Dulce et Decorum Est


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.


    The speaker begins with a description of soldiers, bent under the weight of their packs like beggars, their knees unsteady, coughing like poor and sick old women, and struggling miserably through a muddy landscape. They turn away from the light flares and begin to march towards their distant camp, as lethargic as the walking dead. Many have lost their combat boots, yet continue on despite their bare and bleeding feet. They are tired to the point of hindered eyesight, and don’t even notice the sound of the dangerous poison gas-shells dropping just behind them.
Somebody cries out an urgent warning about the poison gas, and the soldiers fumble with their gas masks, getting them on just in time. One man, however, is left yelling and struggling, unable to get his mask on. The speaker describes this man as looking like someone caught in fire or lime (an ancient chemical weapon used to effectively blind opponents). The speaker then compares the scene—through the panes of his gas-mask and with poison gas filling the air — to being underwater, and imagines the soldier is drowning.
The speaker jumps from the past moment of the gas attack to a present moment sometime afterward, and describes a recurring dream that he can’t escape, in which the dying soldier races towards him in agony.

  Theme:The Horror and Trauma of War
The banal daily life of a soldier is excruciating, the brutal reality of death is unimaginable agony, and even surviving a war after watching others die invites a future of endless trauma. 

The speaker thrusts the reader into the mundane drudgery and suffering of the wartime experience, as the speaker’s regiment walks from the front lines back to an undescribed place of “distant rest.” They are miserable: “coughing like hags,” cursing as they “trudge” through “sludge” with bloody feet. They march “asleep,” suggesting that these soldiers are like a kind of living dead. The terror and brutality of war have deadened them.
The poem reveals another aspect of the horror of war: even surviving war offers ceaseless future torment. The speaker’s sleep is permanently haunted by the trauma of the death he has witnessed.

The Enduring Myth that War is Glorious
This poem presents a vision of war—that is entirely brutal, bitter, and pessimistic. Owen wrote the poem with the belief that by highlighting the juxtaposition between a sanitized image of honorable death versus the messy, horrifying truth of actual war, perhaps the poem’s audience will change its attitude towards war and cease cheerfully sending young men to die in agony. The speaker suggests that if readers could experience their own such suffocating dreams,marching behind a wagon in which the other men have placed the dying soldier, seeing the writhing of the dying soldier’s eyes in an otherwise slack and wrecked face, and hearing him cough up blood from his ruined lungs at every bump in the path—a sight the speaker compares to the horror of cancer and other diseases that ravage even the innocent, they would not so eagerly tell children, hungry for a sense of heroism, the old lie that “it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”

The poem demands that the readers face the truth and no longer be complicit with that old Lie, but even as it does so, it seems to bitterly perceive that nothing will change, because nothing ever has.



The poem is a combination of two sonnets. In the first sonnet, the poet describes his experiences of the war, in the second sonnet he becomes analytic and attempts to correct the outlook of others about the war.

Sonnet: A sonnet is a fourteen-line poem in which a single idea floats throughout the poem.

Rhyme Scheme: The whole poem follows the ABAB, CDCD rhyme scheme.




Poetic Devices:

  1. Alliteration: “But someone still was yelling out and stumbling” and /w/ sound in “And watch the white eyes writhing in his face.
  2. Simile: Owen has used many self-explanatory similes in this poem such as,” Bent double, like old beggars under sacks”, “Knock-kneed, coughing like hags”, “like a man in fire or lime” and “like a devil’s sick of sin.”
  3. Metaphor: “Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots.” It presents the physical state of the men.
  4. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the /r/ sound in “Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs.”
  5. Synecdoche: It is a figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole. For example, the word “sight” in the second stanza represents the speaker.
  6. Imagery: Imagery is used to make the readers perceive things with their five senses. “old beggars under sacks”, “had lost their boots”, “His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin” and “white eyes.”


Wilfred Owen wrote “Dulce et Decorum Est” while he was fighting as a soldier during World War I. The use of “flares” and “gas-shells” are specific to World War I, since they had not been used in combat before this time.The majority of British troops in WWI were deployed to France. Chlorine gas, with its distinctive green color, was first deployed by the German army in Belgium in 1915.The “clumsy helmets,” or gas masks, were developed in response to the introduction of gas.  

Language:The way Owen uses language to put readers inside the experiences of a soldier helps them begin to understand the horrific experience of all of these awful aspects of war.If the audience could experience the trauma the speaker describes (“the white eyes writhing,” the “gargling from froth-corrupted lungs”), then they wouldn’t pass their patriotic militarism down to their children. But they don’t experience it, except through the language of the poem 


The tone of this poem is angry and critical. Owen’s own voice in this poem is bitter – perhaps partly fuelled by self-recrimination for the suffering he could do nothing to alleviate. Owen dwells on explicit details of horror and misery in order to maximise the impact he wishes to have on those who tell the ‘old Lie’. The way in which he addresses as ‘My friend’ those with whom he so strongly disagrees is ironic.

Post a Comment