The tone of this anti-war poem is bitter. Owens is bitter at the way warfare, and in particular World War I, has been glorified. This leads to the ironic title "Dulce et decorum est," a Latin phrase which means "it is sweet and honorable." It is taken from a longer passage from Horace: "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori," which means "It is sweet and honorable to die for one's country."
The vivid, violent imagery in the poem shows, in contrast, that dying for one's country is anything but sweet and honorable. The soldiers in the opening lines are not sweet, noble, or heroic: they are "knock-kneed" and "coughing" like "hags." They are weary, blind, lame, limping, fatigued.
Much of the poem describes the horrific effects of a gas attack. Once again, Owens shows the misery and lack of glory in war. The blood gurgles from the lungs of the gas victim as he is jolted along in a wagon while sores form on his tongue.
The speaker ends bitterly by stating that if people could see the horrors...
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