Dulce et Decorum Est
Dulce et Decorum Est is about a World War One soldier’s horrific experiences on and off the battle field. This soldier witnessed a comrade die in a gas attack and was mentally scarred. He, after enduring the pain and harsh realities of war, challenges Horace’s old saying; dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.
The first stanza sets the scene for us as it describes the conditions the men fought in, and their feelings. The emotionally drained, exhausted men are making their way to the trenches, looking for some form of rest. The poet compares these worn out soldiers to ‘beggars’ and ‘hags’. I think that ‘bent double, like old beggars under sacks’, is a really good simile that explains that the men are so tired that they can’t even stand upright and they resemble beggars, in that they haven’t slept in a bed for days.
The simile ‘coughing like hags’, was used, because the men who went into battle were relatively young, yet after they fought a battle they looked old and ugly, hence hag. These men were forced to age before their time, due to their weariness and their bad health condition as a result of living in such circumstances. ‘Like old beggars under sacks’ also tells me that their once clean and smart uniforms were now muddy, tattered and torn, so much so, that the poet thinks of them as nothing more than ‘sacks’.
The poet uses words like ‘knock-kneed’, ‘coughing’ and ‘limped’ to give you a visual image of how the men were walking. The image that I had was of an old person, who was having trouble even taking a step, not that of a proud, strong soldier during the war.
‘Men marched asleep’
These men had been walking for so long that marching was done without thought as it was carried out automatically. It became a habit, which they were even able to do in their sleep.
‘Deaf even to the hoots’
The sounds of war are usually those of cries, gun shots and the explosions of bombs being dropped. These men have been surrounded by all of these sounds, for weeks on end and have become accustomed to them, so they find it a normal thing.
The second stanza is very lively as the poet begins with the men being alerted to a gas-attack. The poet makes this stanza very interesting, as he compares the gas-attack to a green sea. There are also a lot of descriptive similes in this stanza which gives you a visual image of how the soldier reacted to the lethal gas, being used as part of the warfare.
‘An ecstasy of fumbling’
The word ecstasy seems odd in this context, as we use it to describe a feeling of extreme happiness. The word ecstasy also means a state of mind, when it has only one objective, in this case, get their gas masks on, in order to keeping on living.
‘As under a sea of green’
The poet could have described the gas attack as a sea, because of how it felt to be looking through a mask, like a diver would under the sea. He could also have used the word sea, referring to the affects of the gas, which literally makes the men drown in their own blood.
The third stanza explains the memories the poet has of the incident, in the form of recurring nightmares. I like this stanza, as it is a couplet and it gives you vivid detail of how the soldier was slowly dying.
‘Guttering, choking, drowning’
This phrase is an example of consonance. I think it is really good as it is all in the present tense, giving you the feeling that it is occurring now. All of these words are also ways of dying. I think the message the poet is trying to get across is, that the man who didn’t get his mask on in time, was suffering so much that it was like dying three deaths.
Stanza four has a very violent tone, as it confronts the reader with the cruel truth of war and fighting. I find this stanza quite frightening as I can picture all of the situations the poet presents. The worst part of it, I think, is that the poet was actually in this war and can genuinely state the realities of war.
From this word you can tell that there were so many corpses the soldiers weren’t able to treat the bodies the way they should be treated. This also tells me that there was no honour in the way that the men died, they died as soldiers who were struggling to get their gas masks on in time.
‘White eyes writhing in his face’
This phrase gives me a visual image of how the dying soldier’s eyes were still moving and that he was still in pain.
‘His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin’
This simile is very descriptive as the poet compares the face of the chlorine affected soldier to that of the devil. I think that the poet is trying to say that even the devil would have found it repulsive.
This word tells me that the poet thinks that the soldiers are simply young men who didn’t start the war, but only fought because they had to.
When I first read this poem I didn’t understand some of the phrases and similes the poet used, but when I read it again I started to realise the depth of their meaning. I liked this poem a lot as I was able to visualise what the poet had experienced. What I find ironic is that, to the people who have never been to war the old saying; dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, is true, but to the men who have actually been there they say the opposite. Another thing that is quite strange is, that in this poem the poet describes the soldiers as weak, tired and decrepit men, as opposed to the stereotyped soldier we all know and believe to be strong, proud, heroic, loyal and brave.