Poetry Friday: Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen

June 6, 2008

View the Poetry Friday roundup at just another day of Catholic pondering.

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 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.

DULCE ET DECORUM EST – the first words of a Latin saying (taken from an ode by Horace). The words were widely understood and often quoted at the start of the First World War. They mean “It is sweet and right.” The full saying ends the poem: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori – it is sweet and right to die for your country. In other words, it is a wonderful and great honour to fight and die for your country. (Explanation note taken from this site.)

In my English 101 class we were given a handout to read during class. The handout didn’t have a title, but the description that best fits is A Selection of Excellent Writing. Excerpts from the Psalms, O. Henry, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, Winston Churchill and others. Among the selections was this poem, Dulce Et Decorum Est. I volunteered to read it for the class, others had read different excerpts before me, and fell in love with Dulce.

In class was the first time I experienced this poem. The strong imagery and passionate words leave me breathless, and locked into the poem’s story. I believe I can see the face of the doomed soldier, and I can hear the dark, sorrowful, tormented voice of the man who witnessed, and relives, his brother’s demise.

Oh, to write with such passion, and precision.

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