How did Wilfred Owen use language for effect in 'Dulce et Decorum Est'?

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lusie0520 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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In ”Dulce Et Decorum Est,” Wilfred Owen uses figurative language to create effect.  There are a number of similes in the poem, for example.  The first line says “Bent double, like old beggars under sacks.”  This creates the comparison between an old, bent over beggar and the soldiers, who are bent over from the weight of their packs.  During the gas attack, he compares the man who did not get his helmet on in time to a man “flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.”  After the man is thrown in the wagon, Owen compares his face to a devil’s face “sick of sin.”  Later, he compares the blood coming from the soldier’s lungs to cancer.  “Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud.” The comparisons in these similes bring familiar images to the reader’s mind and help the reader to relate to the predicament of the soldiers in the poem.

Owen also uses imagery to help evoke feelings in the reader.  An example of this is “Many had lost their boots, but limped on, blood-shod.”  The image of the barefoot soldier, shod only in blood as he walks, is a vivid one.  Later in the poem, the soldier has been thrown into the wagon, and Owen describes the “White eyes, writhing in his face.”  This description allows the reader to feel the desperation of the man who is slowly smothering to death.  The idea of “…blood, come gargling from his froth-corrupted lungs” also creates a powerful image of what is happening to the dying soldier.

Owen writes using powerfully emotional words, such as stumbling, flound’ring,  drowning, smothering, writhing, ecstasy, guttering, choking, writhing, hanging, and gargling.”  These words are very active, thus suggesting to the reader all the agony of both the dying soldier and the men who walk behind him.  One of the best examples of using language for effect happens in the last two lines,  Translated, they mean “it is sweet and right to die for your country.”  After reading the entire poem, the reader arrives at this line, told to children to build patriotism.  It leaves the reader asking. “What was sweet and right about this man’s death?”

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