TODAY IN THE UK it is what is known as Remembrance Sunday – commemorating the end of the First World War. People gather round cenotaphs with grave expressions and dark clothes and then lay wreaths of poppies and say: “Thank you, boys, for giving your lives for us”. WHAT A LIE THAT IS! They didn’t give their lives for anything other than the evil stupidity of the power elite. One of my two favourite poets, Wilfred Owen, was the greatest war poet of that war. I feel as if I know him as my own brother. He has made me weep more times than any other poet. He was an officer in the army and died at 25 years old in a battle just 7 days before the end of the war. In October 1917, he wrote a poem called “Dulce et Decorum Est”, in which he graphically describes a soldier in the death throes of having been gassed in the trenches. The final two lines speak of “the old lie” (in the smug Latin of the upper classes) which says: “It is sweet and glorious to die for their country”. Here is the whole poem:
Dulce et Decorum Est
by 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 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.
© 2012, Alan Morrison / The Diakrisis Project. All Rights Reserved. [The copyright on my works is merely to protect them from any wanton plagiarism which could result in undesirable changes (as has actually happened!). Readers are free to reproduce my work, so long as it is in the same format and with the exact same content and its origin is acknowledged]