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

Start Free Trial

What is the message of "Dulce et Decorum Est"? Original question: What three different images and three different figures of speech are used by the poet in "Dulce et Decorum Est" to convey his message? What is the message of each listed image? Moreover, What is the overall message of this poem?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The main message of this poem is that it is not "sweet and fitting to die for one's country" as so many people choose to believe; war is tragic and awful and gruesome and miserable, and so are the effects that it has on young people. Owen uses a simile when he says that the soldiers are "Bent double, like old beggars under sacks" and another simile when he says that they are "coughing like hags." A metaphor compares the effects of their extreme fatigue to being "Drunk." All three of these comparisons paint pictures of the awful effects war has on these young, healthy men. They now seem old, decrepit, and weak, when they ought to be vital, vibrant, and innocent.

Owen creates an auditory image with his description of the "hoots / Of gas-shells dropping"; the soldiers are so tired that they do not even hear these sounds, but the onomatopoetic word, hoots, helps us to hear them. Its a rather eerie sound. Owen creates a visual image with his description of the speaker's sight, "Dim through the misty panes and thick green light, / As under a green sea, I saw him drowning." He watches a fellow soldier who does not put on his gas mask in time and who inhales the chlorine gas that will burn the tissue in his lungs and, eventually kill him. Another auditory image describes the "gargling [coming] from the [soldier's] froth-corrupted lungs," as he dies an agonizing and painful and prolonged death. All three of these images create a frightening mood of confusion and pain; they make the reader feel the dread experienced by the soldiers, and this helps to prove the poet's point.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Wilfred Owen's poem "Dulce et decorum est" responds to a line by Horace, "dulce et decorum est pro patria more", or "it is fitting and sweet to die for the sake of one's country." Owen’s is criticizing Horace’s romanticization of war by showing the brutality of trench warfare in World War I, which was a very different sort of war than that envisaged by the Roman poet due to the industrialization of military technology. Rather than war being a matter of individual bravery, it was a matter of mass killing. Infection and disease killed or maimed as many as direct hits by artillery.

Basically, Owens is conveying an anti-war message by debunking the notion that war is glamorous.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team