Poems

Thinking of Trench Poets

In April of 1917, the US declared war on Germany, and entered World War I.

The Trench poets are some of my favorites; they knew what they were facing, and yet, even in the midst of such horror, pain, and almost certain death, they wrote poems. Poems. How do we shape experience in a way that we can manage it, if we don’t have words to use? Poetry gives us language, meter, and, in a sense, a way to “box it up” so we can unpack the things we are not ready to face when we are more ready to do so.

One poem that lives in my head is Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est.” The speaker in the poem is pushing back against the glorification of war and what is “bestows” on those who had to be there. The descriptions are graphic, shocking, and so specific that once read or heard, they stay with you. He speaks of a soldier who had been caught by gas, saying,

“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…”

and if one could have seen this, one would not gloss over the experiences and the costs of war:

“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.”

Never forget, and please keep well,

CMG

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