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What is the attitude of Wilfred Owen about war in his poem "Dulce Est Decorum Est"?  

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ania101410 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 4, 2012 at 12:38 AM via web

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What is the attitude of Wilfred Owen about war in his poem "Dulce Est Decorum Est"?

 

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 30, 2013 at 12:42 AM (Answer #1)

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The life of Wilfred Owen addresses the futility of war. At the start of World War I, Owen was an English teacher in France. After joining the war in 1917, Owen spent time in the hospital with shell shock. He began capturing the horrors of the war in his poetry while in the hospital.  One week before the end of the war, Owen was killed in action. What a loss to the literary world!

His poem “Dulce et Decorum Est” speaks to one particular battle scene.  The title was taken from a poem by Horace, the Greek poet.  Translated it means “It is sweet and right to die for your country.”  This was not the theory of Owen.

In his poetry, Owen struggled with the difficult task of getting his country to acknowledge that there were young men dying and for what purpose.  After experiencing war, Owen adamantly believed that there was little worth the loss of life and the maiming of the young men in his war. This is the subject of his anti-war poetry.

As the poem begins, the men are marching back toward their lines.  His description of the men is vivid:

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks.

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed though sludge,

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs…

His poems were both visual and auditory experiences.

Sick, crippled, barely able to walk, the men plod toward the place where they can rest. Some of the men were sleep walking, limping along with bloody feet with no boots. They were so tired that they seemed drunk. The bombs behind them appeared not to bother them because of their fatigue.

There is a gas attack. The men fumble for their ill-fitting gas masks. One of the men was yelling and falling as though he were on fire. Through the mist and gas, the speaker can see the man go down with the gas in his lungs.

In his dreams, the poet can see this image of the man drowning with his lungs burning from the mustard gas. The man seems to plunge at him as he chokes.

Sometimes his dreams bring him the vision of the man in the wagon where he can be  heard gurgling and frothing at the mouth with his lungs full of blood.  The dead man’s face was like the devils corrupted by sin. His lungs were eaten up with cancer and bitter with phlegm, with incurable sores on his innocent mouth. 

Owen ends his poem with an indictment to any person that would not tell his children this lie: Dulce et decorum pro patrai mori: It is sweet and proper to die for your country.  It is not true.

World War I was fought in the trenches.  These were huge ditches that were filled with rats, mud, and death.  Owen observed all of these horrors and found it hard to stomach the loss of life.  The loss of life was not worth it.  Owen was willing to die for his country.  He just wanted to be sure that it was a necessity

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