War destroys not only the body but the soul of a soldier as well. The mental toll that war can inflict on a person is an unimaginable punishment that could not be given to even the worst of enemies. A never ending nightmare that will continue to consume the mind and soul well after the war is done. In Wilfred Owen’s poem, “Dulce et Decorum est,” Wilfred Owen uses vivid imagery to contrast the rhetoric of the ideal and the horror of the reality.
Owen’s poem provides dramatic imagery to focus on the nightmare's soldiers, has now been effected with for the sake of protecting one’s country. He does so by showing the gore of a soldier witnessing the terror of a friend that is suffering a gas attack. There was a “thick green light” (13) giving the image of the man drowning in a “green sea,” (14). Watching this man “[plunging] at me, guttering, choking, drowning,” (16). This figure of a soldier dying right before him consumes him within this never ending nightmare, continuing to haunt him for the duration of the poem.
Owen brings the image of war through allusion, referring war as the devil’s work.
The devil is an evil being that is often used to categorize how truly evil a person, place, or thing is. Now faced with the nightmares, the speaker refers “[the soldier’s] hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin,” (20). Owen is in fact continuing his rant about how horrible war is, but here he is showing just how much he despises it. Sin, the devil, hell are things to despise and are not inspired to be around so referring war as a disgusting and vile act fits the shoe of the devil quite well.
Owen even uses alliteration to enhance his own hatred of such a violent conflict. By using the letter “s” as often as he could during the line we are left with the image of a snake, slithering and slaughtering its prey. A hissing sound that plays off the allusion of the devil and the nightmare that haunts the speaker.
The author provides startling imagery to focus on the disfiguration soldiers endure for the false reality of dying to protect one’s country.
Owen paints an image of soldiers who are far from being happy, they are “bent double, like old beggars under sacks” (1). We are now giving the dual image of men marching like beggars. The imagery of “double” men suggest that these men are now split between the men they were before the war and the monsters they have now become.
Owen creates the theme of abnormality becoming the norm within this poem, suggesting these men are now doubled of themselves and “marched asleep” (5).
These men that has been changed by the war are no longer men, but creatures that no longer cares whether they are alive or dead. They are dead men walking. Such a hellish experience to go through. Constant visuals of men dying, all becoming lame, “all blind,” (6). These figures emphasizes the universal condition of misery. There is no way of escaping war unscaved.
The physical and mental toll that was inflicted on the soldiers will continue to bring them misery. Never escaping the nightmare. Forever in the grasp of the damned.
Owen uses paradoxical images to further emphasize the soldier’s terrifying experience and self loathing the speaker now has for himself.
In line 15, “In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,” (15) the speaker’s eyes are working well. In fact, it is working too well causing the conflict. The speaker is feeling helpless as he watches another soldier die right before him. He’s frozen, unable to lift a finger, unable to look away from death. “Sight” in this case is a synecdoche, where it is representing the speaker as a whole.
Owen continues to provide vivid imagery as he displays the terrifying and unflattering facts of war. “...the white eyes writhing in [the soldier’s] eyes,” (19) is such an appalling image.
The image of a man, dead with only the white of his eyes showing. The eyes are no longer attached to the body and have almost taken on a life of its own. But the passage that made the most effect on representing the gore of the poem is seen in lines 21-24:
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 tonguesThis war, this poem is a house of horror. These images were intended to startle the reader to emphasize that war is not a picnic. These soldiers were lied to. They were told that joining the war and dying for one’s country was the most honorable thing a man could ever do. It is the oldest lie: “Dulce et decorum est/ Pro patria mori” (27-28). How “sweet and fitting it is to die for one’s country.” War is not a walk in the park. It is not meant to be imagined as this wonderful fantastic place on earth, but that is the ideal image that should be encouraged onto the soon-to-be heros of our country. Oh the horror of the reality, the impending doom set for those who are naive.