Written between September and October 1917, when Owen was a patient at Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh recovering from shell shock, the poem is a lament for young soldiers whose lives were unnecessarily lost in the European War. The poem is also a comment on Owen's rejection of his religion in 1915. This poem is, for many, the finest anti-war poem ever written in the English language. Had Owen lived beyond his 25 years - he died in the front line a mere few days before the end of World War One - few doubt he would have become the greatest poet in English of the 20th century.
The Latin inscription so often found on war memorials, devastatingly mocked here by Owen, reads 'How sweet and lovely it is to die for one's country'
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned out 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
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.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning we will remember
them. - Laurence
All site material (except as noted elsewhere) is © 2012 - 2017 Aircrew Remembered and owned or managed by us
and should not be used without prior permission.
• Last Modified: 19 June 2015, 14:45 •