of safety and dressed.
I mean, it creates a sense of the terrible state of the soldiers by describing them as been doubled, suggesting they can barely hold themselves up.
And this is followed by a series of images of how the soldiers who would have been young fit men before going to war had been prematurely aged.
Similarly, like old beggars under sacks followed by another coughing like hags, which combined to create a picture of men who were in a pretty wretched state, Ill, poorly equipped and barely recognizable as human beings.
And between these two similes is the alliterative knock need, which further adds to the image of deformity and mimics the sound of bones striking against each other as the soldiers struggle to hold themselves up.
The condition of the soldiers is further compounded by the terrible conditions they’re experiencing underfoot.
In a letter to his mother ON one is described craters filled with waist-high water and mud.
Men, he said, had been known to drown in them. Here the sludge is thick enough to cause the men to curse and swear, and deep enough to suck the boots from the soldiers feet, so that the men are further injured blood shards by marching their foot.
It was a written covering theme in a woman’s poetry that the men who fought in the war were treated as little better than animals.
You can see an example of this in anthem for doomed youth which opens with the line what passing-bells for those who die as cattle. And here the verb shod refers to shoes, specifically when talking about horses.
So the phrase bloodshot combines Owens’s view of the way that the soldiers are treated, and become dehumanized by war, while at the same time creating an image of the soldiers wearing shoes of blood.
Understandably, then, the men are exhausted some either literally or metaphorically a marching asleep.
They are lame, which means they can hardly walk, blind, deaf, and metaphorically drunk with fatigue, which creates an image of the men stumbling along as if they are intoxicated.
It’s like the soldier’s whole sensory experience audience is shutting down.
They’ve experienced so much horror and exhaustion that in this state, the only thing they can do is stumble away from the front line in the hope of finding relief.
Their senses are impaired so much that they are even Deaf to the hoots are tired outstrip five-nines that dropped behind.
It’s worth mentioning that this line is edited by some online versions of the poem.
I’m not sure why because it isn’t complicated. five nines refer to the 5.9-inch diameter measurement of the shells used to carry gas.
But anyway, the men of far enough away from the fighting to be right on the limit of the enemy cannons range so that even the shelves fired at them have become tired, but they reach them nonetheless. And these shells contain chlorine gas.
Now before moving on, I’m just going to make a couple of points about the structure of this poem.
Thank you work out a poems rhyme scheme by looking at the lines which rhyme and coding them like this.
So you can see an ABABCDCD pattern emerging and this continues throughout the poem.
All of the lines have roughly 10 syllables, and many of them are written in by Ambika pentameter, which means that it’s every other syllable that is stressed.
So moving on, there’s a dramatic increase in pace in the next part of the poem was we are alerted to the gas attack at the same time as the soldiers in the poem by the direct speech which begins the second stanza.
The panicked tone of this is indicated by the repetition of gas quick boys.
The soldiers then scramble to find and fit their gas masks, that these box respirators were awkward and difficult to fit correctly.
An ecstasy of fumbling describes the frenzied clumsy movements of the soldiers trying to protect themselves from the front effects of the gas, which most of them managed to do, just in time.
However, one of the group is not so lucky. And what is described in the rest of this middle part of the poem is the soldiers suffering from the effects of the gas.
You’ll notice that Wilfred Owen employs a sequence of present tense verbs which have the effect of bringing the action right before his eyes, as Wilfred Owen insists that we observe the man’s agony at the same time as the poet.
We’ve got the verb yelling to indicate his fear and terror, followed by stumbling and then floundering, which described his panicked, uncoordinated movements as the effects of the gas start to take hold.
His movements Wilfred Owen tell us a similar to those of a man on fire.
The reference to the line which I’ve indicated here is particularly unsettling, as well as reducing the smell line was pulled over bodies, especially those buried in mass graves as a disinfectant and to aid the process of decomposition.
So limes suggests the dissolving effects of ingesting chlorine gas, while also pointing towards the soldiers death.
We were then taken inside the gas mask of Wilfred Oh, and we look through the eyepiece as he would have done and see the soldiers suffering firsthand.
And the scene takes on the dimensions of a nightmare. There’s an eerie thick green light as the chlorine gas hangs heavily in the air slowly dispersing around them.
And there is so much of it that Wilfred Owen compares what he sees, firstly, using a simile as under a green sea. And then by the metaphorical.
I saw him drowning, which continues the image.
The effect is horrifying to imagine. Once ingested, the chlorine gas would have started to dissolve the tissues in the lungs making it difficult to breathe.
A sensation very similar to drowning and the word drowning is repeated at the end of the next sequence of present tense verbs as Wilfred Owen recalls him.
