Today is november 11. The day we commemorate the end of the first world war, the great war.
It was the war during which chemical weapons were used. And in the devastation, people found time and creativity to engage in normal human activity. And also in writing poetry. So I thought to commemorate the world war by publishing a poem by Wilfred Owen. The title sounds patriotic: it’s good to die for one’s country. But the poem tries to depict what the war was really like.
Dulce et Decorum
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 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.
The Latin phrase is from the Roman poet Horace: “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”
Pat Barker has written a trilogy on the first world war in which the poetry plays an important role. The Regeneration trilogy consist of 3 novels set during World War I which mingle real and fictional characters. “The Ghost Road” won the 1995 Booker Prize