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The Poets

September 26, 2011

Dulce et Decorum Est

I posted earlier this month on Siegfried Sassoon, a war poet who I came to know of and appreciate a long time ago. Since then I’ve been studying the works of an acquaintance of his, another poet who was also in the first world war, Wilfred Owen.

Now I have to say, I still consider Sassoon to be the best and most intense war poet I’ve read thus far, but Owen’s poetry is radically intense, and the imagery he employs in his poems is incredibly, incredibly vivid!

This poet, over a course of a few weeks, has been thrust into the center of my attention. His poetic genius astonishes me. Read this poem for example, just keep in mind that its title comes from a poem written by Horace, a Roman poet, and that the full Latin phrase (Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori) is: How sweet and fitting it is to die for one's country …


*****


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 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.

Wilfred Owen- War Poet*

Wilfred Owen (1893 – 1918)

On March 18, 1893, Wilfred Edward Salter Owen was born in Shropshire, England. After the death of his grandfather in 1897, the family moved to Birkenhead, where Owen was educated at the Birkenhead Institute. After another move in 1906, he continued his continued his studies at the Technical School in Shrewsbury. Interested in the arts at a young age, Owen began to experiment with poetry at 17.

After failing to gain entrance into the University of London, Owen spent a year as a lay assistant to Reverend Herbert Wigan in 1911 and went on to teach in France at the Berlitz School of English. By 1915, he became increasingly interested in World War I and enlisted in the Artists' Rifles group. After training in England, Owen was commissioned as a second lieutenant.

He was wounded in combat in 1917 and evacuated to Craiglockhart War Hospital near Edinburgh after being diagnosed with shell shock. There he met another patient, poet Siegfried Sassoon, who served as a mentor and introduced him to well-known literary figures such as Robert Graves and H. G. Wells.

It was at this time Owen wrote many of his most important poems, including "Anthem for Doomed Youth" and "Dulce et Decorum Est". His poetry often graphically illustrated both the horrors of warfare, the physical landscapes which surrounded him, and the human body in relation to those landscapes. His verses stand in stark contrast to the patriotic poems of war written by earlier poets of Great Britain, such as Rupert Brooke.

Owen rejoined his regiment in Scarborough, June 1918, and in August returned to France. He was awarded the Military Cross for bravery at Amiens. He was killed on November 4 of that year while attempting to lead his men across the Sambre canal at Ors. He was 25 years old. The news reached his parents on November 11, the day of the Armistice. The collected Poems of Wilfred Owen appeared in December 1920, with an introduction by Sassoon, and he has since become one of the most admired poets of World War I.

A review of Owen's poems published on December 29th, 1920, just two years after his death, read "Others have shown the disenchantment of war, have unlegended the roselight and romance of it, but none with such compassion for the disenchanted nor such sternly just and justly stern judgment on the idyllisers."

About Owen's post-war audience, the writer Geoff Dyer said, "To a nation stunned by grief the prophetic lag of posthumous publication made it seem that Owen was speaking from the other side of the grave. Memorials were one sign of the shadow cast by the dead over England in the twenties; another was a surge of interest in spiritualism. Owen was the medium through whom the missing spoke."

*Biography from Poets.org

September 08, 2011

Glory of Women


The first war poet I read, Siegfried Loraine Sassoon was one of my earliest influences in the realm of poetry.

His poetry, which emerged from and absorbed events that related to and surrounded the first World War, is exceedingly ontic, intermittently disturbing (though truthful), and tragically profound. His style is very ‘earthly’ and very existential, and he gracefully and nobly touches on topics that are taboo. He’s a good poet.

The first poem of his I read was Death Bed- a poem that depicts the throes of death and the dying away of a soldier in an infirmary (a highly recommended read). The poem below, titled Glory of Women, bares beautiful testimony of the talent and audacity of this poet’s works- check it out …


Glory of Women

You love us when we're heroes, home on leave,
Or wounded in a mentionable place.
You worship decorations; you believe
That chivalry redeems the war's disgrace.
You make us shells. You listen with delight,
By tales of dirt and danger fondly thrilled.
You crown our distant ardours while we fight,
And mourn our laurelled memories when we're killed.
You can't believe that British troops "retire"
When hell's last horror breaks them, and they run,
Trampling the terrible corpses - blind with blood.

O German mother dreaming by the fire,
While you are knitting socks to send your son
His face is trodden deeper in the mud.

September 01, 2011

Thus Saith the Lord




Tell the monks where I have gone:

Deep into the world of fools …

I save souls and am the One

Making angels out of ghouls.


-jwm

As of April 9th, 2010