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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Dulce et Decorum est

Wilfred Owen was a WWI soldier. He was killed in that war. Among Owen's possessions a poem was found: Dulce et Decorum est Pro Patria.

Owen describes a scene where his unit gets shelled with poison gas. All the men got their gas masks on but one. Wilfred Owen describes the smothering death of that soldier.
Vietnam Soldier 1960s
Everything he had ever been taught about the glory of war came crashing in on him. In end he left a message for those who sent them off with such patriotic fervor:

Dulce et Decorum est Pro Patria

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*.

8 October 1917 - March, 1918


*It is sweet and noble to die for one's country.

Owen realized at the last that he had been lied to. He died shortly thereafter, along with so many others in that terrible war.

Clifden War Memorial 00008

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thats not the entire poem nor the correct title. Alas, the poem, was not found on his body but was written
while in Scotland.

TH Williams said...

Thank you. You are right, the title is shorter, "Dulce et Decorum Est."

Like any thoughtful piece, it is possible the author went through more than one revision.

It is more important to focus on the content; i.e. the deeper meaning of the author's thoughts about war, rather than get lost in speculation about where the poem may have been discovered. Right?

War Poetry

Wikipedia Entry #1

Wikipedia Entry #2