Text of the Poem

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin,
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,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori


  1. Owen alludes to Odes in order to juxtapose pro-war patriotism with the actual lived experiences of soldiers fighting for their country. Juxtaposition is a device in which two things are placed side by side in order to emphasize their differences. By presenting Horace’s idealistic portrayal of war alongside the reality of actually dying for one’s country, Owen demonstrates that there is really nothing noble or glorious about war.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. Owen alludes to a Latin phrase in Odes, a collection of four books of Latin lyric poems written by the Roman poet Horace (65–8 BCE). The phrase, which can be loosely translated as “It is sweet and filling to die for one’s country,” was popular during World War I.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. Owen concludes the poem by arguing that pro-war patriots would hesitate to encourage “children” to go to war if they understood the brutality and consequences of battle. At this moment, it is clear that the text’s horrifying images are intended to force the reader to acknowledge and perhaps empathize with both the dying soldier and the speaker, who continues to be haunted by his traumatic memories.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. This line uses an apostrophe, or an address to someone or something that is not in a position to respond. In this context, the apostrophe (“My friend”) reveals the intended reader of “Dulce et Decorum Est”: a patriot persuaded by war propaganda and who encourages young men to seek “desperate glory” by fighting for their country.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. The noun “cud” is the partially digested food regurgitated by cows for further chewing and digesting. Owen applies the word to give the image of blood that “come[s] gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs” an even more jarring impact.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. Comparing the soldier’s “hanging face” to “a devil’s sick of sin” is an example of a simile, which compares two different things using “like” or “as” to reveal or develop important themes or ideas in a text. In this instance, the simile enables Owen to present an argument against the pointlessness of endless war by underscoring the monstrous reality of battle.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. The verb “to writhe” means to twist or contort one’s body, usually from pain or discomfort. However, Owen uses the word to describe the dying soldier’s eyes, as opposed to his entire body. As a result, the vivid visual imagery carries an even greater emotional impact.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. Owen uses a metaphor to describe the horror of watching a soldier die during a chemical attack. A metaphor involves comparing two different things by suggesting or asserting that they are the same. Here, the dying soldier is compared to someone drowning in the sea, which conveys how thick and choking the gas attack is. This graphic imagery urges the reader to empathize with the pain and horror of the situation.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. The noun “ecstasy” commonly refers to intense happiness, joy, or passion. However, Owen’s use of the word subverts the common meaning to represent the overwhelming, frantic efforts of the soldiers to shield themselves from a chemical attack.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. Owen makes use of epizeuxis at the beginning of the second stanza. Epizeuxis is a device in which a word is repeated in rapid succession without intervening words. By repeating the word “Gas! GAS!” Owen conveys the panic and urgency of soldiers hurriedly putting on their helmets before the gas poisons them.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. “Gas-shells” were some of the first mass-produced chemical weapons introduced to modern warfare beginning in World War I. Toxic gas, such as tear gas, and fatal gas, such as mustard gas, were liberally used to disable or kill entrenched soldiers.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  12. Lines seven and eight feature enjambment, a device in which a phrase that begins in one line flows into the next in a line of verse. Enjambment reinforces the poem’s rhythm, while also calling the reader’s attention to the disastrous scene that is about to unfold.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  13. To fully convey the wretched conditions, Owen employs hyperbole in his description of the soldiers suffering in the bloody war. Hyperbole involves exaggerating in order to emphasize a specific aspect of a real situation. While Owen does not literally mean that all of the soldiers went lame and blind, saying “All went lame; all blind” highlights the intensity of their suffering, which he later suggests is being overlooked by zealous, pro-war patriots back home.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  14. In this context, the adjective “lame” refers to a condition or an injury that reduces a person’s ability to walk. Owen portrays the soldiers as being so exhausted and beaten down from constant violence that they struggle to walk.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  15. The adjective “knock-kneed” refers to a condition in which a person’s legs curve inward at the knees, causing his or her feet and ankles to remain apart even with knees touching. Here, this word choice emphasizes the image that the simile of the soldiers walking “like old beggars” conveys—that they are weighed down by their sacks and their conditions.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor