Questions for Reflection: “Dulce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen
The poem, “Dulce et Decorum Est,” is Latin for “It is sweet and right,” a phrase that was used extensively during the initial days of the First World War. The poem ends with the same phase extended to include, “pro patria mori.” The full translation implying that “It is sweet and right to die for your country,” or in other words, a great honor to fight and die for your country.
“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.
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.
1. How did the flares announce the front lines?
2. How does Owen point to the human exhaustion experienced by soldiers in the first stanza of the poem?
3. How does Owen relate the experience of being gassed? How does he interrupt for the reader of his poem, the death of a soldier who dies as a result of being gassed? How do Owen’s words speak profoundly to the reality of war?
4. What feeling does Owen leave you with regarding the “sweetness and honor” of die for one’s country?