Monday, May 30, 2005

For Memorial Day

Two poems, one from WWI, one from WWII, with very different messages. First 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 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 disappointed shells 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 floundering 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.

And for a very different view, the poem written by John Gillespie Maggee who was killed in action at the age of 19 while serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force.
He wrote this poem some days before his death:

Touched The Face Of God

"Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I've climbed and joined the trembling mirth of sun-split clouds
– and done 100 things you have not dreamed of
– wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence.

Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept hills with easy grace,
Where never lark, or even eagle flew;

And, while with silent, lifting mind, I trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God!"