In "Dulce et Decorum Est," what does the phrase "Haunting flares" contribute to the poem?

The phrase "haunting flares" is almost an oxymoron, combining the fiery, vivid flare with the gray ghostliness of haunting. However, a flare is primarily a distress signal, and the visually contradictory phrase describes how the soldiers are haunted by the distress of war, even when they turn their backs on it.

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"Dulce et Decorum Est" is a poem full of irony, not least in the title, where the Roman poet Horace's famous observation that it is a sweet and honorable thing to die for one's country is repeated, only to be dismissed as an "old lie." The "haunting flares" on which the soldiers turn their backs contribute to this atmosphere of uncertainty mixed with anger. The phrase is almost an oxymoron. A flare is a streak of fire cutting through the sky, only of any use if it is bright and vivid. The word "haunting," by contrast, suggests something pale and indistinct, a gray ghost hovering in the background of the scene.

The primary purpose of a flare, however, is to signal distress. Even as the soldiers turn their backs on the flares, these flares symbolize the acute pain and suffering of trench warfare. They cannot entirely turn their backs, for the flares they cannot see with their eyes haunt them in their thoughts. Vivid, fiery explosions, which look like the flares, tear off the limbs of a...

(The entire section contains 4 answers and 854 words.)

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