Dulce et Decorum Est

Dulce et Decorum Est, by Wilfred Owen, espouses many of the traits of the literature of the Great War that Paul Fussell outlines in his chapter "Oh What a Literary War." These traits include using literary language to describe the war, a language that does not try to ( nor want to) describe the atrocities experienced by soldiers on the front line. In addition, the fact that many of the soldiers were literate and well-read (in fact, many carried the Oxford Book and shared it while on the front lines) and the rhetoric infused in the literature despite the means to write frankly about the war(Fussell pg 170). As Fussell elaborates, "The problem was less one of "language" than of gentility and optimism; it was less a problem of "linguistics" than of rhetoric. (pg 184)." 

Owen describes the march the soldiers are on and states, "And toward our distant rest began to trudge." rather than saying something like "we marched towards our deaths." The descriptive language found throughout the poem, including "drunk with fatigue" and "an ecstasy of fumbling," is a prime example of Fussel's observation that "finding the war "indescribable" in any but the available language of traditional literature, those who recalled it had to do so in known literary terms. (pg 189)." Those known literary techniques often hid the awfulness of the war and Owen demonstrates this throughtout the poem. 

Fussell opens the chapter with Captain Oliver Lyttleton's writings, which included "An allusion more proper to a sailor than a soldier,(pg168)". I was surprised to find a similar theme that incorporates the imagery of the ocean in Owen's poem, where he describes watching a fellow soldier during a gas attack: "As under a green sea, I saw him drowning" and then again, "He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drawing." 

I was curious about the title and the final line, believing they were significant beyond that it was in Latin. After a quick search, I discovered the title of the poem and the last two lines, "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori," come from a Greek poem by Horace (Merriam Webster). The use of this line demonstrates Owen's knowledge of literary traditions. It means "it is sweet to die for one's country." 



Good observation on the shared use of ocean imagery in Lyttleton and Owen. A coupe of questions emerge here. What is the significance of the ocean or of drowning as a metaphor here? Also, why do you think Owen incorporates that quote from Horace? In other words, how does the quotation of a Roman motto, in the Latin language, activate cultural memory institutions here?