If in some smothering dreams you too could pace Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
Ah, now we get to the "you."
Are we the audience to whom Owen addresses this poem?
We're not quite sure.
Several earlier versions of this poem were explicitly addressed to "Miss Pope," or Jessie Pope, a British propagandist who printed public letters urging men to take up arms in defense of their country's honor.
Owen could be addressing the poem specifically to her.
For the sake of argument, though, let's see what happens if our speaker's "you" is supposed to be us (the readers).
If we accept that we're the people to whom our speaker addresses himself, something interesting happens: we're told that we can't understand what's going on in the poem…even as the speaker tells us what's going on.
In fact, it's like a story that your friend might tell you. They might try to describe something that happened, but then end by saying, "you just had to be there."
These lines actually take it a step further, though: our speaker doesn't even care whether we could actually experience the horrors of battle or not.
He knows that we can't share those experiences with him.
He's just wishing that we could share the dreams of the experiences of battle, but we can't do that.
Such deliberate distancing of the speaker from the "you" of the poem creates a huge gap of isolation in which our speaker dwells.
We just can't understand how horrible his life was…and is.
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
We're still in the land of hypotheticals here.
Our speaker's going into detail, forcing "you" (or, well, us) to imagine just how horrible his dreams can be.
The body of the dream-soldier writhes in surreal agony.
It's almost over-the-top, unless, of course, you've read descriptions of the pain and suffering of gas victims.
Notice all the "s" sounds stacking up in the last line? (For starters, there's "face" and "devil's" and "sick" and "sin.")
When you read line 20 aloud, it's almost as if you're hissing your way through the line.
The fancy technical term for repeating "s" sounds is sibilance…it's what snakes do.
(And devils, if you take John Milton's word for it. Describing a devil by using an aural technique that forces the reader to hiss? That's pretty darn cool.)
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
This is pretty disgusting.
And that's our speaker's point.
He wants to ram home just how absolutely degrading, humiliating, and surreal the destruction of the human body can be.
Within minutes, the body of a young man turns into a mass of aging sores – almost as a version of cancer moved through his body at warp speed.
Owen takes on a bitter, ceaseless realism towards the end of this stanza.
His speaker is deep in the memory of his own dream – and he's dragging us along for the ride.
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie:
Now we get to the serious teeth of this poem: after drawing us deep into the hell of his personal experiences, our speaker lashes out at the those who helped get him into this mess.
As he bitterly reflects, the war efforts begin at home.
Lots of people are willing to convince young (and, he suggests, gullible) "children" that they can find glory on the battlefield.
When you compare the heightened rhetoric or ("high zest") of these "patriots" to the stark realism of the lines preceding it, the difference between the two seems almost farcical.
Owen sets up an implicit comparison between personal experience and national rhetoric.
It's almost like we see two separate versions of war being fought: the one that's full of "glory" and "honor," and the other that breaks men in to "hags" and hallucinations.
Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.
If you haven't buffed up on Latin lately, don't worry. Your friendly Shmoop translation team is here to help.
These Latin lines are quoted from Horace (a Roman philosopher and poet).
Here's the lines in English: "It is sweet and proper to die for one's country."
After reading all of the stuff that our speaker (and our speaker's comrade) have gone through, it's pretty hard to believe that Horace actually knows what he's talking about.
We're guessing that that's Owen's point.
Notice how the last line of the poem doesn't have anywhere close to ten syllables?
For readers accustomed to seeing or hearing a line that's ten syllables long, this would sound like a huge, awkward silence.