‘Dulce et Decorum est’ WWI poem by Wilfred Owen

November 11, 2012 at 11:00 AM

‘Dulce et Decorum est’ is a striking and evocative poem written in 1917 about trench warfare in WWI. It is a poem which I consider among the most important ever written along with Apologia Pro Poemate Meo. The shockingly visceral images in it express the true nature of war and cast hopeless doubt on the “old lie” or false promises about war’s supposed glories.

From his own experience Owen clearly and truthfully lays bare the plain fact that despite what cultures across the ages have told their young men, the ultimate end of war and a soldier’s life is horrible suffering and death.

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 gas-shells dropping softly 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.

British trench WWI

British trench WWI