How is the structure of "Dulce Et Decorum Est" by Wilfred Owen linked to its meaning?
Dulce Et Decorum Est
by Wilfred Owen
Dulce Et Decorum Est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.
GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
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.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
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The poem centrally tries to convince its audience that war is not the glittering arena of strong uniformed heroes who valiantly meet in armed combat and die glorious deaths for the sake of their nation. This is something that is achieved through stanzas of varying line lengths that generally are pentameters (have ten syllables). It is important though to see how Owen subverts a traditional poetic form by using the pentameters to express his message.
Firstly, note the way that each stanza has a varying number of lines. This is most clearly shown in the third stanza which only contains two lines for emphasis. Owen clearly uses this to highlight the importance of this short stanza, as it describes the full haunting horror of his memories of watching his fellow soldier die from gas, away from the front lines, dying a terrible death full of suffering and indignity.
This is something that structurally we can observe as he expresses his bitterness in the final stanza. The "old lie" that he criticises so intensely is focused in the Latin phrase that ends the poem. What is important to note is the run-on line or enjambement that is used to leave "Pro patria mori" danging by itself at the end of the poem, perhaps signalling it out for particular scorn from the perspective of the author. To die for one's country is precisely the lie that the poet is trying to expose as being anything but sweet and fitting.
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