< Theme 15, War (iii) >
< Wilfred Owen
Poems by Wilfred Owen (1920, d2)
composed 1918 (25)
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.
Dulce et decorum est : it is sweet and fitting.
Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori : it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country. (Horace, Odes, Book III, No II). The ode continues : ‘Death pursues the coward as he flees and has no mercy towards a bended knee or cowering back.
Courage is not disgraced in defeat, it shines through with honours undimmed, it neither gains nor loses by the popular vote’ and finally, about those who fail to stand and fight, ‘Vengeance may limp, but rarely stops pursuing the guilty.’
Five-Nines : 5.9 calibre shells
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