soldier crawling on hands and knees through a trench under a cloud of poisonous gas with dead soldiers in the foreground and background

Dulce et Decorum Est

by Wilfred Owen

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Explain the final three stanzas of the poem "Dulce et Decorum Est" by Wilfred Owen.

The poem is an anti-war poem. It reflects the reality of the war and the futility of war in general. The poem is written by a soldier who has experienced such horrors and he wants to express his feelings. In the end, Owen asks us not to glorify war by calling it “sweet and proper” when it is nothing but agonizing death, suffering and destruction. He says that there can never be any glory or honour in such death, loss, agony and destruction.

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The first stanza of the poem describes the ongoing misery, deprivation, and physical pain of the soldiers fighting in the trenches during World War I. The second stanza, beginning with the line: "Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!" involves a shift of pace and focus from ongoing misery to the sudden panic ensuing from a mustard gas attack. From when the shells are spotted, the soldiers have very little time to equip their gas masks and avoid inhaling the mustard gas. In the poem, most of the soldiers manage to put on their masks in time, but one is too slow and ends up inhaling the gas. 

The third and fourth stanzas describe in excruciating detail the effect of the gas on that soldier. Although his comrades manage to get him in a wagon which will convey him to where he can be treated (although full recovery in cases of severe exposure is not likely), he meanwhile is suffering from agonizing burns of his face, eyes, and lungs. Owen describes him:

white eyes writhing in his face,

His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin; ...

the blood ... gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, 

This vision prompts Own to say that anyone who had the experience of watching this happen would not describe such injuries or deaths as "sweet and proper".


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