Why is imagery so important in Winfred Owen’s poem “Dulce et Decorum Est”?

Why is imagery so important in Winfred Owen’s poem “Dulce et Decorum Est”?

The poem “Dulce et Decorum Est” by Winfred Owen was written from the perspective of experience, struggle and horror of the First World War. The poet makes a magnificent attempt to present the daily combat of each and every soldier in this vivid description of a particular event he witnessed himself. The poet used a considerable amount of literary devises to highlight the issue, express his opinion about the misguided attitude from the crowd and convince them that, to take part in any war is neither a glorious nor an honourable accomplishment. The author started by challenging the reader with the title borrowed from the Ode III 2, by the ancient poet Horace (Wikipedia, 2013) suggesting war death to be sweet and right. He then continues to describe a horrific reality of war, the undignifying conditions of a soldier’s everyday life on the battlefield, the exhausting deprivation of sleep, the lack of clean uniform, comfortable footwear and no sufficient medical attention. He uses hugely expressive language with the intent to engrave the picture of war into one’s memory.

In the second stanza Owen illustrates the vivid spectacle of his troop being attacked with mustard gas (The British Library, n.d.) and the attempt of the soldiers to save their lives. Owen aids to ensure that the reader identifies himself with the narrator who is a participant of the whole scene, he directly addresses the reader ‘you too could pace’ (l.17), ‘If you could hear’ (l. 21), ‘My friend, you would not tell’ (l.25), this way he receives full and undivided attention. The poet then confirms in the last two phrases ‘The old Lie: Dulce et Decorum Est/Pro Patria Mori’ (l. 27-28), the myth of honour and eminence in those meaningless war deaths. He uses capital letter L in the word lie: the reader has no illusion as to what Owen’s point of view is. Winfred Owen interlay the poem with a plethora of literary devises and a variety of carefully selected descriptive modifiers. Every word has been inserted carefully with the aim to portray the gruesomeness of war and to overturn the glory of combat. He begins with smiles ‘like beggars’ (l.1), ‘like hags’ (l.2) to portray soldiers, not the soldiers one would imagine: athletic, healthy but aged and ill looking. He continues with onomatopoeia ‘trudge’ (l. 4) by which he describes a slow journey back to the place of rest. The author insinuates that the troopers are extremely tired and have very little strength left so they no longer march but plod back. He then uses the metaphor ‘drunk with fatigue’ (l.7) to ensure the reader has no illusion on how exhausting the life on the battlefield is. Owen particularly inspires one with the abundance of imagery. He starts by describing the rush of fitting gas masks on ‘An ecstasy of fumbling, /Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;’ (l. 9-10) which starts building the very illustrative image in reader’s perception.

The second portion of imagery the reader is dispensed with is the passage ‘As under a green sea, I saw him drowning/In all my dreams, before my helpless sight’ (l.14-15) where he stimulates the reader’s sense of visual concept, he continues with the sense of hearing when he describes the scene of soldier gasping for breath of air ‘If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood/Come gargling from the forth-corrupted lungs’ (l.21-22) and the sense of taste ‘bitter as the cud’ (l.23). The explicit use of imagery is central to this poem: it enables one to reconstruct a graphic image of the event, to see and to feel the drama of the soldier almost as well as if the reader was there himself. The sophisticated use of literary forms creates an unforgettable, picture of the soldier cheated by war, dying without tasting the magnitude of life. Owen is extremely assertive, definite and successful in creating the desirable effect. His figurative language emphasizes the point of view and disregards any illusions the reader might have about the war. The ultimate confirmation of poet’s perspective is his death on the front line, just a week before the First World War ended.

British Library, 2009.Wilfred Owen’s ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’. [online]. Available at:< http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/englit/owen> [Accessed 30 August 2013]. Mural, 2012. Wilfred Owen. [online]. Available at: < http://mural.uv.es/tasenfe/owen> [Accessed 30 August 2013]. The War Poetry Website, 2011. Wilfred Owen. [online]. Available at: [Accessed 30 August 2013]. Wikipedia, 2013. Odes( Horace). [online]. Available at: [Accessed 30 August 2013].

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *