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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Number 301: Wilfred Owen "Dulce Et Decorum Est"

Dulce Et Decorum Est

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.

-- Wilfred Owen

Hap Notes: It was on this day in 1918 that Wilfred Owen's parents received the news that their son Wilfred had been killed in action in WWI. He had been killed by German machine gun fire just one week before the armistice. He was 25 years old.

Wilfred Edward Salter Owen (1893-1918) wrote poetry about the war graphically explaining what it looked and felt like. The fact that our wars continue leads one to assume that most people have not read these poems. Today's poem makes it clear that war is terrifying and confusing. I think it was one of the first poems I memorized when I was in junior high. The poem still makes me weep.

The Latin phrase at the end of the poem translates to "it is sweet and proper to die for one's country" and is taken from the Roman poet Horace.

Here's a good Owen quote: "My subject is war, and the pity of war. The poetry is in the pity."

You can find more Owen here:

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