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Wilfred Owen: WWI poetry
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Wilfred Owen is among the most famous poets of the First World War. This is the original manuscript of the poem 'Dulce et Decorum Est', written in Owen's own hand while he served as a soldier in the appalling conditions of the trenches. Composed between 1917 and 1918 (the year of his death), the poem gives a chilling account of the senselessness of war.
Using a combination of gritty realism and an aching sense of compassion, it describes a mustard gas attack on a group of war-weary soldiers. Owen's despair at the crumbling morality of the world around him is expressed in phrases such as 'froth-corrupted lungs' and 'sores on innocent tongues'. The deliberately ironic title of the poem comes from one of the 'Odes' of Horace, the ancient Roman poet, which translates as 'it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country'.
Shelfmark: Add. MS 43720, f.21.
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'Dulce et Decorum est' by Wilfred Owen
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 the trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
['Deaf even' crossed out] Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
of ['tired, outstripped Five-Nines gas-shells' crossed out] gas shells dropping softly that dropped behind.
['Then somewhere near in front; Whew...fup, fup, fup,
Gas-shells? or duds? We loosened masks in case,-
And listened. Nothing. Far rumouring of Krupp,
Then sudden poisons stung us in the face.' crossed out]
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.