Thursday, April 25, 2013

Poem #12: Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen

Enough with the feel-good stuff. Here's an ass-kicker:

Dulce et Decorum est
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.

It's horrible and heart-wrenching. The last bit in Latin means "It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country," a quote from the Roman poet Horace. I haven't read the Wiki on Horace, so I don't know if he ever fought in an actual battle and witnessed firsthand what he wrote about. The line is inscribed in front of the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater in Arlington National Cemetery. God knows that soldiers who fight and die for a great good cause deserve to be honored; but I wonder, along with Owen, about just how sweet and fitting their deaths really are.

No comments:

Post a Comment