Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

I always feel conflicted on these holidays -- the national ones where we're supposed to feel patriotic, full of honor, all those things. I have made no sacrifice for my country and have, actually, often despaired of my country. I struggle to feel the "right" way about soldiers and those who have died "for our country."

I do remember this poem, though, by Wilfred Owen. I remember reading it in high school from my white Norton Anthology. I remember feeling horrified. I remember wondering what sort of man Wilfred Owen might have been had he not died in a World War I battle when he was only 25.

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!7 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.


  1. elizabeth,

    i, too, felt the need to touch on the dichotomy of a day such as this one; it is not easy to offer truth as well as honor when speaking of war and the human family's participation in it.

    your post handles this minefield with utmost grace. thank you.

  2. powerful... i just caught up with the rest of your blog. oh, how i love how you write. hugs-jane

  3. Canadians don't have this sort of angst and we always wonder about American sensibilities. I agree with Adrienne, in that you seemed to have managed this so well.

  4. Wow. That's powerful truth in imagery from one who knows what it is like on the front lines.

  5. What a fantastic poem...

    I do not have any relatives, personally, lost to war, but I definitely have empathy for those who do...and for the fact that we are at war right now (when we pretty much should not be at war)

    I dressed in purple and black and rode my scooter through town under a heavy bruise-colored sky and breathed as deeply as I could. I smelled every smell and appreciated the ancient beauty of my small town and gave thanks for my life.

    I read "Johnny Got His Gun" at about the age of 14 and was deeply affected by it...from then on I knew I was against war. Any war.

    Re-read it if you're feeling conflicted. Or watch the movie "HAIR".

    I can't know the karma of the people who are currently signing up to go to war - men AND women - and dying in foreign lands on our behalf...I myself wouldn't go. But they are fulfilling their soul's mission on some level I trust.

  6. I remember that poem from school too. Was your copy of Wilfred Owen's poems a blue hardback?

  7. We have an old WW1 gas mask of my husband's grandfather's .... war is bloody hell. I always wonder if women ran the place it would ever come to that. Probably not.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...