Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Carrying on this week's theme of remembrance, I thought I would post this poem by the Great War poet Wilfred Owen. Describing a gas attack in the trenches, it takes its title from lines in an Ode by the Roman writer, Horace. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori: It is sweet and honourable to die for your country.

Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen

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 gas-shells dropping softly behind

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clunky 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 spin,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
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.

This is a beautifully simple poem that, as with many pieces of poetry, benefits from repeated reading. It is also referenced in Carol Ann Duffy's poem "Last Post", which I've mentioned before on this blog and can be read here.


No comments: