"It is sweet and fitting..."
One hundred years after its end, we still live in its embers. For an event, so horrific and wrong that led to so many other horrors and wrongs, perhaps we must always.
Below, a poem from one who was there, who lost all illusions perpetuated in the corrupt tales of heroic wars, and who summoned the courage to face the abyss in his poetry:
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 gas-shells dropping softly 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.
Latin phrase is from the Roman poet Horace: “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”
- Wilfred Owen, a poem written from Craiglockhart Hospital, 1917. Owen died in battle, one week to the hour before the signing of the Armistice one hundred years ago, today.
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