The horrors and brutality of war are shown in “Dulce et Decorum Est” through Wilfred Owen’s descriptions of the physical and psychological effects of war on the soldier. In the first stanza, Owen describes the physical hardships of war when he writes, “Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge.” The soldiers’ clothing is torn and tattered like beggars, and they are sick with pneumonia or other respiratory ailments as they march through the plains of mud on the battlefield. In addition, they are lame, marching as if asleep and are “drunk with fatigue”. The physical exhaustion caused by war shows that it is especially brutal on the body; they are metaphorically the walking dead. This bodily fatigue will also cause psychological problems for a soldier.
In stanza two, we see the panic of the soldiers as mustard gas bombs explode around them, and they barely have time to grab their gas masks before they will die from the gas. The fear of dying is ever present on a soldier, and that fear causes psychological problems like shell shock in WWI (today it is called PTSD). In stanza three, the psychological effects of loading dead bodies of your friends and fellow soldiers into a cart to take them away are seen. Owen describes the dead soldier’s face as obscene and ghastly. The psychological effect of burying the dead and seeing your friends die around you also shows the brutality of war.
Through descriptions, Owen shows the realities of war and how it affects all who fight. War not only affects a soldier physically but psychologically as well. Innocent young men who go off to war will come back very different because of the physical and psychological strains of fighting, killing, and surviving war.