What is the context of Wilfred Owen's poem 'Dulce est Decorum est'?


In this poem Wilfred Owen, states how sweet and right it is to die for one's country.

Wilfred Owen was an officer in the Manchester Regiment in WW1. The poem describes a gas attack on his men, and the subsequent death of one, as they withdrew from the front line trenches. As you can tell from reading his poems, Owen was haunted by the horrors of WW1. He was killed in the last week of the war in November 1918.

  • And while he loved England, he hated the suffering that the war was causing. He tried to be brave about it and he served honourably. He used his poetry as a catharsis, to help him deal with the tragic events he saw every day. He was only 25 when he died, but his poetry lives on, a reminder that even those who are patriotic ultimately understand that there is nothing "beautiful and good" about dying in a war.


You might also be interested to know of the political climate. Many poets of the time were sponsored by newspapers and government to write very pro-war 'recruitment' poems. Wilfred Owen originally dedicated Dulce Et Decorum Est to one of those pro-war poets, Jessie Pope.

The poem uses one of the frequently-quoted lines used to inspire young men at the time; the Latin 'Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori', taken from Roman poet Horace. It is to those preaching of a war they knew none of the horrors of to whom Owen directs the last stanza of his poem.

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


The actual meaning of the Latin phrase is roughly, "It is sweet and honorable to die for one's country." Owen's poem is a cross-examination of that theory.