Soldier-Poets of the Great War
Ok, so National Poetry day… Adela has given us her offering with Robert Frost. Nice, but doesn’t swing it completely for me. Obviously with my love of all things war…. it has to be the Soldier-Poets of the Great War. John McCrae, ‘In Flanders’ Fields’, Rupert Brooke, ‘The Soldier’, Isaac Rosenberg, ‘Killed in Action’ all extremely poignant, and more important in their own way tell of the horrors of war. But my favourite has to be Wilfred Owen’s ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’. I will follow up in the near future with a little more about this topic, but for now, I want to concentrate on this poem. To me, nothing describes the futility of war, of dying in a foreign land, on a field of Hell, for another man’s agenda more than this poem.
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.
I first heard this poem 30 years ago, along with the others mentioned. They stuck with me. My life was ruled by the contents; one day that could be me, could be one of my loved ones. I went to Belgium, and it meant something more. I sat in the trenches, I saw the death. And as the Great War finally passes out of living history, and battles continue to rage, I continue to honour those who are willing to make that sacrifice.