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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Why is the title repeated in the last line of "Dulce et Decorum Est"?

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The phrase "Dulce et decorum est / Pro partria mori" is from Horace's Odes, a collection of poems by the Roman poet. Essentially, it means "it is sweet and proper to die for one's country." In his poem "Dulce et Decorum Est," Wilfred Owen illustrates the human misery and horror of war through a series of arresting images. Soldiers are slogging their way through mud, "bent double" and "coughing like hags." Amid the horror of a gas attack, one unfortunate soldier cannot get his mask on quickly enough, and he dies in front of his comrades, "guttering, choking, drowning" with his "white eyes writhing in his face."

Owen concludes that any person who had witnessed these scenes would recognize that the line from Horace was a lie. By situating the line at the end of the poem, Owen juxtaposes its sentimental view of war with his own view, based on experience, that war is inhuman and horrific. There is nothing "sweet and proper" about a soldier's death, and to a man choking to death in a muddy trench from exposure to poison gas, it is no consolation at all that he died for his country. In short, he saves the line from Horace for the end of the poem in order to illustrate the absurdity of the sentiment it reflected in the most powerful way possible.

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Why do the last two lines of "Dulce et Decorum Est" repeat the title?

Wilfred Owen titled his poem after a Latin saying that means "how sweet and fitting it is to die for one's country." The poem was written as a protest to those who recruited young men to serve in World War I by presenting a rosy and unrealistic picture of the life of a soldier. Owen, who served in battle himself, wanted to portray the horrors of trench warfare, not to dissuade men from enlisting, but to make sure everyone, recruits as well as the public, knew the great sacrifice Great Britain was requiring of its soldiers. By beginning and ending the poem with the Latin saying, Owen emphasizes the verbal irony that is central to his poem. Being confronted with the Latin phrase in the title before reading the poem, readers may at first expect that the poem will support the sentiment. When they read of the horrible conditions, the death of the man who doesn't get his mask on in time, and the tormenting nightmares of the man's fellow soldier, readers begin to question the Latin phrase from the title. What Owen describes is anything but "sweet and fitting." At the end of the poem, Owen states clearly that the saying is "the old lie." He then repeats the entire sentence, this time including the part "to die for one's country." The ending brings the poem full circle and emphasizes the contrast between the saying and the reality. 

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