Dulce et Decorum Est

Colin Yeo — 

An old friend sent me this yesterday. Having not read it for years, Owen’s lines about his dreams and helpless sight struck me even more forcefully than the rest. All these years later there are still those that consider that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not debilitating and serious and that the diagnostic criteria are merely a self reported checklist.

Dulce et Decorum Est, Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

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.

Colin Yeo

Colin Yeo

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A barrister specialising in UK immigration law at Garden Court Chambers in London, I have been practising in immigration law for 13 years. I am passionate about immigration law and founded and edit the Free Movement immigration law blog.

7 responses to Dulce et Decorum Est

  1. [cough]Wilfred Owen[/cough] (Although Robert Owen is also interesting, as a social reformer!). But thank you for posting the poem: I find it gets left behind with a lot of other compulsory school texts but it’s good to be reminded of its power.

  2. In poetic terms, not as evocative as the:

    “Stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle” of Anthem for Doomed Youth.

    Nowt wrong with either Owen. The poet a Scouser, and the social reformer a Welshman. It’s pure coincidence I happen to be both!

  3. Try “Mending Wall” by Robert Frost, good fences make good neighbours.

  4. Amazing poem.
    Read it as a child.
    Stayed with me ever since.

  5. James Dixon

    see also ‘Base Details’ by Siegfried Sassoon which is a brilliant satire of the arrogance and indifference of the Generals to the mindless slaughter
    James Dixon