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Dulce et Decorum Est . By: Wilfred Owen. Authors Biography. Owen was born on March 18, 1893. On October 21 st , 1915 he enlisted himself to become a soldier due to peer pressure. He served in the British army during WWI. He was an English poet. Owen is considered one of the top WWI poets.

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dulce et decorum est
Dulce et Decorum Est

By: Wilfred Owen

authors biography
Authors Biography
  • Owen was born on March 18, 1893.
  • On October 21st, 1915 he enlisted himself to become a soldier due to peer pressure.
  • He served in the British army during WWI.
  • He was an English poet.
  • Owen is considered one of the top WWI poets.
  • His poem was based on his personal experiences as a soldier.
  • After two traumatic events Owen met Siegfried Sassoon who had an incredible impact in his life & inspired him to develop his war poetry.
  • Owen was shot trying to cross a canal on Nov. 4th 1918 near the village of Ors & this event defined his death.

Wilfred Owen




Place of death

poem structure
Poem Structure
  • The title is a partial quotation from the longer “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" which can be translated to “it is sweet and right to die for your native land.”
  • The title is in the Latin words taken from an ode by Horace. (poet of Ancient Rome, 65-8 BC)
  • This poem can be understood as two sonnets though the spacing is irregular.
  • The poem is similar to the French ballade form, the poem consists of 28 lines which is the number of lines used in the French “ballade” structure.
  • Ballade is a form of medieval and Renaissance French poetry.

(not to be confused with ballad)

  • The ballade is made up of 3 stanzas of 8 lines with the rhyme scheme ABABBCBC, and a final 4-line envoy with the scheme BCBC.
  • Owen uses more rhymes than this, and breaks up his stanzas irregularly into 8, 6, 2, and 10 lines plus a couplet.
  • Owen’s objective is to show the horror and the reality of war, which in this case is the First World War.
  • The tone of the poem is very harsh due to the choice of words and how they are used.
poem diction
Poem Diction

For example words that show ugliness, fear, and pain:

  • “coughing like hags”
  • “cursed through sludge”
  • “limped on, blood-shod”,
  • “floundering like a man in fire or lime”
  • “guttering, choking, drowning”
  • “white eyes writhing”
  • “blood come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs”
  • “vile, incurable sores”

Words that show his own feelings & contrasts it the way war has been presented:

  • “vile”
  • “bitter”
  • “cursed”
  • “obscene”
  • “Ecstasy”
  • “Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge”
  • “hags” – female like witch figures
  • “cursed through sludge”- a battle field of mud, explains how hard it was to move through the battlefield
  • “limped on, blood-shod”-covered in blood
  • “floundering like a man in fire or lime” - lime is a white chalky substance which can burn live tissue.
  • “guttering, choking, drowning”- forms of pain.
  • “cursed” - to afflict with great evil
  • “blood come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs”

- corrupted can be argued that the young men were corrupted into fighting in the war and killing others.

  • “obscene”- disgusting to the senses.
  • “bitter” – unpleasant.
  • “vile” – bad.
  • “Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge”

- referring to old people, and it was difficult to move through the mud.

  • “Ecstasy” - a state of being beyond reason and self-control.
poetic devices
Poetic Devices
  • A commonly used phrase, is “bent double” & is an example of a hyperbole.
  • Poetic form serves to symbolize the breakdown of the society's value system.
  • Enjambments in lines 3,5,7,17,21,23,26, and 28.
  • Metaphor: “drunk with fatigue”
  • “GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!” creates an impression of urgency and panic.
  • At the start of the poem, the soldiers are approached to old, crippled ugly beings:

“Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, / Knock-kneed, coughing like hags”.

  • Simile: “Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.”

-The thick greenish glass of the gas mask, and the greenish fumes of the gas make the narrator feel that he was viewing an underwater scene.

  • Another use of simile: “like a man in fire or lime”

-Expresses the burning and the pain caused by the mustard gas when it comes into contact with their skin, eyes and mucous membranes.

more similes
More Similes
  • “His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin”

- If a devil becomes sick of sin, he is questioning everything that has been seen as value, and realizes his whole life has been for nothing, perhaps Owen is implying that in the same way, the dying soldier is questioning everything he has been told about the sweetness of dying for a cause.

