Monday, January 07, 2008

Dulce Et Decorum Est

I've been listening to Matthew Ryan's fine upcoming album Matthew Ryan vs. the Silver State. Matthew, a longtime favorite, includes a song this time out called "Dulce Et Decorum Est," which is an extended riff on the great World War I poet Wilfred Owen's devastating poem of the same name. Here it is, because it never hurts to be reminded of these things. Owen, by the way, was shot and killed on November 4th, 1918. He was 25 years old. The news of his death reached his parents on November 11th, the day the armistice was signed to end the war.

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.[1]
-- Wilfred Owen, "Dulce Et Decorum Est"

[1] From the Roman poet Horace, "It is sweet and right to die for your country."

1 comment:

B A Writer said...

You never can have too much Wilfried Owen. Thanks for posting this, for the rest of your writing here, and for your work in Paste, which I read avidly. I came from, which I also read avidly, and I am grateful to both you and Mr. Overstreet for your perspective and your recommendations.