WAR war war. War in Syria. War in Yemen. War in the Ukraine. Pushed by politicians who romanticize the fight as something glorious and virtuous. They tell us it is good and sweet to die for one’s country– an insult to every veteran who has seen combat. This fallen hero of WW1 mingles rhetoric with verse to show us what war is really like.
“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 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.
Summary / Anaylsis
“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” is Latin for “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”
I enjoy Shmoop’s explanation of the meter in “Dulce et Decorum est.” It is pentameter– most of the time. It starts off as a fairly structured poem. As the war consumes the speaker’s mind, structure breaks down. The syllable counts that were seemingly ten per line, more and more frequently misfire. By the final stanza, and especially the final line, there is no more resemblance of pentameter.
The poem beautifully intertwines rhetoric with verse. It exposes an ancient lie through imagery and rhyme. It encourages a more truthful perspective of war, that reminds us it is always a last resort.
Wilfred Owen’s poetry makes every list of best war poems. Through his service, his rhetoric and his verse, his honor will live on for ages.