  • "bitter as the cud" imitate "those who die as cattle", words used by Owen in his poem “Anthem for Doomed Youth”.

- The soldiers are being led to slaughter like helpless animals, where the dying soldier is being treated more like an animal carcass than like a human being, not from cruelty, but because nothing else could have been done in that situation.


Gas Mask


  • “Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge”
  • “Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots”
  • “And watch the white eyes writhing in his face”

- The use of alliteration adds to the insistent tone of the poem.

  • Owen is saying, “Hey! Look! I want you to look at this and remember!”

- He says this so that it is impossible to turn away and think of other things.

groups of imagery
Groups of Imagery
  • A – tiredness, sleep, dreams, a nightmare world: “Men marched asleep”, “Drunk with fatigue”, “In all my dreams”, “If in some smothering dreams”, Owen apparently suffered from nightmares, perhaps as a result of shell-shock.
  • C – loss of coordination: “Bent double”, “Knock kneed”, “Drunk with fatigue”, “fumbling”, “clumsy”“stumbling”, “floundering”, “writhing”
  • B – the sea and drowning: “Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light / As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.” “He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.”, “gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs”
  • D – loss of the ability to use the senses, or a denial of the senses: “turned our backs”, “marched asleep”, “all blind”, “deaf even to the hoots”, “my helpless sight”

Dulce et Decorum Est is a poem written by English poet and World War I soldier Wilfred Owen in 1917, and was published posthumously in 1920. From 1913 to 1915 he worked as a language tutor in France.  He felt pressured by the propaganda to become a soldier and volunteered on 21st October 1915. He spent the last day of 1916 in a tent in France joining the Second Manchester's. During war he was blown up, concussed and suffered shell-shock. On 4th November he was shot and killed near the village of Ors. He is known to be the greatest war poet who had written in the English language. Owen's poem is known for the condemnation of war. His poem was the best known poem of the First World War. Lines 1 and 2 Owen talks about how they are like “old beggars” and are “coughing like hags” he is saying that they feel old and since they are soldiers that are young and fit, for Owen to describe them in those terms must have meant that they were really tired. In lines 3 and 4 the soldiers turned away from the lights and noise of the war and headed back in the direction of their camp. In line 4 he used “trudge” to emphasize that it was really difficult moving because of the mud like if it had rained. Line 5 he explains how they are so tired they are barley conscious enough to walk.


In the second stanza he indicates that there had been shells which had landed near them , didn’t explode but started letting out poison gas, which happened to be mustard gas and also describes how one man wasn’t able to get his mask on before he started to inhale the poisonous gas, he writes how he saw the man suffering as if he couldn’t swim and started gulping in water, and eventually drowning. In lines 15 and 16 he is half talking about the present, and half about the his past. He is remembering the man who died slowly and painfully in front of him, and also his post-traumatic flashbacks to this moment. In lines 17 and 18 he is saying that no one can actually try to understand how they felt, it was one of those moment were you just had to be there, the best someone can do is experience the nightmare at a distance. Line 19 is a use of alliteration and assonance with the “w” and “I” sounds. The line “like a devils sick of sin” is kind of twisting because if the devil lives to sin, saying he is sick of it is saying that there is no longer a purpose for his existence. In the last 4 lines Owen is calling out propaganda artists, and poets that urged people into war, in particular Owen Seaman who wrote “Pro patria”, explaining that before the war young men had the anticipation of excitement for the first battle, the shock of the WWI was how miserable war and death really was, which is referring to “The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.” Perhaps then the mustard gas can be seen as a reflection of the poison of the war itself.


1. When was the Owen born?

2. Who made a great impact in Owen’s life?

3. Which war is his poem based on?

4. What does the poem title translate to?

a) “It’s sweet and wrong..”

b) “It’s sweet and right..”

c) “It’s sweet and dark..”

d) “It’s sweet and harsh..”

5. What kind of tone does this poem have? Why?

6. How many stanzas does this poem have?

7. In the begging of the poem who are the soldiers being compared to?

8. How many guys were affected in the poem by the poisonous gas used in the war?

a) 1

b) 2

c) 3

9. What kind of gas was exposed to the soldiers?

a) chlorine gas

b) gasoline

c) body gas

d) none of the above

10. Provide one simile from the poem.