Why do you think Wilfred Owen's poem is entitled "Dulce et Decorum Est?"

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Wilfred Owen seems to purposely name his war poem "Dulce et Decorum Est" in order to expose the glamorization of war and the lie that it is a "wonderful and great honour to fight and die" for one's country.

The setting of the poem is World War I. Owen has become to many the authoritative poet of the time, writing chilling and moving poetry about the war—until he returned to action and was killed shortly before the war's end. However, he served to preserve images of the World War I and provide commentary with regard to the fate of soldiers who fought for love of country.

The poem's title is part of a longer verse...

Dulce et Decorum est

Pro patria mori.

Translated, this means:

It is sweet and right to die for your country.

However, with the things that Owen witnessed on the battlefield, we can infer that he does not agree with the statement, calling it "the old Lie," emphasizing "Lie" with capitalization. For in seeing such horrific images of death—that haunt his dreams—he sees nothing "right" or "sweet" in the painful demise of so many men who suffered on the battlefield at his side.

Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

This is what happens as one man is unable to get on his gas mask in time. The gas robs him of breath; he struggles futilely to fill his lungs with air. Dying, he is thrown on a wagon and the author witnesses his agony and death throes. The author notes that had the reader been there, he might tell a different story back home.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace

Behind the wagon that we flung him in,

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face...

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,

Obscene as cancer...

...that he would not speak so highly of dying for one's country.

There is a desire on the author's part to draw a comparison between the idealized details of the war delivered in polite society (perhaps over tea) about the heroism and nobility of dying for one's country—all spoken by those who had never seen the effects of battle—and the realities of war. For example, none have seen the green gas that burned flesh outside the body, and within the lungs—creating a sensation of "drowning" that was very real for the victim, for his lungs would fill up with fluids and he would not be able to breathe.

The author wants to stop the mythology surrounding war, especially in passing (with "high zest") empty tales of honor along to young boys. This title appropriately separates the propaganda of the "sweet and right" sacrifice of a young man's life from the butchery of the battlefield that allows for no honor, nobility or glory—and often, little chance to survive such horror. For the author, he uses the title to expose the lie and educate those who are unaware that there is no truth to the lie of:

Dulce et Decorum est

Pro patria mori.

Sources:
luiji's profile pic

luiji | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 1) Salutatorian

Posted on

'Dulce Et Decorum Est' means 'it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country. I'll give you a extract of an essay I wrote about it:

   When the poem was written, in 1917, Owen was angry at the folks back at home in England. Everyone agreed with the saying that gaining popularity throughout the country: Dulce et Decorum Est – it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country. In response he writes a poem that, although it is titled with that saying, totally contradicts it. In it he describes the death of one of his comrades:

“Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning…

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace

Behind the wagon that we flung him in,

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,

His hanging face, like a devil’s sick with sin…”

Owen makes it clear it is not sweet and fitting to die for one’s country. He has used the title sarcastically. This great contrast between the title and the poem itself proves to the readers that it is not sweet and fitting to die for one’s country at the front.

   Hope this helps somewhat...

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