War Poems For National Poetry Month: Wilfred Owen, Dulce Et Decorum Est


Panama…then Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, Iraq again, Afganistan–right or wrong, for causes both just and cynical, we’ve been in an exhausting, nearly constant state of war, however distant and vaguely defined, since I graduated from High School in the 1980’s–and that was just a few deep breaths after the war in Viet Nam/ Cambodia/ Laos that defined my father and his generation.  It seems fitting to start out a series of my favorite poems with war theme.

I’ve thought of no other poem more than this one over the past two decades, which speaks volumes for Wilfred Owen, who wrote from a foxhole in World War I–the “War To End All Wars.”  In the age of biological weapons, this piece resounds like the deepest church bells on a cold, crisp night.

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.


7 responses to “War Poems For National Poetry Month: Wilfred Owen, Dulce Et Decorum Est”

  1. 10,000 Maniacs covered this one I think.


  2. Yep, though I first heard it from Dick Hazley in Leonard Hall, 1987.


  3. He was killed four days before the Armistice and his ghost is purported to have appeared to his brother who was on a ship of the cape at the time. The brother wrote of how, hearing about the Armistice, he felt strangely flat, went down to his cabin and found Wilfred sitting at his desk. All interesting stuff.




  4. […] going to stick with the war theme for a few more days, while I celebrate National Poetry Month–seems appropriate.  This one is […]


  5. To have seen the poetry in the horror that this man did is something to be truly appreciated and admired. The horror he experienced is palpable within his words, and as significant today unfortunately as it was when he penned them. I have to say on the eve of the 100 year anniversary of the beginning of WW1, a shiver descended my spine. An odd feeling that at once seemed immediate and forbidding, as if the shadow of so many lives lost were cast like a thundercloud over the hallowed ground that I was fortunate enough to be walking on. A heavy debt that will never be repaid, a debt that I felt suddenly weighing heavily upon my shoulders. A life lost is a life lost, and people too soon forget.
    A worthy tribute Sir.


  6. […] “Had he and I but met By some old ancient inn, We should have sat us down to wet Right many a nipperkin! “But ranged as infantry, And staring face to face, I shot at him as he at me, And killed him in his place. “I shot him dead because — Because he was my foe, Just so: my foe of course he was; That’s clear enough; although “He thought he’d ‘list, perhaps, Off-hand like — just as I — Was out of work — had sold his traps — No other reason why. “Yes; quaint and curious war is! You shoot a fellow down You’d treat if met where any bar is, Or help to half-a-crown.” Why War Poems?  I explain here; https://oldroadapples.wordpress.com/2014/04/01/war-poems-for-national-poetry-month-wilfred-owen-dulce… […]


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