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DULCE ET DECORUM EST

The following poem was written in 1917 by a brilliant young army lieutenant while hospitalised for shell shock (now known as post-traumatic stress disorder) in Craiglockhart War Hospital near Edinburgh.

It is probably the best known poem of the First World War.

It describes a gas attack.

Wilfred Owen, who had been sent to Craiglockhart after surviving numerous horrendous combat experiences, including being trapped in a trench under heavy fire for several days with the remains of a fellow officer.

Although he could have avoided being sent back to action, he insisted on returning to the front.

Wilfred Owen was killed in action on November 4th 1918, a week before the Armistice.

wilfred owen

He was 25.

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 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.

4 Comments

  1. Sarah Ledsom
    Sarah Ledsom November 12, 2013

    Hadn’t read that poem before J. So powerful, what a gift to be able to write like that. My husband’s grandfather was killed in the first world war and we have a large, round copper? plaque, that his grandmother was given in recognition. When I think about those young men in that war and the obvious PTSD they suffered, to be called cowards by obvious lowlife, I could scream. The women who were given these plaques must have thought their government gave a shit. Oh how different it is nowadays except for those, who will not see through the bullshit and lies, although governments couldn’t make the utter contempt they have for all of our armed forces any plainer. There really is no excuse for our young to sign up, not even the excuse of having no jobs, should ever be a reason to be used and abused, they must have more self respect than that. The men of old didn’t have access to the myriad of information we have now, and they did what they did, because they believed they were fighting for their King/Queen and country and a democracy that was worth fighting for… they were lied to. Who would fight for the likes of this obscene royal family, or the likes of Cameron, Iain Duncan Smith, Teresa May etc etc. In any case we don’t have wars any more, it’s all unlawful, conflicts and invasions, as no one actually declares war any more, except this government on the poor.

    • Lanark
      Lanark November 17, 2013

      I too have such a plaque. It was for my grandmother’s brother Hugh.

      Hugh served from July 1914 until August 1918 when he was shot in the head by a hun sniper during one of the last futile “big pushes”. He nearly made it.

      He was in those trenches for over four years.

      The contempt with which these plaques were received by grieving families is legendary.

      They were called “A Widow’s Penny”. They were like a large scale old penny with Brittania on the rear.

      A penny for a life.

      Remember that. The “Widow’s Pennies” were received with contempt.

      • Sarah Ledsom
        Sarah Ledsom November 17, 2013

        Thanks for that Lanark, glad to hear they were received with contempt. They are indeed like a large scale old penny.

  2. Lanark
    Lanark November 17, 2013

    Craiglockhart Hospital wasn’t near Edinburgh. It is in Edinburgh on Colinton Road. The building still stands. Here it is on a popular type of streetview.

    http://goo.gl/maps/pXT4s

    Owen edited the hospital magazine “The Hydra” while he was there. Seigfried Sasoon was also sent there. The building is now part of Napier University Campus.

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