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

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What powerful thoughts and feelings are conveyed by the poet in "Dulce et Decorum Est?"

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"Dulce et Decorum Est" conveys the horrors of war by describing the death by asphyxiation of a young soldier due to a gas attack. In a gripping, horrifying description of the man's death, Owen describes the man "guttering, choking, drowning," a scene that haunts his dreams even after the incident. But this evocation of the death agonies of young men is only part of Owen's message. What really makes Owen's account powerful is his juxtaposition of this scene, as well as the general miseries of trench warfare, which sees young men doubled over "like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags," trudging through muck and mire, with the patriotic pronouncements of politicians back home. These are the men who, according to Owen, perpetuate "the old lie" that gives the poem its title:

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

This phrase, attributed to Horace, would have been familiar to the classically educated middle classes of Britain, and the realities of war as described so powerfully by Owen demonstrate the absurdity of the notion. For Owen, who had experienced the war firsthand, claims about patriotism and glory rang hollow. War was fundamentally about human misery and death, and if those who encouraged young men to go the front experienced these horrors, they would see things differently.

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