Plunging at him desperate for oxygen to plunge suggests the rapid, violent but uncoordinated movement of the man, while also of course continuing the comparison with him being underwater. Choking is straightforward enough for us to understand in this context.
But guttering is worth explaining in a bit more detail because it describes the behavior of a candle that’s about to go out.
Flaring, the dance of a low burning flame, consuming the last remnants of its fuel before finally becoming extinguished works as an effective comparison to what is happening to the soldier, desperately gasping for breath and about to expire.
Man suffering is so terrible that the image of it becomes imprinted on Owens’s mind, enhanced by his own feelings of helplessness.
The poet narrator tells us, the memory comes back to him in all his dreams.
The final part of this poem serves two purposes. Firstly, it describes what happens to the injured soldier next,
Secondly, it directly addresses the reader in a visceral, angry tone in order to convey his message.
As I’ve said before, the imagined audience for this poem is the people back home in England, specifically those who might use war propaganda to encourage young men like going to go out to France and fight for their country.
In the final part of the poem, Owens’s intention in describing these horrific events becomes clear.
The section begins with the conditional connective, if we can see that he started addressing the audience directly with the pronoun UO.
In is challenging the reader here to consider what it would be like if they too had this terrible image of what happened to the injured soldier next, coming back to them in their dreams.
The adjective smothering, which is used to describe what these dreams would be like, is another word suggestive both of fires being snuffed out, and the act of depriving another person of air.
Wilfred Owen, it’s sort of saying to his reader back home that if like him, they have these dreams, they would be so horrendous, that they would almost experience the same feelings of drowning as the injured man.
So, I said that this section describes what happens to the soldier next, and we can see that he was picked up and flung onto the back of a wagon.
the verb flung sounds careless and disrespectful of the suffering of the soldier in that song of the point.
There’s been so much death and violence experienced by these men that the victim of the gas attack becomes just another body.
There’s no dignity or honor involved in this man sacrifice.
It’s also effective, I think, conveying the lifeless state of the soldier being lumped in a rough and uncontrolled way into the back of a wagon.
Wilfred Owen describes himself pacing behind this wagon with the remaining soldiers and watching the white eyes rising in the victims face, which is another vivid image of the soldiers paying his eyes rolling around in his head, while the rest of his features have a hanging lifeless quality to them.
And remember that Wilfred Owen is showing this to his audience and talking directly to the men and women back home.
He might encourage soldiers to go and fight and he said, if you had seen this, and then if you had heard this, as he goes on to describe.
But every jolt the blood come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs.
He wants them to see and hear the soldiers distresses graphically as possible, and so he paints a picture of the wagon bumping over the uneven ground, adding to the man’s agony as the dissolving lungs turned tissue to poisonous froth, that goggles in the man’s throat as he tries to breathe.
The simile which I’ve highlighted here compares his face to a devil sick of sin, which seems to suggest the sickness with the evil of war, a sickness so great that even a devil would have grown tired of it.
There’s alliteration in this line too sick of sin. And where we get this s noise being repeated.
It’s called sibilant and it makes the simile sound even more bitter and angry is the consonants a stout uses another pair of similes here to describe the sight of the man’s blood is it goggles out of his mouth. obscene can have a range of meanings from simply hideous or dreadful, to something gross or indecent.
So this similarly implies that, just like cancer, the man’s blood is a site that should never have been seen. On one level.
The second simile bitter is the card works in the same way, like several other of Owens images in that it connects the soldiers to animals cut is the half-digested food that some animals regurgitate in order to break it down.
The cut contains fatty acids, which helped the animal to digest and it’s this acidic burning going on in the mouth of an animal that Wilfred Owen is referring to here, comparing it to the poisonous burning froth coming from the soldier’s mouth.
The further impact of this is the viral, incurable was referred to in the next line.
The fact that the adjective innocent is used at the end of this sequence of images has two important effects.
Firstly, it reminds us again of the soldier’s youth, these would have been fit young men going out to fight I mean, in 1914, the minimum legal age to fight overseas was 19.
But most people didn’t have birth certificates. And so it was easy to lie about your age.
And it’s estimated about 250,000, under eight soldiers signed up to fight carried along when a wave of patriotism and propaganda.
It’s the second of these that Wilfred Owen is really taking aim at in this poem.
The adjective innocent contrasts with those who are in points the finger of guilt and responsibility towards the final part of the poem.
As I’ve said before, these are the people back home in England, who are encouraging young men to go out and die for their country.
He addresses them as my friend, but he’s being ironic here.
The tone is a bit angry as he tells them, if you had seen what I have just described, then you would not with such enthusiasm, be telling children that it’s sweetened right to die for your country.