Friday, May 23, 2008

Dulce et Decorum Est: A Poem by Wilfred Owen

Today I have selected a special poem for Memorial Day. I first heard the poem in 2001 when I participated in the First Summer Poetry Institute for Teachers at Boston University in 2001. The poem about World War I is powerful. Read Dulce et Decorum Est and then watch the Favorite Poem video of Mary McWhorter recite it and talk about her father, a veteran of World War II.

(Note: The Favorite poem videos can all be found here.)

Dulce et Decorum Est
By Wilfred Owen

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.

You can read the rest of the poem here.


At Wild Rose Reader, I have a review of Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers, a picture book that includes haiku.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Becky’s Book Reviews.


Libby Koponen said...

I first read this poem in high school -- it's in SOUND AND SENSE, which is a brilliant book that really taught me a lot about poetry.

But I didn't get poetry when I was in high school -- i'd read a poem the way I read fiction (fast), not understand it, and conclude that I didn't have the magic knack of understanding poetry.

It was only when I had to teach it myself, at RISD, that I learned how to read it....and when I did, when I got it, this poem became one of my favorites. I think it helped a lot of students learn to love poetry too -- it's so not what they expected a poem to be about.

"An ecstacy of fumbling."

Only a great poet would think of that.

Thank you for reminding me of this old favorite, what a perfect poem for Memorial Day, now!

Elaine Magliaro said...


I disliked poetry until I was well into my twenties. Once I got hooked on children's poetry, I began reading adult poetry.

When I saw the video of Mary McWhorter reciting the poem and talking about her blind father and about hearing the poem in school, I was deeply affected. "Dulce et Decorum Est" still speaks out across the years, doesn't it? Especially to those of us who are anti-war!