The Old Lie

On Remembrance Day … remember. War and the military should never be “celebrated.” Remembered with solemnity and an understanding of the brutality and savagery and destruction. But never “honored” or “celebrated” or as an opportunity for “sales.”

Died of Wounds
His wet, white face & miserable eyes
Brought nurses to him more than groans & sighs,
But hoarse and low and rapid rose & fell
His troubled voice: he did the business well.
The Ward grew dark; but he was still complaining,
And calling out for ‘Dickie’. ‘Curse the Wood!
‘It’s time to go: O God, & what’s the good? ___
‘We’ll never take it; & it’s always raining.’
I wondered where he’d been; then heard him shout,
‘They snipe like hell! O Dickie, don’t go out!’ …
I fell asleep: next morning he was dead;
And some Slight Wound lay smiling on his bed.
—Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967)

A Mystic as Soldier
I lived my days apart,
Dreaming fair songs for God.
By the glory in my heart
Covered & crowned and shod.
Now God is in the strife,
And I must seek him there,
Where death outnumbers life,
And fury smites the air.

I walk the secret way
With anger in my brain.
O music thro’ my clay,
When will you sound again?
—Siegfried Sassoon

(Documents from « The First World War Poetry Digital Archive », University of Oxford; University of Oxford.)

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 (1893-1918)

Anthem for Doomed Youth
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, —
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
—Wilfred Owen