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What is the structure of this poem?Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen _ Bent...

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wanderista | Student, Grade 11 | Valedictorian

Posted March 26, 2012 at 1:39 PM via web

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What is the structure of this poem?

Dulce Et Decorum Est

by Wilfred Owen

_

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.

_

How is this poem structured? What are some structural techniques of interest?

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litteacher8 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted March 26, 2012 at 1:44 PM (Answer #2)

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The poem represents unusual juxtapositions of typical poetic structure. For example, it is mostly in iambic pentameter. The changes are designed to heighten the confusion and horrific imagery of the poem. One can look at the poem as having no structure except for an intentionally interrupted rhyme scheme, or as almost two sonnets stacked on top of one another, again with unusual changes.
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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted March 26, 2012 at 3:43 PM (Answer #3)

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Key to focus on is the switch of stanzas and how they contain varying line lengths. Also note the way that the poem begins by using the first person plural, "we," then shifts to the much more intimate "I" before going on to use the accusatory "you" as the speaker seeks to involve the reader in what has been described and to make them take a side in the issue of warfare.

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lmetcalf | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted March 26, 2012 at 11:30 PM (Answer #4)

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The "story" of each stanza is also something to notice. The poem starts with a stanza about war-weary soldiers and it is sad enough to read, but the second stanza brings the true problem of the war -- the mustard gas that the enemy is using. This stanza brings a lot of very active imagery to the fore as the men are scrambling after the attack. The short two-line stanza is the climax of the story as the soldier stumbles and chokes to death. The last, long stanza is the immediate response to this man's death and then extends out to the theme of the poem as a whole: that dying in war is a glory is really just a huge lie.

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 27, 2012 at 12:09 AM (Answer #5)

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The two-line stanza is separated from the rest of the poem's structure in such a way as to draw attention to the suffering of the young man who is dying from the gas attack. I also think the "we-I-you" progression is crucial, as this is a polemical poem. Owen also deliberately uses very harsh language to convey his complete and total disdain for those who would glorify death in war.

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kiwi | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted March 27, 2012 at 5:48 AM (Answer #6)

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The uneven stanza length can be said to represent the unstable and unpredictable events of the poem. Owen is clearly able to use meter and rhyme skilfully, but plays with these techniques by giving us repetition -'drowning' as we have come to expect rhyme.

The use of the Homer phrase in Latin gives a finality that the deaths are a cruel tradition cloaked in respetability and civility. By qualifying the statement as a 'lie' Owen forcefully asserts his anger at the pointless deaths.

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literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 27, 2012 at 8:02 AM (Answer #7)

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I have always found that the varying line length in the poem symbolizes the problems, unrests, and concerns associated with war. The second stanza provides a distinct change offering instruction, which supports the confusing structure of the poem in its entirety.

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 27, 2012 at 11:15 AM (Answer #8)

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As mentioned, there is a varying length of different lines. There are stanzas that also vary: the first stanza is eight lines, the second is six lines, followed by a couplet that rhymes with the last two lines of the six-line stanza that precedes it. The last stanza has twelve lines. 

Wilfred Owen's poetic structure reflects the topic of the stanza. While the eight-line stanza, he describes soldiers trudging. The next, shorter stanza may well reflect the pace of the men as they are warned of the danger of the gas. (These images of WWI are expertly captured by Owen.)

The couplet reflects the haunting scene of this moment, that lingers—and Owen sets it apart from the reality of that moment, suspended as the dream that lingers in Owen's consciousness.

The length of the final stanza is much longer, and the movement slower—mimicking a funeral march—as the soldier is carried in the wagon, dying slowly. There is the sense of the unreal, like nightmares (as Owen points out) as they wagon moves. Owen uses the structure of his poem to reflect the message in the poem. 

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 27, 2012 at 12:59 PM (Answer #9)

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Crucial to the structure of this poem is the exceptionally long dependent clause of the final stanza. We don't reach the subject -- "My friend" (said with sarcasm) until the poem is nearly over, and then the final lines of the poem are quick and stabbing, with the cliched advice saved until the very end, where it seems exceptionally ironic.

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belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 29, 2012 at 4:34 AM (Answer #10)

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The central stanzas, detailing the loss of a man to gas:

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.

--are particularly effective in their repetition of themes; "fumbling, clumsy, stumbling, floundering, guttering, drowning." These words, showing the desperation of the affected man and his plea for help, allow the intimate and immediate understanding of toxic gas and its horrible effects on the body. The narrator can barely see the dying man "under a green sea," but remembers him vividly in his dreams nonetheless. 

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