We remember, but what have we learned?

by Richard on November 11, 2011

Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori

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
.

~ Wilfred Owen

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Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori | Faith, Folk and Charity
11.11.11 at 3:46 pm

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1

Mendip Nomad 11.11.11 at 11:59 am

I don’t have time today, but either this evening or on Sunday (I try not to blog on Saturdays) I think I need to blog on that old Lie. So often, at this time of the year, I see that old Lie coming back to haunt us once again, even in the casual statements of friends and colleagues who seem not to notice what exactly it is they might be suggesting in their well-meant words of remembrance. For me, we remember not because it is sweet and honourable to die for one’s country but for the very reason that Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori is a lie. The deaths of those who die in war are far from sweet and honourable, they are often bitter and tortuous. I am not a precise pacifist, I believe that sometimes the way of the fallen world makes violence unfortunately unavoidable, but when we stand to remember the fallen, both today and on Sunday, we do so to remember the waste of lives cut short by human sin, we do so recognising that, as Prof. Eamon Duffy once preached, “that silent figure is among us in judgement, as he stood once in judgement before Pilate, who imagined himself to be the judge. In him there stand before us all the world’s victims…”. Thank God that, as Duffy also preached that day, “he comes in forgiveness as well as judgement”. (Quotes from “When I remember, I am afraid”, Remembrance Sunday, University Church, Oxford, 1998, published in Duffy, E., Walking to Emmaus, London: Burns & Oates, 2006)

2

Dave Faulkner 11.11.11 at 12:26 pm

Thanks for posting the poem, Richard. I remember it as the only highlight of O-Level English Lit. It was the only piece in the two years that made a deep impression on me.

3

Kim 11.11.11 at 2:11 pm

That’s a great sermon, isn’t it, Mendip? In it Duffy also refers to “the tribal character of what this nation is doing today [Remembrance Sunday],” and observes that “The reality is that most of our collective remembrace is not a true remembering, but a selective forgetting.”

In answer to Richard’s question — well, put it this way: perhaps we should call it Dismembrance Day

4

Richard 11.11.11 at 2:32 pm

There isn’t a sermon in that collection that I didn’t find helpful. Thanks for the reminder of it.

5

Earl 11.11.11 at 2:40 pm

On the breech of a cannon I once saw carved a phrase in Latin. Having no Latin, I had to look it up to understand what it said, “Last argument of kings.” How true. Kings argue. But they are always far behind the breeches. They do not face the muzzles of the guns. Soldiers do. And when kings argue, they only argue. Then they go to lunch. They do not die. Soldiers die. And some live.

I am not impressed with the fashionable skepticism of the comfortably cynical. There is in this poem and others like it hard truth. It would be dishonest to say otherwise. There are many who have so loved their country that they willingly served and even died for their country. It would be dishonest to say otherwise.

I consider Owen one of the best voices of those who have been at the muzzle’s end. There are of course others. But he is one of the best.

6

Mendip Nomad 11.11.11 at 10:48 pm

Kim - (I’m sure, given your language elsewhere, you won’t mind me putting it like this) the pure balls needed to actually preach that sermon is incredible, and the same for “Let us now praise famous men” on Benefactors’ Day. I was privileged in taking a paper lectured by Prof. Duffy last academic year. I didn’t discover Walking to Emmaus until this summer but my immense respect for him that I had developed last year grew even more when I did!

Richard - you’re welcome :)

Earl - we may disagree on many things but there is nothing in what you say above that you would find disagreement from me on.

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