Dulce et Decorum est

November 11, 2010 at 12:43 pm (Uncategorized)

Remembrance Day. Around the country, there is a wash of poppies. Children gather in auditoriums for a meeting, a minute of silence and the obligatory reading of John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields.”

Remember, they tell us. Remember the dead. Remember their sacrifice.

But don’t remember why they died. For the continuance of empire, for this blood soaked system, for capital. There will be no mention of that today.

McCrae’s poem always bothered me. It’s not just the clumsy rhymes of the first two stanzas, but the last stanza which asks readers to take up the quarrel, suggesting not to do so is breaking faith with the dead which will prevent their rest.

The best way to honour those who died in an imperialist war is never do have another one.

When I was 15, my English teacher read us the following poem by Wilfred Owen. Like many 15 year olds, I was a cocky know-it-all. Yet, this moved me. It still does.  

Dulce et Decorum est 

 

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, 
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, 
Till on the haunting flares2 we turned our backs 
And towards our distant rest3 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, outstripped5 Five-Nines6 that dropped behind.

Gas!7 Gas! Quick, boys! –  An ecstasy of fumbling, 
Fitting the clumsy helmets8 just in time; 
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling, 
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime9 . . . 
Dim, through the misty panes10 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,11 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 cud12 
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, 
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest13 
To children ardent14 for some desperate glory, 
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est 
Pro patria mori.15

8 October 1917 – March, 1918

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4 Comments

  1. gmacmedia said,

    Hmmm… You make a good point about the poem. To a degree I agree. But I take less issue with the man who wrote it, in part because he was not a seasoned poet, and in part given his vantage point of the gruesome front lines of total misery, surrounded by death everyday; but also because he amputated my grandpa’s leg at a field hospital in Belgium effectively saving his life.

    • fischerzed said,

      How about that? An amazing family conection. I actually quite like the first two stanzas, even though I do consider the verses clumsy – there’s a sense of loneliness which is very real. However, those final verse ruin the thing, and drag it down to the level of pro-war chauvinism.

  2. gmacmedia said,

    I meant to add I was referring to In Flanders Fields (but it was likely rather obvious 😉

  3. Anthem for the Doomed youth « Notes from Underground said,

    […] been an admirer of Owen’s work since I was about 15 when a teacher had us read his poem “Dulce et Decorum est, ” and have posted his poems elsewhere on this blog.  On the weekend, I was reading something about […]

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