Wilfred Owen MC (18 March 1893 – 4 November 1918) was an English poet and soldier, one of the leading poets of the First World War. His shocking, realistic war poetry on the horrors of trench warfare stood in stark contrast to both the public perception of war at the time and to the patriotic verse written by earlier war poets such as Rupert Brooke. Among his best-known works – most of which were published posthumously – are “Dulce et Decorum est“, “Insensibility“, “Anthem for Doomed Youth“, “Futility” and “Strange Meeting“.
He was wounded in combat in 1917 and wrote many of his most important poems while recovering in the hospital near Edinburgh. He rejoined his regiment in June 1918, and in August, he returned to France. He was awarded the Military Cross for bravery at Amiens. He was killed on November 4 of that year while attempting to lead his men across the Sambre-Oise canal at Ors. He was 25 years old. The news of his death reached his parents one week later on November 11, Armistice Day, which marked the end of the war. He is buried at Ors Communal Cemetery.
Of his many great war poems, this is one of the very best. (“Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori,” are the first words of a Latin saying (taken from an ode by Horace). The words, widely quoted at the start of the First World War, mean “It is sweet and right to die for your country.”) The poem, as well as two readings of it are found below—one with actual footage of the Battle of Somme.
Dulce Et Decorum Est
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 disappointed shells 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 floundering 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.
And a newer reading:
3 thoughts on ““Dulce Et Decorum Est””
That war, WWI, the war to end all wars did no such thing as we know. But this poem brings to mind two quotes I’m fond of: Nikita Khrushchev”s “”The living will envy the dead,” and Shakespeare’s, “O’ Death where is thy sting.” The movie “All quiet on the Western Front” remains a favorite, as does “Das Boot,” the WWII classic. The God’s must really think us crazy as they watch us do the same thing over and over and expect a different result–the true definition of crazy.
John, thank you for running this poem, one of my favorites too. When I was teaching sophomore lit in a college in Wisconsin during the war in Vietnam, I taught every anti-war poem I knew of, this one among them.
Charley, nice to hear from you down a little south from me. Yes, a great poem.