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A Warning of the Horror of War

Wilfred Owen’s “Dolce et Decorum Est” uses many similes to convey the horror of war through his vivid and shocking word usage, as his intent and purpose is to convey what war is like, through using the word “like” to link up negativity in each simile. Owen also uses metaphors, which effectively compliment the tone. His tone is dreamlike and he refers back to the nightmares that he has surrounding all he has seen and suggests to his audience that, they too would likely have the same terrifying dreams if they had seen what he had seen.

With all the literary devices used, simile, metaphor, and tone, the horror of war is conveyed in a way that reaches to the audience on a deep level and shows none of the nostalgia and nationalism that many war stories and poems utilize. The speaker of the poem, serves as the expert on war, as a veteran of it. But, unlike poems that may convey the bravery and courage of battle, this soldier and speaker focuses on the negative and pervasive state of battle. He brings the battle to light, so to speak, through dark and dreamlike phrases.

It seems as if this poem is meant to be and could be a dream that the audience could have. While the narrator speaks of marching on, he refers to it in the fourth line as “and toward our distant rest began to trudge” (Owen, 1). This sets up the tone of the work to be dreamlike and distant and, as the soldiers must go on, wearily and sleepily with rest being something that was not so much distant, as was unreachable. To forget what was experienced would be rest, but the narrator cannot forget.

The narrator presents the poem in a way that suggests he is in a perpetual nightmare, constantly dreaming of a man, who died in front of him. He uses the metaphor on line 14 “as under a green sea, I saw him drowning”. This idea of drowning under a green sea, is interesting, as it shows how an individual can be lost in a group, losing his individuality and ultimately his life. The idea of this dream as the opposite of what one might imagine or dream of when they think of war and patriotism is just as important to note, as is the idea of sleeping and losing oneself by retreating from rational, lucid thought.

The narrator in lines 5 and 6 uses both the nightmare allegory and the allusion to losing oneself in the battle march. “Men marched asleep… all went lame, all blind”. The sleep then is part of the transformation of a soldier, who blindly leaps into his battle not knowing his fate, but falling into a sort of trance and a constant nightmare of his condition as he continues to march on with no other choice. The narrator does make a plea, however, and this is the author’s intent. He deplores war and makes his nightmarish tale, a warning.

As in the very first line, he makes clear that there is no glory in war, using a simile to explain the soldiers as beggars. In the end, the narrator uses even more harsh criticism of the ugliness of war, referring to it as a lie that is told to children. To him there is no glory or patriotism in this death and despair, in the dream that he must forever relive. There is no nostalgia nor nationalism, only a sea of green in which the dead and the deadened by despair must become a part of and live and die without their individualism or honor. Works Cited Owen, Wilfred. “Dolce et Decorum Est”. (1920).

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