Owen – “Dulce Et Decorum Est” – Argumentative Essay
“Dulce et Decorum Est” is a short, four stanza poem written by British soldier and poet Wilfred Owen. Dulce describes the horrors of war as illustrated by the description of weary soldiers and the scene of a mustard gas attack as illustrated in the second stanza. Sadly, this poem was perhaps a bit prophetic as Owen died in action in 1918 at the age of 25, shortly after penning it, while attempting to lead his men across the Sambre canal at Ors. The phrase, Dulce et Decorum Est is translated from Latin to mean; “It is sweet and is the beautiful”.
Unlike the common belief that it is sweet and becoming to die for one’s country as espoused by the Roman lyrical poet Horace, Owens poem, written while recuperating from injuries sustained on the battlefield, months before his return to the field of battle leading to his eventual death declares the opposite. “Dulce” illustrates the reality and brutality of modern trench warfare. One can also assume that Owen actually experienced and witnessed what was described in the poem.
Pulling from his time in the trenches Owen, “often graphically illustrated both the horrors of warfare, the physical landscapes which surrounded him, and the human body in relation to those landscapes. ” (Wilfred Owen Biography) World War I, was known as the “War to End all Wars”. This term was coined by British author and social commentator H. G. Wells when he published a number of articles in the London newspapers, “which subsequently appeared as a book entitled The War That Will End War” (Wager 147). Additionally, World War I was also at the time one of the most technologically advanced wars in history.
It was also a confusing time in terms of modern warfare as many new ways to kill their fellow man were introduced, yet old battle tactics were used. Inventions such as airplanes, submarines, flame throwers, machine guns, tanks, and poison gas, made this one of the most brutal and violent wars in the history of mankind. “First World War can be characterized as a clash of 20th-century technology with 19th-century warfare in the form of ineffectual battles with huge numbers of casualties on both sides” (Technology During World War I)
As Owen opens his narrative, he describes the battle weary march of soldiers, in desperate need of medical attention and supplies. In some aspects it seems that Owen is the speaker describing his fellow soldiers. He says they are “Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, / Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge. ” (Owen. Stanza 1) If it is not enough that the soldiers are weary and out of supplies, but the horror begins with the cry; “Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! An ecstasy of fumbling” (Owen. Stanza 2) Because they had to deal with their “clumsy helmets. ” one soldier did not get his gas mask on in time, Owen describes his slow and agonizing death. “In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. ” (Owen. Stanza 3) Mustard gas affects the respiratory system and floods the lungs with fluid, essentially drowning the victim, Owen is quite accurate in this portrayal of the dying man.
The sight “under a green sea” is according to the US Army Chemical Reference handbook is the way the air would look after mustard gas had been released in the atmosphere. The air looked like the sea, and the man who failed to get his helmet on in time is therefore drowning without even being in water. As one of the most insidious chemical concoction designed to maim and kill, “Mustard is a poisonous chemical agent that exerts a local action on the eyes, skin, and respiratory tissue, with subsequent systemic action on the nervous, cardiac, and digestive systems in humans …
Under extreme circumstances, dependent upon the dose and length of exposure to the agent, necrosis of the skin and mucous membranes of the respiratory system, bronchitis, bronchopneumonia, intestinal lesions, hemoconcentration, leucopenia, convulsions with systemic distress, and death occur. ” (Dacre) Perhaps knowing he would die on the field of battle, Owen used the final stanza to convey his belief that “Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori” was a lie. “It is sweet and glorious to die for one’s ountry,” was not true according to Owens in this writing. It seems though he would be more in agreement with U. S. General George Patton, who a few short years later in World War II was attributed to have said, “You don’t win a war by dying for your country. You win a war by making the other son-of-a-bitch die for his! ” ? Works Cited Dacre, Goldman M. “Toxicology and Pharmacology of the Chemical Warfare Agent Sulfur Mustard. ” United States Army Biomedical Research and Development Laboratory, June 1996. Web. 1 June 2011. . Owen, Wilfred. “Dulce Et Decorum Est”. From The Bedford Introduction to Literature: Reading, Thinking, Writing (9th Edition), Michael Meyer. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2011. 852-853 print “Technology During World War I. ” World News. World News Network. Web. 02 June 2011. Web Video. . Wagar, Walter Warren. H. G. Wells: Traversing Time. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 2004. Print. Wilfred Owen Biography. Poets. org – Poetry, Poems, Bios & More. Academy of American Poets. Web. 01 June 2011. .