‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ by Wilfred Owen

‘Poet’s often use various poetic techniques to convey powerful messages about topical issues’.

Discuss this statement with reference to a poem that you have studied.


The poem I have studied is ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ by Wilfred Owen. Owen craftily conveys his main themes in this poem using a number of poetic techniques including similes and metaphors. In this poem we also see Owen use alliteration, cacophony, punctuation and tone to great effect. 


Owen catches the reader’s attention right away with his excellent use of alliteration in the opening lines ‘Bent-double like old beggars under sacks, knock-kneed coughing…’. I believe that in these opening lines the poet uses alliteration to emphasise the exhaustion of the soldiers as they walk through the sludge. For me, this example of alliteration gives the poem a slow and heavy rhythm. 


Owen uses a metaphor in order to compare the actions of the fatigued soldiers to the actions of drunken individuals by saying they were ‘Drunk with fatigue…’. All of the soldiers are utterly consumed with exhaustion and their senses, especially their hearing, are not functioning normally. The soldiers are ‘deaf even to the hoots’. Similar to an intoxicated individual the worn out soldiers are completely oblivious to what is happening around them. 


Throughout the poem Owen pays great attention to the use of punctuation. This has the effect of either speeding up or slowing down the speed at which someone reads a poem. For example in stanza two, Owen avoids using full stops for the first six lines of the poem, beginning with ‘Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – an ecstasy of fumbling’. By narrating the story of the enemy attack in one run-on line, Owen is quickening up the pace at which one could read the poem to mirror the heightened state of emergency and rush to evacuate the area. 


Owen uses many similes throughout the poem. My personal favourite use of simile is his illustration of the explosion of a chlorine bomb ‘Dim through the misty panes of thick green light, As under a green sea, I saw him drowning’. Chlorine, a yellowish-green chemical gas is compared to a green sea and Owen is comparing the struggles of the soldier caught in the gas explosion to a person drowning in sea. Owen paints an image of the soldiers being completely overwhelmed by the explosion and being submerged in a cloud of poisonous air as they struggle to catch their breath. The poet is conveying, in graphic detail, the horrendous atrocities endured by the men.


Cacophony is used to great effect in this poem as Owen discusses the horrors and severity of war. Owen employs an unpleasant combination of sounds such as ‘Guttering, choking, drowning’. By using these sounds, which I feel irritate the ear, I believe that Owen is comparing the harsh sounds with the harsh conditions the soldiers faced in war. 


‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ is a very dramatic poem. This poem documents the grave consequences of war, namely death. The tone of the poem is desperate and angry. The last stanza of the poem shows the poet pleading with the reader to acknowledge what happened and implores us to learn of the harsh realities war can produce. If we as readers truly listen and take heed of what Owen is saying, then we can no longer hide behind ‘…the old lie, Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori’. According to the poet there is nothing sweet or honourable about dying for one’s country in battle. This sobering message is conveyed very effectively through Owen’s desperate and angry tone. 


In conclusion Owen successfully uses the above poetic techniques to write about main themes and messages that are evident in the poem ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’. 


Colour Coded Notes on ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’:


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