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 is the tone of Owen's "Dulce et Decorum Est"?  

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Wilfred Owen's poem, "Dulce et Decorum Est", takes its title and ending from Horace's phrase "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" (it is sweet and proper to die for the sake of one's country), a phrase that would have been familiar to any reader of the period, as Horace, in the original Latin, was a standard secondary school text. The Horatian tag leads to reader to expect a calm, stoical, Horatian tone, extolling the aristocratic virtues of courage and self-control. Instead, the picture we are confronted with in the first line is neither calm nor noble:

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge ...
The tone of the poem, as it describes the horrors of trench warfare and the effects of mustard gas, is bitter and angry, resenting the noble lies that led young men to sacrifice their lives in such a fashion. 

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