I tend to dislike topicality, but now is as good a time as any...
(Poem #132) 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 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 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.
[The title is from a line of Horace - "It is sweet and honourable to die for one's country."] If ever proof were needed that the 19th century was truly over, it came in the shape of the First World War. The horrors of that conflagration scarred the English psyche to an extent that marked the end of an era - no more would sentimental Victorian poets talk about death and honour in the same breath. More than anything else, the conflict that decimated a generation of young Europeans opened the public's eyes to the sheer inhumanity of large-scale trench warfare, the pointlessness of it all. Owen's genius was his ability to celebrate the ordinary without profaning it; he had a deep and abiding sympathy for his fellow soldiers, while his own undisputed courage in action and sense of duty gave him the moral authority to denounce the war (and War, for that matter) for what it was - a sickness, a corruption, a festering evil of which no good could possibly come. Yes, I know that the language I use is strong, but then, so is Owen's verse. He does not hold back or disguise his horror at what he saw - " ... the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud Of vile, incurable sores... " - and this, too, is an aspect of his greatness; by using the natural rhythms of speech, by soiling his hands with solid, everyday words, he cuts closer to the heart of experience than did any of the genteel Victorians. This is what gives him his power; this is what makes his poetry real. Oh, and the second syllable of the third line is pretty good, too :-). thomas. [Biography] Wilfred Owen was born in 1893 and died in action in 1918. He was a man of great sensitivy, and an intellectual, plunged against his will into the holocaust of an atrocious war. He responded to the war, which horrified and disgusted him, in a way which was never simple. In one letter he wrote 'My senses are charred', but there is certainly no evidence in his surviving poetry that they were numbed. [LitCrit] ... Owen came to see the war, not as a disease to be cured by purely political action, nor as a crusade against evil, but as a major tragedy to which the only appropriate response was compassion. 'The poetry is in the Pity', he wrote in the much-quoted introduction he had prepared for his first book of poems... ... In his best poems, he writes not only about war, but about war as a metaphor for the human condition. This give his best work a far-reaching gravity and moral force which will never date and which makes his poems applicable to any situation in which people must suffer and die. [Today's poem] ... As so often, Owen seems in this poem to have taken over some of the vocabulary and imagery of late 19th century poetry and injected a new realism into it, [reminding] us that some of the public horror of the First World War had already been experienced and predicted by the agonies and breakdowns aof decadent poets from Baudelaire onwards... -- from 'Poetry 1990 to 1975', George Macbeth [Trivia] The English composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) mixed several poems or fragments of poems by Owen (" Anthem for Doomed Youth", " The Next War", " Sonnet (On seeing a piece of our heavy artillery brought into action)", " Futility", " The Parable of the Old Man and the Young", " The End", " At a Calvary near the Ancre" and " Strange Meeting") with liturgical texts from the "Missa pro defunctis" in his War Requiem, composed in 1962 at the occasion of the re-opening of the cathedral of Coventry, bombed during the second World War. [Post Scriptum] "Grey highrise buildings... When I unmask the forger I will wring his neck." (though I must admit the spoof post was one of the best laughs I've had in ages - simply hilarious... and I was most flattered by the comparison to Mr Toad). thomas. The 14-year old Haiku Wizard.