A commentary on one of the most famous war poems
‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ or, to give the phrase in full: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, Latin for ‘it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country’ (patria is where we get our word ‘patriotic’ from). The phrase originated in the Roman poet Horace, but in ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) famously rejects this idea. For Owen, who had experienced the horrors of trench warfare and a gas attack, there was nothing sweet, and nothing fitting, about giving one’s life for one’s country. Focusing in particular on one moment in the First World War, when Owen and his platoon are attacked with poison gas, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ is a studied analysis of suffering and perhaps the most famous anti-war poem ever written.
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 gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time, Read the rest of this entry
The best poems of Wilfred Owen
Previously, we’ve selected ten of the best poems about the First World War; but of all the English poets to write about that conflict, one name towers above the rest: Wilfred Owen (1893-1918). Here’s our pick of Wilfred Owen’s ten best poems.
‘Futility’. This is a brief lyric that focuses on a group of soldiers standing over the dead body of a fallen comrade, and is one of Owen’s finest uses of his trademark pararhyme (or half-rhyme). Although the speaker and his fellow soldiers seem to think that the ‘kind old sun’ will be able to revive their dead comrade, we readers know that this is hopeful optimism if not naivety on the part of the speaker.
‘Strange Meeting’. Siegfried Sassoon called ‘Strange Meeting’ Owen’s passport to immortality; it’s certainly true that it’s poems like this that helped to make Owen the definitive English poet of the First World War. The poem is narrated by a soldier who dies in battle and finds himself in Hell. There he meets a man whom he identifies as a ‘strange friend’. This other man tells the narrator that they Read the rest of this entry
A reading of a classic war poem
‘Strange Meeting’ is one of Wilfred Owen’s greatest poems. After ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ it is one of his most popular and widely studied and analysed. Siegfried Sassoon called ‘Strange Meeting’ Owen’s passport to immortality; it’s certainly true that it’s poems like this that helped to make Owen the definitive English poet of the First World War. As Owen himself put it, the poetry is in the pity.
It seemed that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.
Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall,—
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell. Read the rest of this entry