Sunday, November 11, 2018

Poetry Sunday: Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I, the War to End All Wars. We've been at war almost constantly since then.

World War I produced some wonderful writers, including poets. One of those poets was Wilfred Owen.

Owen was born in 1893 and he served in those awful trenches among the mud, the blood, the gas, and the other horrors of that war. And still he found time to write poetry.

He died in France on November 4, 1918, just one week before the Armistice. This poem was published posthumously. The title of the poem comes from a line from the Roman poet Horace: "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori," translated as "It is sweet and honorable to die for one's country." 

How much sweeter it would have been to live for it.

Dulce et Decorum Est

by Wilfred Owen, 1893-1918
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
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.

6 comments:

  1. Yes, yes, the oldest lie in the book. Leading to the next oldest lie since then, that one war could ever end all wars. Who thought that one up?

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    1. It just hurts my heart every time I read this poem. I don't know of any other that so vividly describes the horrors of war.

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  2. Wow! I've never read such vivid description of war. It's nightmarish!

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    1. I've never been to war or served in the military at all, but my father served in World War II and my husband was in the army during the Vietnam War and served there. From what I've heard from them, I have no doubt that Sherman was right: "War is hell."

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  3. I visited a World War I museum in Woodrow Wilson's birthplace in Staunton, Virginia last year. They had a replica (without the blood, mud or mustard gas) of a trench, among other things. It was an eye-opening experience, as was learning about Woodrow Wilson.

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    1. I've never seen that replica; I've only imagined the reality from descriptions in the books that I've read, but my imagination is filled with the horror of it all.

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