Remembrance Day, 2015

Flanders Fields

The third battle of Ypres takes place in July, 1917. The Americans are beginning to join the war. In October of that year, Wilfred Owen writes a poem and dedicates it to a war propogandist. May we never forget.

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 gas-shells dropping softly 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
.

Comments

  1. Thanks, a great poem.

  2. sobering. thank you.

  3. Clark Goble says:

    I’ve never understood why Americans don’t focus on Remembrance Day in quite the same way as we did in Canada. Literally at 11:11 AM everything stopped for a moment of silence. The weeks running up everyone is wearing poppies. When I saw clips of Trudeau being sworn in I couldn’t help but notice everyone wearing a poppy. I don’t think they even sell poppy pins here in the States. At least I’ve never seen one.

    When I was in school we always read in the morning “In Flander’s Fields” by McCrae. We also read Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est that you quoted. Here’s McCrae.

    In Flanders fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place: and in the sky
    The larks still bravely singing fly
    Scarce heard amid the guns below.

    We are the dead: Short days ago,
    We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved: and now we lie
    In Flanders fields!

    Take up our quarrel with the foe
    To you, from failing hands, we throw
    The torch: be yours to hold it high
    If ye break faith with us who die,
    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
    In Flanders fields

  4. Ebenezer Robinson says:

    Love that poem! Thanks for reminding us. I remember poppy pins distributed by the VFW in my long ago Idaho boyhood. Haven’t seen any in a long time. For some reason, we’ve lost that war from our national memory; in my memory today’s holiday is still Armistice Day.

    Come to Kansas City and see the poppy field that underlies the entrance to the magnificent WWI Museum at the nation’s only official WWI Memorial.

  5. Thinking of two g-g-uncles today. One was was wounded at Ypres and another who, before the war, died as a member of the British Army in India. We will remember them.

  6. I think why the Canadian effort in the Great War is so moving to us in Britain is that it seems to have been genuinely motivated by the love for the old country and also because places like Newfoundland were utterly devastated by the loss of men.

  7. I remember in school reciting ‘In Flanders Fields’ by Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. I have an uncle who died in WW II in Belgium and is buried there. Poppies have been worn by Canadians in November for as long as I can remember. In recent years, after attending the Remembrance Day ceremony, people in the crowd silently and reverently come forward and place their poppies on the war memorial.

  8. The Other Clark says:

    Remembrance Day is a bigger deal in England and Canada because it affected a far larger proportion of the population. Specifically, Canada’s military participation and casualty rate was 10 times higher than the U.S. (compared to the nation’s population base.)

    Wikipedia stats: Canada, population of about 7 million at the time, mustered 600,000 men, with 60,000 killed and an additional 150,000 wounded. That’s virtually all eligible young men serving, with 30% being wounded or dead. U.S. figures are similar (50,000 dead, 200,000 wounded) but the total population at the time was 92 million, with one million troops sent overseas.

  9. The Other Clark is right. In addition, we have Memorial Day which competes for our remembrance of those who given what Lincoln called the last full measure of devotion. Appropriately, that day and those memorials arose out of the Civil War, which saw rates of casualties relative to population that were as terrible as many other nations suffered in the First World War.

    Newfoundland suffered extraordinary loss in the War. Notably, on the first day of the Somme, July 1, 1916, 753 Newfoundlanders went over the top near Beaumont-Hamel. The next day, only 68 men answered roll call.

    At the going down of the sun and in the morning
    We will remember them.

  10. Amen.

  11. I love Wilfred Owen. Anyone who appreciates his poems should listen to Benjamin Britten’s settings of them in his War Requiem.

    I also like “On Seeing a Piece of Our Heavy Artillery Being Bought Into Action” and “Parable of the Old Man and the Young.”