Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Dulce et Decorum Est
by Wilfrid 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.

I think that poem says volumes. The body of work by each of the Trench Poets does. So every few days for the next little while, I shall endeavour to post a war poem, for my thoughts are with not only the Iraqi people, but with all service men and women, as well.

An aquaintance of mine from high school ships out to Bosnia on March 30th. I fear that these next few months will be as dangerous a time to be in the Balkans as 1998-2000 was. Chris, my thoughts are with you.

I was talking to my friend Derek the other day. Derek had joined the reserves at the same time as Chris did. It had been a dream of Derek's since the ninth grade--to join the Canadian armed forces. He had been going through a time when he felt invisible at school. And then one day, while he was wandering the halls, a voice from behind him stopped him, "Excuse me. Could you tell me where the office is?"

Derek turned to face a member of the Canadian Armed Forces. Derek directed him to the office. The military had set up a table during the lunch periods (to accommodate the volume of students, there were three at our school) to provide information about the service and the reserves. Derek watched them. He marvelled at how that green uniform commanded respect. And he vowed that, upon turning eighteen, he would command that kind of respect, too.

Well, years later, when Derek turned eighteen, he and Chris joined the reserves. Training proved, however, that this was not going to be what Derek had expected. He was shocked at the rhetoric his commanding officers used during weapons training sessions.

"Imagine you're face to face with the enemy," they'd yell, imploring their recruits to shoot to kill.

Derek couldn't do it. He withdrew from the reserves the following training weekend. Chris remained.

Indeed, not everyone can do the jobs of our service men and women. Their tasks are difficult and unenviable. And it is, in part, out of respect for the sacrifices of service men and women of the past and of the present that I am opposed to war.

Far too many lives have already been lost. To death. And to the shadows that remain etched in the mind--pouncing, preying in moments of silence upon those who remain.

My grandfather is a veteran of the Canadian Navy and of World War II. Tonight more than ever I feel the need to talk to him, for I am finding it very difficult to carry on as though everything were normal.

The other night, Derek lamented how worrying over a history essay seemed so trivial at a time like this. I agreed.

But you try to behave normally. Not avoid thinking about what's happening--how can one keep from thinking about it? But you try to uphold a routine, hoping to find some solace in the every day.

It is this I tried to do today.

I attended my one class and then I attended a reading by one of the giants of the Canadian literary world. I heard Pierre Berton--renowned journalist, writer and historian of whom it has been said there is no one who knows more about Canadian history--read from his new book, The Joy of Writing: A guide for writers disguised as a literary memoir... It was wonderful! He read so well, really bringing his words to life. Mind you, I don't imagine that would be a difficult thing to do with prose as vivid as his. At any rate, I bought the book and was even able to get him to sign it.

And as silly and as trivial as this is in the grand scheme of things, going to my class and hearing Pierre Berton read has brought me some comfort.

I hope everyone else finds their comfort tonight, too.

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