Dulce Et Decorum Est

At the moment I am reading War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy. I didn’t think anything could top Anna Karenina, but this book is beautiful. However, that’s not why I’m writing this blog post. I’m 915 pages into Tolstoy’s classic, and there’s far more war than peace happening at this moment in time. This got me thinking about my favourite wartime poem; ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ by 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 disappointed shells 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 floundering 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.

Despite its content, this poem is, for me, one of the most beautiful poems ever written. It’s certainly the most poignant. Written during World War I, it dispels Roman poet, Horace’s ‘old lie’; that it is right and fitting to die for your country. It encapsulates the confusion, horror and ultimately the waste of life during wartime, something that is very current considering the recent war in Iraq. Its graphic descriptions really hit home and give you a taste of what it’s really like to serve your country, especially at a time when young men didn’t have a choice.

Soldiers

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Anna Karenina

ForbiddenI read Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy over a month ago, yet I still find myself thinking about it even now. It is one of those books that when you close the final page you hold it in your hands, lean back in your chair, and think; ‘Wow’.

Sometimes, I find it hard to believe that words on a page can have such an effect on you, but this novel has certainly imprinted itself on my mind. There is something about Anna that captivates me, a feeling that is summed up very well by one of Tolstoy’s descriptions:

‘Kitty immediately fell in love with her, as young girls often fall in love with married women older than themselves. Anna was not like a society woman, or the mother of an eight-year-old son; but, by her vivacity of movement, by the freshness and animation of her face, expressed in her smile and in her eyes, she would have been taken rather for a young girl of twenty, had it not been for a serious and sometimes almost melancholy look, which struck and attracted Kitty.’

It is fair to say that I share Kitty Scherbatsky’s girl crush as documented in the above quote. But although Kitty’s regard for Anna disappears soon after, mine continues to grow throughout the novel. There is something attractive about her rebellion from society and her fall from grace for love, and although Tolstoy’s classic is 900 pages long, I didn’t regret pursuing it.

Keira Knightley plays Anna in the latest adaptation of the novel and if you want to check it out, here is the trailer. I am yet to see how it compares to the novel, but I am very much looking forward to finding out.