Armistice day: Wilfred Owen’s ‘Dulce et decorum est’

by Richard on November 11, 2010

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.

*It is a fine an noble thing to die for your country

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1

Paul F. 11.11.10 at 5:05 pm

I’m assuming this is inspired by World War I.

I’m afraid this post is going to open up a can of worms very shortly.

2

Paul F. 11.11.10 at 5:21 pm

My bad. I just did a Google search on Armistice Day. I’m American. We changed the name a long time ago to Veteran’s. Of course this is about WWI.

3

Alec 11.11.10 at 5:31 pm

I’m afraid this post is going to open up a can of worms very shortly.

How so?

4

Kim 11.11.10 at 5:49 pm

Because it’s a great thing to die for one’s country - and that’s the goddam truth. Owen must be some kind commie bastard - and what kind of a wus name is “Wilfred”? And he speaks French.

5

Richard 11.11.10 at 5:50 pm

I’d be interested to know that too.

6

Kim 11.11.10 at 5:54 pm

Hall must be another pinko pacifist.

7

Alec 11.11.10 at 6:11 pm

Because it’s a great thing to die for one’s country - and that’s the goddam truth. Owen must be some kind commie bastard - and what kind of a wus name is “Wilfred”? And he speaks French.

Owen willingly went back to the Front, despite having the option of being invalid’d out, through some kind of hero-worship for Sassoon. Maybe he saw it as inevitable, but not noble.

8

Richard 11.11.10 at 6:17 pm

Clearly Owen didn’t think it was noble to die for one’s country. The word “lie” in the penultimate line is a bit of a giveaway.

9

Kim 11.11.10 at 6:25 pm

You ever notice how if you want to find peace activists, a good place to go is a group of veterans? In my own church, old Ivor Watkins (RIP) came out of the trenches in France and became - a pacifist.

10

Paul F. 11.11.10 at 6:27 pm

The topic of war often sets off knee-jerk reactions on this blog, and since you’ve been on the receiving end of anger-laden 100-comment threads lately, I thought such a brutal poem about “the big lie” might spark the same (which would be an unfortunate thing on Armistice/Veteran’s Day). That’s all I was saying.

Kim, what’s with the profanity? I only ask this as someone who usually finds your stuff witty and insightful.

11

Paul F. 11.11.10 at 6:32 pm

In any case, I think veterans are insulted when both pro- and anti-war opinions are bandied about by people who have never thought deeply about what is exactly they are supporting or opposing–especially the ones who just employ soldiers as talking points.

12

Kim 11.11.10 at 7:09 pm

Because, Paul, that’s the way with my own ears I have heard people talk.

13

Alec 11.11.10 at 8:02 pm

Oh, Paul, I see what you meant. Orwell noted this phenomenon amongst self-defining pacifists 70 years ago: as soon as their lectures fail or they cease receiving uncritical support, the mask of civility drops and an atavistic loathing of large groups of people is revealed.

You ever notice how if you want to find peace activists, a good place to go is a group of veterans?

No. I find the best place to find pacifists are amongst Western liberals who never have had to fight a war.

There aint many pacifists in Srebrenica or Rwanda.

In my own church, old Ivor Watkins (RIP) came out of the trenches in France and became - a pacifist.

The greater part of their brothers-in-arms didn’t, and in no way disrespected the fallen.

Likewise, a few publicized cases aside, most contemporary volunteer soldiers do not consider themselves to be passive victims who were sent to die for a lie. If you feel otherwise, I’d suggest explaining this to some: I understand the ones in maroon berets are particularly amenable to being told that they don’t know their own minds.

14

Alec 11.11.10 at 8:06 pm

From the opening page of The Thin Red Line, by James Jones and based on his own experiences in the fighting on Guadalcanal:

This book is cheerfully dedicated to those greatest and most heroic of all human endeavors, WAR and WARFARE; may they never cease to give us the pleasure, excitement and adrenal stimulation that we need, or provide us with the heroes, the presidents and the leaders, the monuments and museums which we erect to them in the name of PEACE.

15

Kim 11.11.10 at 10:25 pm

Alec, if you hadn’t noticed, this is a theological website, at least it is on issues of substance, like peace and war, so might it behoove you to argue your case theologically? It can be done, or at least attempted, via just war tradition. If you don’t at least have a go, whatever you have to say is, well, uninteresting at best and irrelevant at worst.

16

Pam 11.12.10 at 7:04 am

Like this Richard.

17

Alec 11.12.10 at 2:03 pm

Alec, if you hadn’t noticed, this is a theological website, at least it is on issues of substance, like peace and war, so might it behoove you to argue your case theologically?

What the smeg are you talking about?

18

Paul F. 11.12.10 at 4:35 pm

“What the smeg are you talking about?”

He means many of the frequenters of this blog are Christians. We are committed to the teachings and example of Jesus. We try to bring what we believe about Christ to bear on all matters, whatever they may be. So, for example, we might argue that Christ initiated a new kingdom and a new way of living that frees us from solving problems with coercion or violence. Or that the kind of life Christ grants us is far more exciting than whatever fun war might be, if James Jones is to be believed. Or we might argue that war is a complete rejection of the three theological virtues: faith, hope, and love. Stuff like that.

19

Alec 11.12.10 at 4:46 pm

Yes, Paul, I am happy to talk about Christianity, being a cultural Christian. I don’t see his having introducing theology much into this thread, though.

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>