What is the overall message of the poem "Dulce Et Decorum Est" by Wilfred Owen?

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Dulce Et Decorum Est" is an anti-war poem by Wilfred Owen, a soldier in the British Army during World War I. The title of the poem is derived from a poem by Horace, an ancient Roman, who claimed that it was "sweet and fitting (dulce et decorum)" to die for one's country. This statement was being echoed by many British politicians in Owen's day, and it is his intent with this poem to prove that it was, as he flatly says, a "lie." He describes the drudgery and misery of war, opening the poem by describing soldiers slogging through mud "knock-kneed, like old beggars under sacks," coughing "like hags." As they are slowly marching along, a gas shell explodes nearby, and as the men fumble to put on their gas masks, they are horrified to realize that one of their number has failed to get his mask on. Owen then describes, in equally vivid language, the horrors of the man's death struggle as he thrashes about "like a man in fire or lime" and drowns as his lungs fill with fluid. The scene is terrifying, and Owen tells the reader that if they had witnessed such carnage, they would not tell the "old lie" that it was sweet and fitting to die for one's country. With these lines, he sends a powerful antiwar message through the eyes of one who has witnessed the worst of war.

kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "Dulce et Decorum Est," Owen rejects the commonly accepted idea that fighting for your country is a glorious and heroic thing to do. To emphasize this message, Owen portrays the harsh realities of life on the battlefield. In the first stanza, for example, he depicts soldiers as exhausted ("drunk with fatigue"), injured ("bent double"), and generally very weary from war, like "old beggars."

In addition, Owen dispels the myth of war's glory by describing in detail the realities of a gas attack. His use of imagery is designed to shock the reader by appealing to all of the senses. Owen talks about the "gargling" sound of blood, for instance, and describes the "incurable sores" left behind. 

In the final lines of the poem, Owen goes one step further by calling the idea of glory in battle an "old lie." His damning indictment is now complete. 

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Dulce et Decorum Est

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