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 does 'blood-shod' mean in the poem 'Dulce Et Decorum Est'?

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In the poem 'Dulce Et Decorum Est', 'blood-shod' describes the terrible condition of soldiers who have lost their boots and are forced to march on bloodied feet, giving the appearance of wearing bloody boots. The term is a play on 'bloodshed', enhancing the grimness of the scene. The poet, Owen, uses brutally vivid descriptions to expose the horrors of war and challenge the notion that it is noble to die for one's country, a prevalent idea during World War I.

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According to Merriam-Webster's dictionary, to be shod means to be wearing shoes or to be furnished with a shoe.  The narrator of this poem tells us that the marching soldiers were in terrible shape and that many of them "had lost their boots" (line 5).  Nonetheless, they have no choice but to keep marching, to keep moving to their next position, so they limp on, "blood-shod" (6).  Since they have lost their boots, but must keep marching over scarred battlefields and rough terrain, it is likely that their feet have actually become bloody, torn up by these conditions and the men's inability to rest or find new boots.  Therefore, to be "blood-shod" means that the men seem to be wearing boots made of blood.  Their socks would have become soaked in their own blood, so it would appear that they are actually wearing bloody boots, although they are really just marching on horribly bloodied feet.

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The term 'blood-shod' (line 6) means literally that the soldiers are wearing shoes of blood; they are having to wade through all the blood and gore that surrounds them in the midst of trench warfare. The phrase is a play on the common word 'bloodshed' and heightens the vividness of the grim scene, as does the poem in general. The poet's utter revulsion at the whole business is never in doubt. Owen lays bare the horrors of war with his brutally vivid descriptions, culminating in the final verse with the portrayal of a man who is gassed:

the white eyes writhing in his face,

His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin (lines 19-20)

Owen's aim in this poem, and in his poetryas a whole, is to denounce the evils of war. At this time many people were simply not aware of just how bad things really were in the trenches of World War I. Owen aimed to shock them out of their complacency and to get rid of any illusions that war is a fine and noble thing, as claimed by some, for example the Latin poet Horace. The title of the poem is part of a quote from Horace, and the whole quote is given at the end of the poem:

Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori (lines 27-28)

This can be translated as: 'It is sweet and right to die for your country'. Owen aimed to expose this idea as 'The old Lie' (line 27).

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In "Dulce et Decorum Est," what is the grim joke of "blood-shod"?

I don't know that I would call this a "joke" of any kind, but I suppose you are really asking about Owen's deliberate choice of words here being at once a metaphor and, almost, a homophone for something else. By "blood-shod," Owen means to imply that the soldiers are so weary and struggling so much, having walked so far for so long, that they are wearing blood on their feet rather than shoes. The soldiers in question, the "some," have lost their boots in the struggle of the war but are unable to do anything other than continue to march, leading their feet to become torn, shredded, and bloody. They are not literally "shod" in blood—indeed, they are unshod—but their feet appear red with blood. Owen plays a lot with sound and rhymes/half-rhymes in his poetry, too, however, so we can also pick up on the similarity of sound between "blood-shod" and "bloodshot," a much more commonly used word. "Bloodshot" usually refers to the way our eyes appear when we are sore and very tired, so it seems to fit in this context. We can imagine that these very weary and tired soldiers are likely to have bloodshot eyes to accompany their "blood-shod" feet, completing the picture of exhaustion Owen paints.

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In "Dulce et Decorum Est," what is the grim joke of "blood-shod"?

The narrator describes the plight of the foot soldiers during World War I.  They march and they march, through mud, bent over double from carrying their heavy packs.  All the men are exhausted and disheartened, but they have no choice but to march on.  The speaker says that "Many had lost their boots, / But limped on, blood-shod" (lines 6-7).  In other words, if a soldier lost his boots somehow, he would have no other option but to continue on or be left behind to die.  So, even soldiers without boots would continue to march, over battlefields and rocks, bloodying their feet.  In fact, there might eventually be so much blood that it would actually appear that they were wearing shoes made of blood: thus they appeared to be blood shod.  It is an incredibly jarring image that sounds terribly painful and indicates just how tortuous being a soldier in this war was. 

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