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Dulce et decorum est
War Poetry
Wilfred
Owen
Wilfred Owen
Over the coming lessons we will be
studying the poem Dulce et
Decorum Est but before we read
the poem we need to find out a
little bit about the author. Wilfred
Owen, a British poet and soldier,
was one of the leading poets of
World War One. His shocking,
realistic war poetry on the horrors
of trench life and gas warfare was in
stark contrast to both the public
perception of war at the time, and
to the patriotic verses written by
war poets such as Rupert Brooke.
Owen was killed in action a week
before the war ended.
Click the picture to watch a short film about Wilfred Owen
World War One
Historical Context
Wilfred Owen is one of the most famous war poets. He was born in
1893 and died in 1918, just one week from the end of World War
One. His poetry is characterised by powerful descriptions of the
conditions faced by soldiers in the trenches.
World War One took place between 1914 and 1918 and is
remembered particularly for trench warfare, the use of gas and the
appalling and senseless slaughter of millions of men, many as young
as 15 years old.
Owen’s poems are often violent and realistic, challenging earlier
poetry which communicated a pro-war message. The first-hand
experience of war is arguably one reason why there is such a shift in
the attitude of poets towards war.
Recruiting
Dulce et Decorum Est Pro patria mori is a Latin phrase used
at the end of the poem which means 'It is sweet and honourable to
die for your country’. It was a phrase used by recruiting posters and
other forms of war propaganda which attempted to persuade young
men to ‘join up’ and go to war.
When war first broke out thousands of men volunteered but the
slaughter of soldiers on a massive scale meant that new men were
constantly needed.
To persuade young men to sign up as soldiers war was glorified and
romanticised in books, posters, films and poetry.
Such propaganda promised adventure, excitement and glory to
those who volunteered to fight but the reality of life on the front line
turned out to be very different.
Recruiting Posters
Recruiting Posters
Recruiting Poets
The British government needed millions of
volunteers and, until conscription was
introduced in 1916, young men were under
incredible social pressure from the
government, the local community and their
friends and families to join the army.
Newspapers printed dozens of poems which
were designed to persuade young men to sign
up. Harold Begbie, Matilda Betham-Edwards
and Jessie Pope wrote crude war verses aimed
at those who had not yet signed up to fight.
Jessie Pope
Wilfred Owen particularly detested
Jessie Pope who composed verses for
the Daily Mail. Pope was a civilian
with no experience of conflict who
supported the war from the safety of
the Home Front.
Owen dedicates ‘Dulce et Decorum
Est’ to her.
Who’s for the Game?
Who’s for the game, the biggest that’s played,
The red crashing game of a fight?
Who’ll grip and tackle the job unafraid?
And who thinks he’d rather sit tight?
Who’ll toe the line for the signal to ‘Go!’?
Who’ll give his country a hand?
Who wants a turn to himself in the show?
And who wants a seat in the stand?
Who knows it won’t be a picnic – not muchYet eagerly shoulders a gun?
Who would much rather come back with a crutch
Than lie low and be out of the fun?
Come along, lads –
But you’ll come on all right –
For there’s only one course to pursue,
Your country is up to her neck in a fight,
And she’s looking and calling for you.
Jessie Pope
Relevance
Recruiting was essential before the days of
conscription and everything was done to persuade
young men to join the army. The posters and poems
we have looked at give us some idea of how much
pressure young men were under to ‘join up’. The
war itself was described as a game and an adventure;
exciting and glamorous.
Can you think of any modern day examples of how
war is romanticised and glorified? Do you think such
things could influence a person’s decision to become
a soldier?
Dulce et
Decorum Est
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 tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Dulce et Decorum Est
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.
Dulce et Decorum Est
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.
What is it about?
The poem is made up of four stanzas. Can you work out what is
happening in each? Complete the table below:
Stanza
Stanza 1
Stanza 2
Stanza 3
Stanza 4
What is happening
The poet describes...
Consolidate Understanding
What are your first impressions of this poem? Below are a few sentence
starters to help you write a paragraph about it.
Dulce et Decorum Est
‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ by _____ is about …
In the first stanza the poet describes…
The second stanza begins with…
Stanza three is…
In the final stanza Owen is saying…
Consolidation
The poem describes a gas attack on a trench
in World War One. The poem reveals to the
reader the terrible consequences of a gas
attack: 'the blood / Come gargling from the
froth-corrupted lungs'. It also presents the
unglamorous reality of trench life, with the
soldiers described as being 'like old beggars'.
The Latin used at the end of the poem
means 'It is sweet and honourable to die for
your country', a concept Owen is strongly
denying.
