Places: Dulce et Decorum Est

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1920, in Poems by Wilfred Owen

Type of work: Poetry

Places DiscussedNo-man’s-land

No-man’s-land. Dulce et Decorum EstDangerous zone between facing enemy lines that could be on any of a number of World War I battlefields, sites that were fought over for months and years until the land became an eerie moonscape of craters, unexploded shells, and land leached of all nutrients by noxious residues of powders and gas. This gray world is lighted only by phosphorescent gases and flares; its sounds are those of exploding shells and dying men.

An unexpected gas attack turns the soldiers’ world a peculiar sea green, and a comrade “drowns” when his lungs fill with blood and other body fluids. This wretched scene is designed to counter those who would coax the young into joining a war out of a mixture of desire for excitement and patriotism. The desolate scene explodes the patriotic lie “Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori,” promulgated by the Roman writer Horace in his Odes (23 b.c.e., 13 b.c.e.; English translation, 1621). Death in no-man’s-land is not sweet and fitting but obscene and painful. A nameless no-man’s-land from the battles of World War I provides the depressingly realistic backdrop of Wilfred Owen’s poem which hopes to warn against mindless patriotism unconnected to actual war, which is grim and tragic.

BibliographyGriffith, George V. “Owen’s ‘Dulce et Decorum Est.’” Explicator 41, no. 3 (1983): 37-39. Provides a detailed reading of the poem, with an emphasis on images of voice. Griffith argues that “Dulce et Decorum Est” is as much a poem about poetry as it is about “the pity of war.”Hibberd, Dominic. Owen the Poet. Basingstoke, England: Macmillan, 1986. An illuminating study of Owen’s “poethood” based primarily on careful readings of the poems, including “Dulce et Decorum Est.”Owen, Wilfred. The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen. Edited with an introduction and notes by C. Day Lewis. New York: New Directions, 1964. The definitive edition of Owen’s poetry includes juvenilia, notes concerning manuscript variants, and two essential essays by accomplished poets. Also includes a memoir by Edmund Blunden.Stallworthy, Jon. Wilfred Owen. London: Oxford University Press, 1974. This definitive biography sheds valuable light on the context and occasion of “Dulce et Decorum Est.”Welland, Dennis. Wilfred Owen: A Critical Study. Rev. ed. London: Chatto and Windus, 1978. In this first and perhaps most influential study of Owen’s poetry, Welland argues that “Dulce et Decorum Est,” though masterly, is inferior to later, less strident poems such as “The Sentry.”
Categories: Places