This month’s spotlight falls on renowned WWI poet Wilfred Owen. He wrote passionately about the realism of war and felt it was his duty to dispel the jingoistic notion of war being a noble endeavor. His most recognized poem Dulce et Decorum Est finishes with the lines:
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.
Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori alludes to a line from the Roman poet, Horace’s Odes. The line can be translated as: “It is sweet and proper to die for the fatherland.”
Owen may have wrote against the idea of there being glory in war but he nonetheless served heroically. Before being killed in action, he had occupied two captured German dugouts (muddy holes filled with the stinking sewerage of their occupants) for fifty hours while being constantly shot at and bombarded by the enemy. On another occasion he ran headlong at a German machine gun, captured it, and proceeded to use it to protect his own men and drive the enemy back. He was posthumously awarded the military cross.
And yet, despite all this, he was commonly thought of as being a coward in his own time. After a bomb exploded near him, killing several of his men but leaving him miraculously unharmed, Owen’s behavior was reported as becoming odd. He was sent back to England to a hospital to recover. However, shell shock was still an unfamiliar and largely unrecognized condition at that time and many perceived that he was trying to avoid fighting. This perception was compounded as his poetry, attacking the ‘glory’ of war, garnered attention.
The display features several of Owen’s poems and assorted trivia about his life. The main portrait of Owen is accompanied by a red poppy. The origin of the poppy as a modern-day symbol of remembrance was the inspiration of an American woman, Miss Moina Michael. Wearing one would become an emblem in many countries for respecting the sacrifice of those who died in war. There are several selected books by or about Owen available for check out, and the mediascape display has several minutes of looping video footage from WWI to highlight the conditions Owen’s endured.
Display and post created by John J. Humphrey.
In Displays, NW Library