Dulce et Decorum Est – By: Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,

Till on the haunting flares we turned out 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

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 was written by poet Wilfred Owen in 1917, during the First World War. It was published posthumously in 1920. As you read the poem, you will find your heart rocked by its horrific imagery. However, among all the various poems that I’ve read so far, I haven’t read any that manages to transfer its message with such an inescapable strength. It’s almost as if Owen wanted to grip world leaders by their collar and hammer some sense into their numb heads.

The title and the Latin exhortation of the final two lines are drawn from the phrase “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” written by the Ancient Roman poet Horace in (, Ode III.2.13):[2]

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori:

mors et fugacem persequitur virum

nec parcit inbellis iuventae

poplitibus timidove tergo.

this means:

“How sweet and fitting it is to die for one’s country:

Death pursues the man who flees,

spares not the hamstrings or cowardly backs

Of battle-shy youths.”

These famous words were often quoted by supporters of the war near its inception and were, therefore, of particular relevance to soldiers of the era.

In 1913, the first line, Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, was inscribed on the wall of the chapel of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, thust gaining even greater importance.

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