The title ‘Dulce est Decorum est’ means, ‘How sweet and fitting it is to die’, so merely by just looking at the title it tells is that this is a poem about death. The title is written in Latin which makes the poem sound very old but powerful at the same time as Latin is a powerful language till today.
The poem is very powerful and it conveys the same message throughout, ‘War is devastating’, and this gives the readers the exact feeling that the poet wanted us to have. The poet uses powerful devices like similes, metaphors and most of all very strong imagery to convey the sense of hopelessness and loss. The 1st line grabs and pulls the reader in the poem. The poet uses simile in the first line ‘like old beggars under sack’ which shows that the soldiers had been fighting so much that they had become like beggars who hadn’t slept for days. The strong use of figurative language shows a clear image of the poet’s emotions. In line two, when he says, ‘Coughing like hags…’ it shows us that poet was very angry, frustrated but at the same time sad and depressed because his heart went out to the soldiers. The word ‘trudge’ in line four shows us how tired and hungry the soldiers were as they weren’t running but trudging as though they were using up all the time they had and walking really slowly because they knew that once they entered the war, there would be no turning back. ‘Men marched asleep…’ these three words create a very powerful image in our mind and gives rise to very intense emotions. The line, ‘Drunk with fatigue, deaf even to the hoots’, tells us that the soldiers had been fighting for so long that they were so tired and had no idea what was going on, They were fighting just for the sake of it. They also had heard so much noise that they were so used to it they couldn’t even hear the hoots.
The poet describes the droppings of gas-shells as ‘softly’ which tells us that here was no way of surviving from them as you wouldn’t even hear them coming. In line 7, he says ‘deaf even to the hoots’ but in line 8 he says ‘Gas! Gas! Quick boys!’ and then he says there was an ‘ecstasy of fumbling’ which tells us how disturbingly the soldiers had got up from their sleep and were fumbling to put on their masks, in order to save themselves from the gas. The phrase ‘ecstasy of fumbling’ is also an oxymoron as it shows us the intense fumbling that the soldiers were doing as if they were still very young and in ecstasy, but here it portrayed the opposite. The author uses ‘floundering like a man in fire…’ which shows how much the soldiers were confused and just dragging themselves in hopes that the war would get over soon. The poet shows us that they didn’t have time when he says ‘the wagon we flung him in’ which tells us that there wasn’t a single moment to lose as they didn’t even have time to put their fellow soldier’s body properly and had to just fling it in.
The use of words such as ‘guttering’, ‘choking’, ‘drowning’ arise such ghastly images in our mind that it is painful to even think about it. The description of the face of the man is very vivid, ‘white eyes withering in his face’ and ‘his face like a devil’s sick of sin’ which shows how bad the war was and dying was not at all sweet and fitting. The phrase ‘of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues’ tells us how the wounds made by the war, mentally not physically were so ugly that they were incurable and these innocent people did not need to see all of this.
In the third last line he addresses the reader himself almost as if saying very sadly and giving us advice that the ‘Old lie – How sweet and fitting it is to die for our country’ is nothing but an old lie which only brings more and more deaths to the country. The whole poem also emphasizes the stark contrast of the poem with the title, as it is not at all sweet to die in such a way.
All in all this poem gives us a very realistic idea of what war is and describes it very clearly stating that war brings devastation, frustration and sadness for many years to come, and that this bruise can never be cured no matter what you do.