Wilfred Edward Salter Owen was born on 18 March 1893 in Oswestry, Shropshire and began to write poetry from a very young age. He went to London University, where he was known to be a quiet and thoughtful student. After going to Bordeaux in 1913 to teach English, Owen returned to England and joined the army, as he really wanted to fight for his country. He was injured in March 1917 and was sent home; he was fit for duty in August 1918, and returned to the front line. On November 4, just seven days before the end of the First World War, he was caught in a German machine gun attack and killed. He was twenty-five years old when he died.
Owen's poems, published only after his death, along with his letters from the front line to his mother, are perhaps the most powerful and vivid accounts of the horror of war to emerge from the First World War.
In one of his most well known poems, 'Dulce et Decorum est' Owen challenges the famous Latin saying by Horace which means that it is sweet and becoming to die for one's country. Owen wrote this as he wanted to provoke compassion at its deepest levels for what was going on every day in the war areas. Owen was greatly concerned about the patriotism of people who knew nothing of the horrors of fighting. 'Dulce et Decorum est' was designed to make the public ask itself what purpose the never-ending casualties - on both sides - were serving.
The poem is in four stanzas, in which the first stanza deals with the extreme condition of the exhausted soldiers. The second stanza deals with a gas attack in which one of the soldiers dies, unable to fit his gas mask in time, and he drowns on his own blood. The third stanza is about Owen's personal reaction to these circumstances, which is the way in which he feels personally responsible and guilty about the incident. The forth stanza emphasises the physical sufferings of the men, which tries to make the reader consider the 'glories' of war and 'The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est/Pro patria mori.