Owen’s theme is apparent: death in battle is hideous, no matter how glorified poets make war or say about it. There seems irony in the fact that Owen himself was to be killed in action in France. Although in a wartime letter he called himself “a conscientious objector with a very seared conscience,” Owen in this poem does not question that to die for one’s country may be necessary.
The tone is overpowering disgust—with the butchery of war, and with those who idealize it.
War is horrifying and demoralizing describes the theme, or central idea, of “Dulce et Decorum Est”. The speaker refers to the “old Lie” because he wants the reader to realize that there is no glory in war. The soldiers in “Dulce et Decorum Est” are exhausted and delirious. The crucial event in “Dulce et Decorum Est” is where British troops are attacked with poisonous gas. The speaker addresses the reader in the last four lines of the poem. Wilfred Owen’s main rhetorical purpose in the poem is to make the reader understand the soldier’s experience. The image of young men are senselessly slaughtered in wars they have no control over reflects the Trench Poets’ attitudes toward war. The term trench poetry means that the poems were written by combat veterans of the eastern front of World War I.
Similes in “Dulce et Decorum Est” are: “Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,” “Obscene as cancer,” and “His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin.” In line 6 of “Dulce et Decorum Est,” the metaphor “blood-shod” compares blood on feet to shoes on feet.
The passage, “And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, / His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin . . .” conveys Owen’s hatred of war by directly describing a detail that is extremely gruesome. The tone of outrage and disgust with war (and with those who support it) is sustained by the speaker’s invitation to the reader to watch—something the reader clearly is not naturally inclined to do. It’s as if the poet is holding the horror of war up to our faces and making us look. The word “writhing” to describe the eyes, and the emphasis on their whiteness (a color that often conveys terror), call attention to the victim’s panic and pain. So does the adjective “hanging” modifying “face.” The simile is a stunning one: the face is not just like a devil’s, but “like a devil’s sick of sin.” Just as a demon might realize his errors and wish to escape hell, this soldier, who has probably sinned as soldiers usually must, wishes to escape the battlefield. But the simile implies that there is no escape. These stylistic touches contribute to a vivid picture of war as hell.