Monday, 20 April 2015

Dulce et decorum est by Wilfred Owen.

It’s a hundred years since the First World War or as it used to be called ‘The Great War’ or ‘The War to end all Wars’.

And now David Cameron and people like him are glorifying that pointless waste of life.

So, I thought I’d commemorate an anniversary; it’s a hundred years ago this last weekend that poison gas was used for the first time.

It’s not important who did it; every army used gas in WW1. 90,000 soldiers of all armies died of it and 200,000 were horribly injured too – injuries that shortened their lives and dominated the post war years for them.

Britain made and stored its poison gas at a Top Secret base at Nancekuke on the beautiful north Cornish coast. Remote enough that if there had been an accident only some few thousand local Cornish folk would have died. It’s been decontaminated and removed now but the gas was stockpiled there until the early 1990’s.

This is Wilfred Owen’s most famous poem.

'Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori' is a quote by the poet Horace which would have been drummed into the head of the young Owen at school; 'It is a sweet and honourable thing to die for one's country'.


Dulce et decorum est

by Wilfred Owen


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 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,

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.


Wilfred Owen died on 4th November 1918, just a week before the Armistice was signed.

Neil Harris

(a don’t stop till you drop production)

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