What were Wilfred Owen's feelings about the event he witnessed and the effect of war on people's lives?

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rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Although Wilfred Owen, the author of "Dulce et Decorum Est," was an officer who fought in World War I for the British, it is not clear whether the event he describes in the poem is one he personally witnessed. Since poets often write in the voice of a persona, one cannot take a poem as autobiographical unless the poet has provided evidence elsewhere that that is the case. Nevertheless, even if Owen did not experience the exact event described in the poem, he certainly was involved in similar situations. He was hospitalized for shell shock, and while in the hospital he met Siegfried Sassoon, a writer of fiercely realistic war poetry. Sassoon influenced him to process his experiences through poetry. 

Another inspiration for this poem, from the negative side, was Jessie Pope, a writer for periodicals who wrote jingoistic war poetry that tried to entice young men to enlist. Owen originally titled this poem "To Jessie Pope." You can read a sample of the type of poem Owen was reacting to at the link below. 

From the poem we can deduce that Owen was deeply affected by the horrors of World War I, particularly trench and gas warfare. The poem describes nightmares similar to what Owen experienced: "In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, he plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning." Witnessing a kind of warfare the world had never seen before was emotionally scarring to the men who fought. No wonder Owen was angered by the unrealistic and rosy picture the recruiting efforts painted for young boys. His anger is apparent when he says that if you (that is, Jessie Pope) could suffer from similar nightmares, you would not tell gullible young men the lie that it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country. 

Owen was not against fighting for one's country. After he was released from the hospital, he returned to battle. He even won the award of the Military Cross for his valor. Sadly, he died in action a week before the end of the war. What Owen objected to, strenuously and eloquently, was deceiving young men into enlisting before they really understood what they were getting into. His realistic war poetry helped to raise awareness among potential recruits and the country at large about the sacrifice that Britain required of its soldiers.

ebrees | Student

Wilfred Owens belongs to a group of soldiers who fought in World War 1 who have become known as the trench poets. To understand the imagery and feelings expressed in this poem, you must understand the contradictions between what these young men were promised and what they actually experienced.

At the time, young men were encouraged to join the fight from both sides by their elders (parents, teachers, politicians, etc.) in order to bring honor upon themselves and their country. It was a different time; nationalism was in full fervor and youth were being preached at that the good of their respective countries was more important than anything else, including their own lives.  That is why the title of the poem means "It is sweet and glorious to die for one's country". Wilfred intends this to be interpreted ironically.

Once these young men enlisted and went to the front, however, they quickly realized there was nothing sweet or glorious about it. In fact it was a hellish experience, and they felt completely let down and lied to by their respective countries. This poem contrasts the promise of glory and high ideas of nationalism with the reality of the actual experience of fighting in the trenches.

Wilfred was actually hospitalized for shell shock, which is how they labeled what is now called PTSD, as a result of his trench experiences. It was while he was convalescing that he actually wrote this poem. He later returned to the front and was killed in action a few years later. It is through the observations of the trench poets that we are able to experience at a gut-level what these soldiers lived and died through.

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Dulce et Decorum Est

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