DULCE ET DECORUM EST

-Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
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.
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 of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen in the poem “Dulce et Decorum Est” expresses the harsh truth of war.  The poet, who had served his country at the warfront, says with conviction there is nothing glorious about it. The lines “ Dulce  et Decorum Est,  Pro patria mori” by Roman poet Horace, which professes that it is sweet and honourable to die for one’s country, is nothing but an “old lie” which advocates  the ruthless and wanton killing of human lives.

He, who is intimately acquainted with the real vices of warfare, says that unlike the gallant pictures painted by fervent patriots, the soldiers on the warfront are hackneyed,  “bent double like old beggars”  under the weight of the sacks they carry, and unsure about their next step. They trudge slowly, toward their distant camps, where they will rest, before the next call for combat. The soldiers, move on, unstable on their feet, as if intoxicated by fatigue, as the 5.9 calibre explosives, drop behind them.

Suddenly there is a shift in the mood of the poem, and the tired cadence is broken by an attack of poisonous gas. There is an “ecstasy of fumbling”, as the soldiers desperately struggle to fit their gas masks. But, one of his comrades is still shouting “Gas! Gas! Quick boys!” until it is too late for him. He is flung ruthlessly into the carriage, as he chokes on the poisonous gas, and death slowly claims him.

Owen says that, he is haunted by the horrors of war, even after being discharged. He is tortured by the memories of his companion’s contorted, grotesque face, moments before his death and by the image of the blood gargling out of his lungs charred by the poisonous gas.  The trauma of seeing these images, being played again and again in the mind’s eye, agonizes him, and the horrors of the war never leave him, even after he has recuperated from the physical pain

This poem is carefully constructed with pitiful and poignant details about the realities of war, and the poet emphasizes on the fact that warfare is unnecessary and that it desensitizes humans, transforming them to war machines, without traces of morality.

 

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