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Dulce et Decorum est

This study guide will help you analyse the poem “Dulce et Decorum est” by Wilfred Owen. We will show you examples of elements in the text that will be relevant for your analysis. In these notes, we will focus on composition, speaker and characters, language and style, rhythm and rhyme, imagery and metaphors, theme and message.

Presentation of the poem

Title: “Dulce et Decorum est”
Author: Wilfred Owen
Date of Publication: 1920
Genre: Poem

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) was a British poet who fought in World War I and died in battle. Most of his poems were published posthumously, including “Dulce et Decorum est” which was first drafted in 1917. Owen was strongly against the horrors of war and tried through his shockingly realistic poems to make the large public aware of war atrocities.

Summary

“Dulce et Decorum est” (Latin: it is sweet and honourable) depicts the horrific effects chlorine gas has on soldiers fighting in the tranches. The poet starts with a description of the war setting and continues with presenting how one soldier failed to put on his gas mask before a chlorine gas bomb exploded. The poet describes the physical, horrid effects of the gas on the soldier and ends his poem saying that those who claim that dying in war for one’s country is honourable, should see the cruel reality of the war fronts.

Excerpt

Below, you can read an excerpt from our study guide: 

The sentence structure

Most of the sentences in the poem are constructed using inverted syntax. In other words, they do not respect the standard word order we use in every day speech. The poet probably chose this structure in order to create rhyme and rhythm, but also to emphasise certain aspects of his description of the conditions of war. Here is one example:

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge (ll. 1-2)

Also, most of the sentences in the poem are rather long, including many descriptive attributes and complements next to subject and predicate.

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Dulce et Decorum est

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