Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Wilfred Owen set his poem “Dulce et Decorum Est” during World War I on the western front in France. His purpose—to protest against the mentality that perpetuates war—is unmistakable, but what sets the work apart from much other antiwar literature is the effectiveness of his tightly controlled depiction of war.
The first fourteen of the poem’s twenty-eight lines comprise a sonnet that vividly describes a single terrible moment. The last twelve address the reader directly, explaining the significance or moral of the incident. The speaker is among a company of exhausted men who after a stint at the front are marching unsteadily toward the rear when they are suddenly overtaken by poison gas. After they hastily pull on their gas masks, the speaker sees through the misty lenses that one of them, somehow maskless, is staggering helplessly toward him. He watches the man succumb to the gas, desperately groping the air between them as he drops to the ground, like someone drowning. The third stanza shifts the context to the speaker’s dreams. In a single couplet, the speaker declares that in all his dreams he sees that soldier plunging toward him. In the final stanza, he turns to the readers, telling them that if they, too, could have experienced such dreams and watched the soldier dying on the wagon into which the soldiers flung him, they would never repeat to their children “The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est/ Pro patria mori.”
(The entire section is 1666 words.)
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