Wilfred Owen (18 March 1893 - November 4 1918)

Wilfred Owen was born in 1893, one of that generation of late Victorians who were destined to lose their lives in the carnage of the First World War.

His poetry was shocking, horrific and beautiful. It captured the essence of the war which ended one week after his death. The telegram informing his mother of this news arrived while her local church bells were tolling to announce the Armistice.

Dulce Et Decorum Est was written in 1917 and published in 1920. The original manuscript was addressed to his mother - and its title was drawn from an Ode by the Roman poet, Horace: "How sweet and fitting it is to die for one's country: Death pursues the man who flees, Spares no the hamstrings or cowardly backs, Of battle-shy youths."

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

Wilfred Owen was a member of the Artists Rifles and for more information on that regiment's origins, please see this earlier post from the Virtual Victorian: http://virtualvictorian.blogspot.com/2010/09/story-of-artists-rifles.html


  1. Wilfred Owen may have taken the title from Horace and his view about how sweet and fitting it is to die for one's country. But Owen's own poem was filled with the real pain, indignity, panic and ugliness of young men slaughtered in war. He could recognise a lie when he saw one.

    I wonder if his mother had any comfort from the words he left behind when he died still a young lad. Probably not. What a tragedy :(

  2. Most beautiful poem I've read. Eerie coincidence, I was reading the poem aloud to friends around the same time you posted it.

    Glad I stumbled upon your blog, I'm a historical geographer with a blog called geocurrents.info .

    Lets stay in touch, and keep up the great work.

  3. Hello, SRF. Thanks so much for posting your comment.