Dulce et Decorum Est | Study Guide

Wilfred Owen

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Course Hero, "Dulce et Decorum Est Study Guide," December 20, 2019, accessed January 28, 2022, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Dulce-et-Decorum-Est/.

Dulce et Decorum Est | Symbols


Blood-Shod Feet

In the first stanza of the poem, the speaker describes the way the soldiers continue to march despite having lost their boots. Their feet have bled, and the blood has covered their feet, so it is almost as if they have shoes or boots made of blood. Their feet have become "blood-shod."

This image is a poignant description of the soldiers' misery, but it also carries symbolic power. Blood is life, and shed blood symbolizes woundedness—and often, death. In this case, the men begin to wear shed blood as clothing. They are clothed in blood—in injury, violence, and loss of life. This symbol shows the pervasiveness of the violence that surrounds them. Like their blood-shod feet, they are becoming coated in a layer of violence and death.

Green Sea

As the speaker watches his fellow soldier succumb to the gas attack, he says the dying man appears to be drowning in a "green sea." This strange sight is likely caused by a combination of imperfect vision through the windows of his gas mask and the appearance of the gas clouds as the gas is released from the shells.

This image symbolizes the war's overwhelming nature and its ability to drown, smother, and destroy life. The destruction and violence of the war surrounds and metaphorically drowns the soldier caught in the gas. But it also surrounds and smothers the speaker; the dreams of the incident, which recur well after the event, are "smothering dreams." The repetition of the word "drowning" in the poem reinforces this sense that the war is a green sea in which all the soldiers are drowning. Some drown during the war, and some drown in the dreams that it brings.

Innocent Tongues

In the passionate and devastating final lines of the poem, Wilfred Owen refers to the blood coming up from the soldier's lungs as being "bitter as the cud / Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues." The speaker describes the effects of the poison gas, which damages tissues in the lungs, throat, and mouth, often leading to death.

This image functions as a vivid description of the death and suffering of the war, but the reference to the tongue specifically suggests a symbolic level of meaning. Unlike the speaker, who has survived the attack and so can tell about it, the young soldier in the poem is gone. He has no tongue to speak with, no way of telling his story. This symbolism is reiterated and expanded in the next lines, as the speaker criticizes those who "tell" the lie that to die for one's country is good. The speaker and his audience can all "tell" whatever message they choose, but the tongue of the young soldier, symbolizing his voice and story, has been stilled.

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