Imagery
Imagery
Look at the imagery used by Owen in this poem. What words
and phrases are used to paint a picture of life in the trenches?
What two surprising things are the soldiers compared to in
stanza one? Pick out unpleasant or ugly words. When the gas
spreads around them in verse two, what unusual comparison is
used to describe the men? What happens to one of the men?
What horrific images are used by Owen in the final stanza?
Imagery
Look at the imagery used in the first stanza.
Why does the poet use these particular images?
The Images
Bent double, like old beggars under
sacks
Coughing like hags
The haunting flares
Men marched asleep
Many had lost their boots/But
limped on, blood-shod
All went lame; all blind
Drunk with fatigue
What the image conveys
Imagery
Look at the imagery used in the second stanza.
Why does the poet use these particular images?
The Images
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!
An ecstasy of fumbling
Floundering 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
What the image conveys
Imagery
Look at the imagery used in the third stanza.
Why does the poet use these particular images?
The Images
Before my helpless sight
He plunges at me
Guttering, choking, drowning
What the image conveys
Imagery
Look at the imagery used in the fourth stanza.
Why does the poet use these particular images?
The Images
We flung him in
White eyes writing in his face
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick
of sin
You could hear, at every jolt, the
blood/Come gargling from the frothcorrupted lungs
Obscene as cancer
Bitter as the cud/Of vile incurable
sores on innocent tongues
Children ardent for some desperate
glory
What the image conveys
The opening verse is full of words
about 'fatigue': the soldiers
Imagery and'marched asleep', they 'trudge', and
'limped on'. They are 'deaf', 'lame'
language and 'blind'; all rather pathetic
images intended to reveal the
reality of life in the war.
The narrator describes a gas victim
'guttering, choking, drowning'. The
verbs used by Owen are associated
with suffocation and death.
The language used conveys both
the agony of the victim of the gas
attack as well as the effect on
those disturbed by what they have
witnessed: 'watch the white eyes
writhing in his face, / His hanging
face'.
Structure
There is not a clearly defined
structure to the poem, although
Owen does make use of rhyme,
mostly on alternate line endings.
The first stanza has a slow steady
rhythm, why would this be?
In the second stanza comes the gas
attack. How and why does Owen
change the pace of the poem here?
How and why is verse three
different? What effect is created
by switching to the second person
in stanza four? Who do you think
Owen is addressing here?
Poetic Techniques
Copy down the table below. Find examples in the poem and write
down the effect created.
Technique Evidence
simile
‘Bent, double, like old
beggars under sacks,’
metaphor
‘Drunk with fatigue’
alliteration
repetition
Effect
Poetic Devices
How does Owen use structure and poetic devices to convey the reality of
life in the trenches? Use the sentence starters below to help you write a
paragraph about it.
Dulce et Decorum est
In ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ Wilfred Owen uses a number of poetic
devices…
The simile…
Metaphors such as……
Alliteration is used to..
Point, Evidence, Explain
Look at how Owen uses language in the poem. Make three good
points about the poem, select three quotations to back up your points
then explain the quotations in detail.
Point
The men are
exhausted as they
march back from the
front line.
Evidence
‘Bent double, like old
beggars under sacks’
Explain
Owen uses language here to
convey the soldier’s extreme
fatigue. The shocking simile,
comparing the soldiers, to
beggars is a far cry from the
glamorous images of life in the
army presented to the public by
the recruiting campaign.
Plenary
Read your paragraph about ‘Dulce
et Decorum est’ to the rest of the
group.
Ask your peers how it could be
improved.
Themes and
Links
Themes
The opening verse reveals to the reader the
dreadful and wretched state to which the soldiers
have fallen. Instead of young, strong troops they
are 'Bent double', ‘ like beggars’, 'Knock-kneed’
and ‘coughing like hags'. Owen's imagery presents
the soldiers as broken and damaged old men.
War has broken down these men, and they are
described in the most unglamorous, inglorious
manner. Owen's anger at this is obvious.
Themes
Owen feels utter disillusionment with war. Following the
horrific gas attack he directly addresses the reader:
'My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To
children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie'
Owen condemns the idea that serving your country in war
is glorious. He is highly critical of the 'high zest', or great
enthusiasm, used to convince men to go to war. His
experience has shown him the truth. War is brutal and a
destroyer of young lives. His use of the word 'children' is
very significant. Many of the soldiers in World War One
were only 16 and 17 years old. Such impressionable young
men were fed ‘The old Lie’ (notice the capitalisation of
‘Lie’) that war was glorious and glamorous. Owen’s
experience on the battlefield told him that this was not
true.
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