Daffodils and War

I wandered lonely as a cloud, that floats on high o’er vales and hills. When all at once I saw a crowd, a host, of golden daffodils ~ William Wordsworth

Daffodils is quite possibly Wordsworth’s most famous poem, and it reminds me of staring out the window during English Literature lessons in my teens.

As April is Poetry Month, I’ve been thinking about my favorite poets and poems, and of course Wordsworth is up there with the best of them.

However, Thursday is also Army Day in the US, which quite fittingly brings to mind the poet who first made me feel the written word. Wilfred Owen’s poetry isn’t pretty, or romantic. It’s about the harsh realities of war, in particular, World War I, and his depiction of the horrors of the trenches and gas warfare in Dulce et Decorum Est were, in part, one of the reasons I joined the British Army as a nurse.

Today, young men and women continue to protect our freedom with their lives, and while the type of warfare may be different to the one that eventually took Owen’s life almost a hundred years ago, exactly one week before the signing of the Armistice ended WWI, the courage, bravery and sacrifice of today’s military and their families remains the same.

I’ve typed out Dulce et Decorum Est (Pro Patria Mori) which is Latin for It is sweet and fitting to die for your country. These are words that have been imprinted on my memory for over three decades, from the day I first read them, showing just how incredibly powerful and memorable some words are.

Dulce et Decorum Est

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 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.
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