I don’t really wish to make this blog overly personal, or political, but sometimes I’m overcome by a need to write something that isn’t related to films, or art, or books. As a writer, I absorb influence from everything around me, and my writing is as much a reflection of me as anything else. Besides, today isn’t about me, it’s about remembrance. 11 November marks Armistice Day, and I want to take some time out from waffling about films or wittering on about my NaNoWriMo effort to remember, not just those who lost their lives in the cold mud of northern Europe, but for those who continue to lose their lives in pointless conflict around the world today.
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.
Dulce et Decorum Est was written by Wilfred Owen, a soldier who fought in the First World War, writing poetry in the trenches. He was killed in action just a week before the war ended. The Latin title comes from a poem written by Horace;
Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori:
mors et fugacem persequitur virum
nec parcit inbellis iuventae
poplitibus timidove tergo.
“How sweet and fitting it is to die for one’s country:
Death pursues the man who flees,
spares not the hamstrings or cowardly backs
Of battle-shy youths.”
We should remember them. Today, we will.
The image at the top is my own photo; I came across the grave in Brompton Cemetery and found it incredibly poignant.