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The line derives from the Roman poet Horace's .
" There is fumbling as they try to put on their helmets in time.
One soldier is still yelling and stumbling about as if he is on fire.
They are wearied to the bone and desensitized to all but their march.
In the second stanza the action occurs – poisonous gas forces the soldiers to put their helmets on.
The speaker bitterly and ironically refutes the message espoused by many that war is glorious and it is an honor to die for one's country.
The poem is a combination of two sonnets, although the spacing between the two is irregular. The broken sonnet form and the irregularity reinforce the feeling of otherworldliness; in the first sonnet, Owen narrates the action in the present, while in the second he looks upon the scene, almost dazed, contemplative.By doing this he is trying to help stop other soldiers from experiencing what happened in a shortage of time.Owen opens his poem with a strong simile that compares the soldiers to old people that may be hunch-backed....It was also inscribed on the wall of the chapel of the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst in 1913.In the first stanza Owen is speaking in first person, putting himself with his fellow soldiers as they labor through the sludge of the battlefield. They have lost the semblance of humanity and are reduced to ciphers.In the fourth stanza Owen takes a step back from the action and uses his poetic voice to bitterly and incisively criticize those who promulgate going to war as a glorious endeavor.He paints a vivid picture of the dying young soldier, taking pains to limn just how unnatural it is, "obscene as cancer".All are lame and blind, extremely tired and deaf to the shells falling behind them.Suddenly there is gas, and the speaker calls, "Quick, boys!He describes his experience of a gas attack where he lost a member of his squadron and the lasting impact it had on him.He describes how terrible the conditions were for the soldiers and just how bad it was.