Do you think that the speaker of Owen’s poem would agree with the sentiment expressed in the title of the poem (“It is sweet and right to die for one's country”)? Support your answer with...

Do you think that the speaker of Owen’s poem would agree with the sentiment expressed in the title of the poem (“It is sweet and right to die for one's country”)? Support your answer with textual evidence.

Expert Answers
andrewnightingale eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The speaker paints a harrowing picture of the ghastly conditions of war, so no, he would NOT agree with the idealistic notion that it is sweet and right to die for ones country.

From the outset the speaker paints a horrifically vivid picture of the soldiers' suffering at the front. The men are exhausted and stumbling through the thick mud, they are numb and unfeeling. Their senses have been blighted by their exhaustion. They are sloughing through the sludge, bent over 'like old beggars under sacks.' They walk as if they are carrying a burden, their knees knocking against each other and 'coughing like old hags.' 

The men are marching 'towards our distant rest' which could be a reference to a military camp or station in which they can have some welcome respite. they leave behind them, 'haunting flares', which is a reference to the flares being fired into the night sky to improve visibility. The word 'haunting' creates an other-worldly image, the men look like ghosts stepping out of a graveyard, which the battlefront has actually become.

The mixture of alliteration and assonance (the 'm' and 'o') emphasise the men's fatigue and the sombre mood. The speaker repeats 'all' indicating that no one is excluded. The suffering the men endure is universal. This emphasises the fact that the speaker is not speaking about one battle or one war only, but about all forms of physical conflict. Theses lines furthermore illustrate the determination of these men who continue their march, despite the fact that their feet are bloody and they are practically physically indisposed. The soldiers are literally dead on their feet, so overwhelmed by exhaustion that they hardly see or hear anything. They blindly press forward, deaf to the sounds of huge shells exploding around them.

In the next stanza, the speaker's tone becomes urgent and desperate. He conveys the desperate cries of his comrades:

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—

This cry is superseded by relating the desperate attempts of the men to protect themselves against the noxious gases released by the enemy. Most of them fumblingly put on their helmets just in time, but someone did not quite make it and was crying out in pain as the fumes overwhelmed him, burning and choking. The speaker conveys his horror:

Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
Through the lenses of his gas mask he witnesses his comrade's suffering. He is gasping for air like someone drowning. The air is thick with the green gas which has been released.
In the stand-alone couplet the speaker tells us how that ghastly scene has stayed with him. It is an unforgettable image, one that haunts him in all his dreams. He repeatedly witnesses this gruesome image of the soldier's suffering:
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning
These lines inform us how these events have become even more personal. It has had a profound impact on him. This further illustrates that the horrors of war become deeply personal events which radically change the lives and perceptions of those individuals who are caught up in its ignominy.
In the next ten lines, the speaker addresses the reader directly, drawing us in and suggesting that we experience that which he had. He deliberately uses
terrifyingly hideous images to remind us of the terror that they, and ultimately he, had to face.
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
The descriptors are truly appalling and most aptly convey the horrendous reality of war. The speaker submits that if we, the readers, were the ones who had suffered the nightmares which he had experienced, we surely would not, with such enthusiastic clamour, tell children who were striving for glory or recognition, the old lie: that it is sweet and right to die for one's country.
The 'Lie' is capitalised and therefore emphasised, which informs us that that is what the speaker believes - there is no truth in such conviction.
Read the study guide:
Dulce et Decorum Est

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