DULCE ET DECORUM EST
A WAR POEM FOR “ARMCHAIR GENERALS” and JINGOISTS
Ramblings of a Retired Veteran
Here is a poem by Wilfred Owen I read in school – the poem is about the horrors of war and was written during the First World War (when Chlorine Gas was used as a weapon).
Nevertheless, this classic piece of war poetry is relevant even today where soldiers continue to die every day and jingoists who may not have seen a shot fired in anger continue to exhort soldiers to die for their country while they themselves remain safely ensconced in their homes.
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
8 October 1917 - March, 1918
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
“DULCE ET DECORUM EST” are the first words of a Latin saying (taken from an ode by Horace).
The words were widely understood and often quoted at the start of the First World War.
They mean “It is sweet and right”
The full saying ends the poem:
“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori”
(It is sweet and right to die for your country)
In other words:
It is a wonderful and great honour to fight and die for your country.
The poet calls this “THE OLD LIE”
Do you agree?
Is it right for politicians, media-persons, journalists, bureaucrats, “armchair generals” and assorted civilians to indulge in jingoism and exhort the soldier to die for his country, while they themselves are safely ensconced in their offices and homes in peaceful places like Delhi and Mumbai, far away from combat zones?