How well do you feel has Owen described the reality of war? Or, Write a note on the poet’s attitude towards war. Do you agree with him? Or, Whom does the speaker blame for the continuance of war? Is there any sense in it? Why are they fighting? Generally speaking, what is the outcome of war?
Wilfred Owen’s ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ is a typical anti-war poem written in the wake of the First World War. Owen served as a Lieutenant in the War and felt the soldiers’ pain and the real truth behind war. Owen felt the ‘pity of war’ as he found no real sense in it. He blames the warmongers — some greedy and cunning people behind war — for continuing this nonsense by indoctrinating their propaganda of war — “the old lie: Dulce et Decorum est /Pro partia mori” (It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country). The poet protests against this false ideal by using the latin phrase ironically in the title of the poem.
In the poem, he discusses the general unwillingness of the soldiers to fight in such a tough condition. He depicts their plight so that it broadly contrasts with our typical idea of a brave fighter with a sense of heroism and patriotism. ‘Bent double, like old beggars under the sacks’, ‘coughing like hags’, ‘we turned our backs’, ‘men marched asleep’, ‘all went lame, all blind’, ‘but limped on, blood-shod’, ‘drunk with fatigue’ — all the phrases used throughout the first stanza of the poem show the real conditions of soldiers and so-called heroes in the battlefield.
The soldiers are then caught in a sudden gas attack, most probably the chlorine gas which forms a green sea. The picture of a fellow soldier ‘yelling out and stumbling, and flound’ring like a man in fire or lime’ was a ‘helpless sight’ for the narrator. The poet here gives a hint to man’s inhumanity to man in the name of war and heroism.
Owen then moves on to depict the trauma the narrator suffers while he watches his fellow soldier succumb to the deadly gas poisoning and can do nothing. Finally, he makes an outstanding commentary on how the perspectives of people talking about war and the soldiers who are witnessing it differ.
In the poem, Owen presents a graphic picturisation not of the war but the casualty of war. Such characterisation makes the poem a distinct anti-war poem of all time. Further, in ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ we find that it is not confined to being an anti-war poem. Rather, it moves a step ahead to invoke those people who make rallying cry for youths to enlist to fight war in name of glory and national honour.
This brings out the irony between the idealism of war as heroic by men exhorting youth to join the war and the reality of war as devastating that an on-field soldier faces. The use of irony marks Owen’s known form of expression.
Owen directed the first draft of this poem to Jessie Pope, a civilian propagandist and poetess who rooted on the youths to join war efforts. He later revised it to mention “a certain Poetess” and ultimately eliminated it in order to rope in a larger audience.
Owen ends the poem with the popular latin phrase (used in the title) to accentuate the fact that participation in war may not at all be decorous. He was simply unable to justify the sufferings of war. The outbreaks of influenza, or living in trenches with rats for days didn’t seem justifiable. The loss of so many lives, soldiers living in worst conditions, blocking each other’s food supplies didn’t present a humane environment.
Moreover, the soldiers themselves have no enmity among themselves. They fight just as a ‘call of duty’, a part of the same propaganda. And the final outcome is just horrible. So, this anti-war poem goes on to paint the tragedy of war and to convince the leaders against trying to infuse false patriotism in youths. And, unlike many other war-poems, this is based on real stocktaking, real knowledge and real assessment of the situation.