Introduction to Dulce et Decorum Est

Published posthumously in 1920, Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” is emblematic of a new tide in war poetry among British soldiers in World War I. In contrast to earlier World War I verses, such as those of Rupert Brooke, that glorified fighting on behalf of one’s country, Owen’s poetry presents the realities and horrific traumas of modern warfare in full relief. In fact, “Dulce et Decorum Est” was first drafted while Owen was in treatment in Edinburgh for post-traumatic stress disorder in 1917. Owen was killed in battle in 1918, at the age of twenty-five.

“Dulce et Decorum Est” employs pentameter rhythms and an alternating rhyme scheme, but its broader structure is loose, befitting the chaos of the battlefield scene described. Owen’s diction is vivid, hectic, and often horrifying, and his tone shifts from exhaustion to bitter irony.

A Brief Biography of Wilfred Owen

Wilfred Owen (1893–1918) was a British poet. He wrote the majority of his poetry while deployed as a soldier during World War I, and most of his work was published posthumously, as Owen was killed in action. The Owen family were working class, and they raised their children to be devoutly evangelical Christians. Wilfred Owen later worked in a vicarage while attending the University of Reading. His work within the church disillusioned him towards religion, and his later experiences during the war cemented this attitude. Owen spent a few years following his graduation working as a private tutor before he eventually—and reluctantly—enlisted in World War I. He suffered several traumatic injuries during his initial tour, and was sent to war hospital to recuperate. While there, he met fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon, who encouraged Owen to begin translating his wartime experiences into poetry. Owen made the fateful decision to return to the frontlines in July of 1918 out of the belief that it would lend credence to his poetry. However, he was killed in action in November of 1918, just days before the armistice that ended the war. His poetry, which was published posthumously, helped to change the public’s perception of the war: rather than emphasizing glory or patriotism, Owen’s poetry is known for exposing the dark, horrific, and traumatic side of war. His best-known poems include "Anthem for Doomed Youth," "Insensibility," "Dulce et Decorum Est," and "Spring Offensive."

Frequently Asked Questions about Dulce et Decorum Est

Dulce et Decorum Est

In the last line of the first stanza, the speaker refers to the “gas shells dropping softly behind” the soldiers as they trudge through the mud of the battlefields. The first line of the second...

Latest answer posted April 7, 2021, 11:35 am (UTC)

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Dulce et Decorum Est

"Dulce et Decorum Est” is written in iambic pentameter. It is not perfectly regular, and there are substitutions of other kinds of metrical feet, but the rhythm is consistent enough to be called...

Latest answer posted April 7, 2021, 3:48 pm (UTC)

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Dulce et Decorum Est

Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” graphically describes the horrors of war from his experience as a solder in World War I. He opens the poem with: Bent double, like old beggars under...

Latest answer posted April 7, 2021, 2:47 pm (UTC)

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Dulce et Decorum Est

This phrase is used to describe the dreadful appearance of a young soldier who has inhaled some kind of poison gas and is now dying, slowly and painfully. He did not get his gas mask on in time,...

Latest answer posted April 7, 2021, 12:17 pm (UTC)

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Dulce et Decorum Est

In the World War One poem "Dulce et Decorum Est," the poet Wilfred Owen exposes the brutal reality of the war, and to this end he describes in gruesome, horrific detail the pain of one soldier who...

Latest answer posted April 6, 2021, 2:51 pm (UTC)

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Dulce et Decorum Est

One can absolutely read “Dulce et Decorum Est” as an anti-war poem. The speaker describes the idea that it is sweet and becoming to die for one’s country—via a quotation in Latin from the Roman...

Latest answer posted April 6, 2021, 11:47 am (UTC)

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Dulce et Decorum Est

"Obscene as cancer"is a subset of metaphor called simile. A metaphor is a comparison, and a simile is a particular form of comparison that uses the words "like" or "as." "Obscene as cancer" is a...

Latest answer posted April 6, 2021, 1:52 pm (UTC)

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Dulce et Decorum Est

In the second stanza of the poem, Owen describes the excruciating agony experienced by a soldier caught in a poison gas attack. The Germans used poison gas as a weapon in World War One; in 1915, in...

Latest answer posted April 6, 2021, 11:34 am (UTC)

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Dulce et Decorum Est

The soldiers described in the poem are “knock-kneed and coughing like hags” because the conditions of war are so terribly hard on their bodies. Remember that soldiers would typically be young men,...

Latest answer posted April 6, 2021, 12:08 pm (UTC)

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Dulce et Decorum Est

"Drunk with fatigue" is indeed a metaphor. The soldiers Owen is describing are not literally drunk, and of course it is not literally possible to drink fatigue. However, what Owen is suggesting is...

Latest answer posted April 5, 2021, 11:26 am (UTC)

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Dulce et Decorum Est

This vivid simile is an interesting one to try to unpack. Owen describes the "hanging" face of a soldier who has been thrown into a wagon. His eyes are "writhing" in his face and his lungs are...

Latest answer posted April 5, 2021, 11:19 am (UTC)

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Dulce et Decorum Est

Owen describes the soldiers' feet in vivid terms as being "shod" in blood, suggesting that the coating of blood is thick and all-encompassing, like shoes. So, one could argue that this is a...

Latest answer posted April 5, 2021, 11:05 am (UTC)

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Dulce et Decorum Est

"Dulce et Decorum Est" is not a sonnet. A sonnet is a particular type of poem which must demonstrate certain key features. Sonnets are fourteen lines long and adhere to a particular meter and rhyme...

Latest answer posted April 5, 2021, 11:12 am (UTC)

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Dulce et Decorum Est

Imagery is created when an author uses vivid language to describe sensory details. Therefore, imagery can be visual, for something we might see; auditory, for something we might hear; olfactory,...

Latest answer posted April 5, 2021, 11:35 am (UTC)

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Dulce et Decorum Est

The Latin phrase from which the poem takes its title—Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori—means that "it is sweet and proper to die for one's country." In 1914, at the beginning of World War One,...

Latest answer posted April 4, 2021, 12:56 pm (UTC)

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Dulce et Decorum Est

The speaker of "Dulce et Decorum Est" is a soldier who has fought on the front lines in World War I. He is bitter and disillusioned by all he has seen. Though Wilfred Owen never attended...

Latest answer posted April 4, 2021, 12:07 pm (UTC)

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Dulce et Decorum Est

Wilfred Owen wrote "Dulce et Decorum Est" during World War One. He fought in the war himself, until he was killed in 1918, just days before the end of the war. At the start of the war, in 1914, the...

Latest answer posted April 4, 2021, 12:31 pm (UTC)

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Dulce et Decorum Est

The title of this poem about World War I comes from a longer Latin phrase: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. In English, it means "it is sweet and proper to die for one's country," much the...

Latest answer posted April 4, 2021, 12:11 pm (UTC)

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Dulce et Decorum Est

"Dulce et Decorum Est" was written during World War I by Wilfred Owen, a soldier who served in it, and he harshly critiques that war. But the poem is also more generally a statement against all...

Latest answer posted April 4, 2021, 11:48 am (UTC)

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Dulce et Decorum Est

The speaker of the poem describes the fellow soldier who inhales poison gas as “stumbling” around, yelling, and “flound’ring” like a man on fire or as one who is “drowning” and gasps for air. He...

Latest answer posted April 7, 2021, 2:37 pm (UTC)

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