Friday, November 10, 2006

Poetry Friday - Wilfred Owen

"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 disappointed shells 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.


I always teach this poem right around Veteran's Day. I teach it alongside other World War I poems, including Rupert Brooke's "The Soldier." For as long as I've taught these poems, we've been a country at war.

Students have various reactions. Sometimes they accuse me of trying to impose my politics on them.** Sometimes they talk about how much the poems touch them. Sometimes they can't really say anything. Sometimes these poems cut too close.

**Aside: I think it's quite an achievement to have this accusation hurled at me in the context of a survey of British literature course. Especially since I don't volunteer my views on our current war in the class, as, really, it's a survey of British literature and there isn't really time for that.


phd me said...

Oh, this is one of my favorite poems, as strange as that may sound.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

I love this poem. LDH once did a really cool thing teaching this in a big (~80 students) lecture class - he primed 10-12 students that when he waved his pen, they should yell "GAS!" as loud as they could, and he waved the pen on the second "gas" in the poem. It scared the CRAP out of everyone.

Dr. Crazy said...

PhD Me: It's really a great poem. I don't thing it's weird at all that it's one of your favorites.

New Kid: I LOVE that idea! Ask LDH if I can steal it! It's a brilliant way to show the interruption of "GAS!" being yelled in the poem.