After my previous post which spoke about issues of war, I found it remarkably coincidental that a Lit reading that I needed to write a short paper on was a war poem. More specifically, it is a shoking anti-war poem that exposes the reality of the trench warfare in World War I. Written by Wilfred Owen, “Dulce et Decorum Est” responds to pro-war propoganda that used the full Latin quote “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.” It means “it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.” He juxtaposes this heroic view of war with jarring imagery from the trenches.
A few notes: Chlorine gas had just been introduced and its horrible effects included filling the lungs with fluid, causing its victims to drown on dry land. The Five-Nines referred to were shells 5.9 inches in diamater. Read this out loud if possible, slowly. And then, if moved like I was, pray for peace such that nothing like this will ever need to be written again.
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.