This morning I am moved by Wilfred Owen’s ‘disloyal’ exposure of the deceitfulness of the State that calls on its young people to go to war. I listen to the words of one who went, rather than the behind-the-hand words of those who send. One story, captured in the poem, punctures the self-serving rhetoric of nationalist ideology. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori is a lie.
I wonder why Owen capitalises the word lie in the final lines. Is it because he knows, as we suspect, that this phrase is a cheap seduction in the guise of a gospel truth.
So while we must tell stories of heroism and sacrifice this weekend, and sometimes sail desperately close to glorifying violence, let’s not forget the duplicity and horror of war. And maybe before you go to a Remembrance event, read the whole poem.
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 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 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.