In Remembrance

11 Nov

Every year I post the Wilfred Owen poem ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ as my personal act of remembrance. I do this to both remember the men who fell, honouring their memory but without glorifying the brutal, industrialised war in which they fell or the lunacy and greed that started it.

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Dulce et Decorum Est

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.

Dulce et Decorum Est was first written at Craiglockhart War Hospital near Edinburgh in 1917 while Owen was recuperating  from shell shock after a period of fighting in the Battle of the Somme. At the hospital, he met the poet Siegfried Sassoon, who had just published his book The Old Huntsman (1917); he had a profound effect on Owen, encouraging him to express himself in a raw, unforgiving style similar to Sassoon’s.

The title comes from a Latin phrase from the ancient Roman poet Horace “Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori” which translates as It is sweet and glorious to die for one’s country” which Owen ends the poem on, referring to it as “the old lie”.Owen’s purpose was to try and convey the brutal and sickening reality of life in the trenches. At the time the British Army censored all letters home and ensured that no details which could instil dissent reach families.

Further reading: http://www.warpoetry.co.uk/owen1.html

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