[Note: as of December, 2010, this post was by far the most viewed on my blog. People get here through Google Searches, usually for the phrase “children ardent for some desperate glory.” If this describes you, I would strongly urge you to hunt down a site than covers Wilfred Owens’ work more generally. He was a brilliant poet who died all too young, in the last week of the very war he wrote about.]
My eldest son is studying the poetry of the First World War in his literature class (along with All Quiet On the Western Front). Looking over what he was reading, I noticed one of the poems I find most moving. Rereading it, I was struck by how much the last four lines seem to resonate with me, when I think of the escalation of the Iraq War, or the saber-rattling towards Iran that our Administration is currently engaged in:
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.
Wilfred Owen, 1893 -1918