It is Remembrance Day here in the UK and at 11am, I will be stopping whatever I am doing to take two minute’s silence and remember all those who have given their lives in wars. I wear my poppy with pride every year and, as we all step off our treadmills for those minutes, I never fail to be moved. I will think about my own family’s experiences in WWI and WWII; I will think about all the waste of young lives lost, even now; and I will also think about war poetry.
In honour of this day, I thought I’d share one of the most heart-stoppingly tragic poems about war I have ever read. I grew up knowing about Wilfred Owen, as it was a favourite local tale that he wrote this poem whilst stationed at my home town’s WW1 army camp. This may or may not be true, but what I do know is that he died one week before the end of the war. It is indescribably sad. I then studied the war poets in depth for my G.C.S.E’s, including this poem, and shed many a tear over them whilst revising. Because of these things, I feel like these final lines are scratched into my heart, particularly on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month each year.
DULCE ET DECORUM EST by Wilfred Owen
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 tired, outstripped Five-Nines 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 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,
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.
8 October 1917 – March, 1918
We will remember them.