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Study Questions for Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et Decorum Est"

Vocabulary: allusion, imagery, modernism, trench poets, verbal irony

Introduction: How did Wilfred Owen die?

Lecture or Handouts: none

Identify the following characters:


Identify the following places:


Reading Questions:

  • Why are the soldiers knock-kneed and coughing like hags?
  • Notice the verb in line two, which states the soldiers "cursed through sludge." What are the connotations of this verb, as opposed to "marched" or "walked?"
  • The poet creates a neologism in line six, "blood-shod." What do you suppose this word means?
  • What are Five-Nines?
  • Why does the poet capitalize the word "GAS" when he repeats it?
  • When the Five-Nines hit, why does the world become filled with "thick green light" "as under a green sea"? Why does the poet say the man next to him is "drowning"? How can you be drowning when there is no water nearby? How can he be drowning in fire or lime?
  • What does the poet see each night in his dreams?
  • In the description, the dying man "plunges" at the speaker. Why would he be reaching out for the speaker, and why is that particularly disturbing?
  • In the last stanza, the poet uses some particularly bitter imagery in a string of similes. Give one example of such visual imagery, gustatory imagery, tactile imagery, and audial imagery.
  • Why would children be "ardent for some desperate glory"?
  • What is the meaning of the Latin phrase "dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori? From what work is this quotation derived?
  • How would the Latin phrase change in its meaning if we read it without the context of the rest of the poem?
  • Does the meaning of the poem change if we know that Owen died a few months after writing it?

Passages for Identification: Be able to identify the poet, the poem, and briefly explain the significance or context of the passage.

A: Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, bloodshod. All went lame, all blind;
Drunk with fatigue. . . .

B. Gas! GAS! Quick boys! An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time.

C: 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.


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