Poetry Friday...Wilfred Owen

Dulce et Decorum Est
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 with cancer, bitter with 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...mori: a quotation from the Latin poet Horace, "It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country.")

I first came across this poem, published in 1920, by Wilfred Owen about a year ago.  Owen is absolutely brilliant in what he does; namely taking something that he suffered through, the atrocities of WWI, and bringing the reader directly into the action.  He was the first poet to immerse readers in the trenches alongside those fighting and the first to portray war the way it really was instead of as the glorified version that had been lauded to society.  His descriptions are so incredibly graphic and immediate that it is impossible not to picture this poor soldier drowning on his own liquefying internal organs, all while his fellow comrades must march along while watching him die a horrific death.  The fact that Owen went from being a very minor poet to the most important English-language poet of WWI in a matter of two years is astounding.  Sadly, his genius was to come posthumously.  Just days before the end of the war, 1918, he was killed in action.  Only four of his poems were published before he died.  Dulce et Decorum Est was published two years after his death.


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