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.



About JunkChuck

Native, Militant Westsylvanian (the first last best place), laborer, gardener, and literary hobbyist (if by literary you mean "hack"). I've had a bunch of different blogs, probably four, due to a recurring compulsion to start over. This incarnation owes to a desire to dredge up the best entries of the worst little book of hand-scrawled poems I could ever dream of writing, salvageable excerpts from fiction both in progress and long-abandoned. and a smattering of whatever the hell seems to fit at any particular moment. At first blush, I was here just to focus on old, terrible verse, but I reserve the right to include...anything. Maybe everything, certainly my love of pulp novels growing garlic, the Pittsburgh Steelers and howling at the moon--both figuratively and, on rare occasions, literally.
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7 Responses to War Poems For National Poetry Month: Wilfred Owen, Dulce Et Decorum Est

  1. Bill Diskin says:

    10,000 Maniacs covered this one I think.


  2. JunkChuck says:

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


  3. M T McGuire says:

    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. Pingback: War Poems: Randall Jarrell, Death of The Ball Turret Gunner | Old Road Apples

  5. Pingback: War Poems For National Poetry Month: David Kreiger, Greeting Bush In Baghdad | Old Road Apples

  6. Ishaiya says:

    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.


  7. Pingback: War Poems For National Poetry Month: Thomas Hardy, The Man He Killed | Old Road Apples

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