Sunday, November 09, 2008

Rememberance Sunday

My only A-star at GCSE was in English Literature. This was mainly due to the war poetry we studied. The imagery, anger and pain in the words captured me. My thoughts slowly went through a change from my glamorised boyhood view of war from all the old movies to an understanding of what war really is ...hell ....lions fighting for lambs.

One of the most powerful war poems is by a soldier from WW1, Wilfred Owen. He takes a line from an old latin poem that was popular at the time to get people to join the army:
Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori ("It is sweet and noble to die for one's country")

Owen, in the end, is saying that if readers could see what he has seen they would no longer instill visions of glorious warfare in young men's heads. No longer would they tell their children the "Old Lie," that it is sweet and noble to die for one's country.

Of course on Remembrance Sunday we need to remember the heroes that gave their lives for our freedom.... but the old war poems are also a reminder of the reality and futility of war.


Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares2 we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest3 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 hoots4
Of tired, outstripped5 Five-Nines6 that dropped behind.

Gas!7 Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets8 just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime9 . . .
Dim, through the misty panes10 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,11 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 ardent14 for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.


Anonymous said...

Great post. War isn't quite what it seems on the video games

indya said...

Yeah, great post, a poem that needed to be written I think. The tv was on in the background when I read that, and a feature came on about Owen just after... funny coincidence.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to bring this up on your blog John, but does anyone know how Gareth Procter is doing?
I have not seen him in years, and was wondering how his health is.

Thanks Jason

J-Mac said...

He needs all of our prayers.
My email is

Jen said...

Just been catching up with blogs- i taught that poem on Remembrance Tuesday to a class of year 12 who had never heard it before. I know the boys in particular really were blown away by it. It's definetly one of my faves-there are so many...a great film about Owen and Sassoon's experience of war (another war poet) is Regenerations-very sobering.