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Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

Wilfred Edward Salter Owen was
born on March 18, 1893.

He was [in the United States] teaching
until he visited a hospital for the wounded
and then decided, in September, 1915,
to return to England and enlist.

"I came out in order to help these boys --
directly by leading them as well as an officer can;
by watching their sufferings
that I may speak of them as well as a pleader can.
I have done the first."
(October, 1918).

Owen was injured in March 1917 and sent home;
he was fit for duty in August, 1918,
and returned to the front.

November 4, just seven days before the Armistice,
he was caught in a German machine gun attack
and killed.

He was twenty-five when he died.

The bells were ringing on November 11, 1918,
in Shrewsbury [England] to celebrate the Armistice
when the doorbell rang at his parent's home,
bringing them the telegram telling them
their son was dead.


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.*

*from the Latin translated:
"It is sweet and meet (fitting) to die for one's country."

                                                                  -- Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)