Archive for November 9, 2009

Dulce et Decorum Est

Posted in Poetry with tags , on November 9, 2009 by telescoper

Folowing on from yesterday’s post, here’s probably the greatest poem by the greatest of all the poets of the First World War, Wilfred Owen. He captures the horror and brutality of war in language so potent that it still retains the ability to shock even now, 90 years later. Every image attacks the myth of war as a noble or glamorous thing and the cumulative effect of this onslaught is overwhelming. The title comes from a phrase in Horace, also quoted in the last lines of the verse: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori (It is sweet and suitable to die for your country).

There is a nice short video clip featuring Jeremy Paxman that really says it all, but it’s just as powerful if you read the text yourself.

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 disappointed shells 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 floundering 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