‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’ roughly translates as: ‘It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.’
Regular readers of this blog will know I have a penchant for poetry, but as yet, I haven’t included any of the great war poets.
After seeing some very disturbing images on The Guardian website of injured children in Afghanistan, this classic by Wilfred Owen came to mind. I appreciate that the victims in the news photographs are non-combatants, unlike the ones Owen describes in his poem. However, by the looks on the victims’ faces, it does seem poignant over 90 years after he wrote it.
The ways in which wars are fought these days might have changed. But not the ways in which we die.
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.
P.S. It’s worth noting that Wilfred Owen was killed in action one week before the end of the First World War.