How does Wilfred Owen use imagery to develop his theme in "Dulce et Decorum Est."Dulce et Decorum Est Wilfred Owen   1 Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,2 Knock-kneed, coughing like hags,...

How does Wilfred Owen use imagery to develop his theme in "Dulce et Decorum Est."

Dulce et Decorum Est

Wilfred Owen

 

1 Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
2 Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
3 Till on the haunting flares we turned out backs,
4 And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
5 Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
6 But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
7 Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
8 Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

9 Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!--An ecstasy of fumbling
10 Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
11 But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
12 And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime.--
13 Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
14 As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

15 In all my dreams before my helpless sight
16 He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

17 If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
18 Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
19 And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
20 His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin,
21 If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
22 Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
23 Bitter as the cud
24 Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
25 My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
26 To children ardent for some desperate glory,


27 The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
28 Pro patria mori.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori:  it is right and honorable to die for one’s country.

 

Asked on by maricar67

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docholl1's profile pic

Stephen Holliday | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

One of Owen's most powerful images in "Dulce et Decorum est" is of drowning:

13 Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
14 As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

The narrator is describing, of course, the soldier who has been unable to don his gas mask in time and has ingested the mustard gas.  What makes this image so powerful is that it accurately describes the most common and fatal results of mustard gas.  The narrator's reference to "misty panes and thick green light" describes him looking at the victim's eyes through the thick glass panes of the gas mask, which are tinted green "as under a green sea."  Mustard gas, once it gets into the lungs, burns the tissue, which then releases blood and water, and the victim literally drowns in his own bodily fluids.  Drowning, in this context, is both metaphor and reality.

The drowning metaphor continues in the next lines:

15 In all my dreams before my helpless sight

16 He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

The narrator, whose dreams of this horrific scene haunt him afterwards, is continually reminded that the victim drowned in front of him and on dry land and, most important, there was nothing the narrator or anyone else could do to save the victim.

Drowning, because of its central role in the poem, is one of the poem's most powerful images in that it is both the primary cause of the soldier's death and the narrator's haunting reminder of this horrific death.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

If we consider the main theme of this brilliant poem to be the truth abot the savage and brutal nature of war in contrast with the romantic thoughts that so many characters had of fighting in war and what it was like, then we can see that the imagery used in this poem supports the theme by describing the death of one soldier as he dies by a gas attack. Consider how the dead solder is described:

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
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
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues...

What is fascinating about this poem is that in so many ways it takes our expectations of soldiers and war and completely reverses them. We would imagine a soldier to die in glory whilst battling their opponent in hand-to-hand conflict or making a brave assault. In this poem, the casualty dies when they are walking away from enemy lines and they die without even seeing their enemy. In addition, as the imagery makes clear, he dies in a way that is terrible and grotesque and very violent. Note the details we are given of his "white eyes writhing" and how his face is described as "like a devil's sick of sin." His lungs are "froth-corrupted" and we gain a very strong impression of the terrible way in which this poor soldier died. In the face of such a reality, such phrases as the title alludes to are clearly untrue and deceitful.

 

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