Dulce et Decorum Est
by Wilfred Owen
Analysis: Sound Check
This poem's not playing too many games with us. It's so deeply entrenched in the world of war that its language can't help but re-create the language and the pace of the battlefield. Starting the second stanza with a sharp cry, "Gas! Gas!" draws us smack-dab into the middle of the action (9). We're not worried about what the soldiers look like or sound like now. Thrown into a murky, misty green world of toxic fumes, we try as hard as our speaker does to make sense of language that seems to create a haze of frantic action.
Then again, there are some pretty masterful sleights-of-hand to pull straight into this world of war. Check out the first few lines of the poem: the repetition of hard consonant sounds like the hard "k" in "sacks," "knock," "coughed" and "cursed" makes our tongues perform some sharp attacks on the air in our mouths. If you listen closely, it might even sound vaguely like the machine-gun fire which was the sonic backdrop of the battlefield in World War I. Technically, that's alliteration. (Check out our "Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay" for a more detailed analysis of all the alliterative work that's going on in this poem.) For now, though, we'll say that the true-to-the-moment sound of this poem masks a technically adept poet at work.
Oh, and did we talk about the Latin? In case we didn't mention it, Latin's a dead language. It's not spoken. And it's a bit creepy to end with a language that is itself dead. So what do we make of the fact that you just can't speak the last lines of this poem? We'll analyze that in "Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay," as well – but it poses a problem to anyone who's "sounding" out this poem. How does one "speak" a language that's not spoken?