Thursday, December 17, 2015

Kao Mames Para Un Mataigue i Tano'-mu?

When teaching about militarism I like to use two poems in order to demonstrate the ways that war, military service and sacrifice become naturalized in societies and also the way they come to be challenged. The first is from Roman poet Horace and one of his Odes, in which he coined the line "Dulce Et Decorum Est, Pro Patria Mori" or "It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country." In it, the poet calls upon Romans to develop greater fighter skills in order to frighten off the always growing list of enemies of the empire. The second is written in response to Horace and also to the patriotism and militaristic sentiment that it is meant to evoke. Written by British poet Wilfred Owen, who fought in World War I and died during the war, it illustrates a brutish and ugly face to war, ignoring the glorious odes which people may devise to get young people excited and invested in military service. The famous line from Horace, Owens refers to as "the old lie," calling into question how sweet and fitting it can be to die for one's country, especially if wars are being fought against other young, clueless but jingoistic men and women, in fights that need not be fought, where governments benefit and the masses suffer. 

Here are the words for both poems below.

****************

From Horace

To suffer hardness with good cheer,
In sternest school of warfare bred,
Our youth should learn; let steed and spear
Make him one day the Parthian's dread;
Cold skies, keen perils, brace his life.
Methinks I see from rampired town
Some battling tyrant's matron wife,
Some maiden, look in terror down,—
“Ah, my dear lord, untrain'd in war!
O tempt not the infuriate mood
Of that fell lion I see! from far
He plunges through a tide of blood!”
What joy, for fatherland to die!
Death's darts e'en flying feet o'ertake,
Nor spare a recreant chivalry,
A back that cowers, or loins that quake.

To suffer hardness with good cheer,
In sternest school of warfare bred,
Our youth should learn; let steed and spear
Make him one day the Parthian's dread;
Cold skies, keen perils, brace his life.
Methinks I see from rampired town
Some battling tyrant's matron wife,
Some maiden, look in terror down,—
“Ah, my dear lord, untrain'd in war!
O tempt not the infuriate mood
Of that fell lion I see! from far
He plunges through a tide of blood!“
What joy, for fatherland to die!
Death's darts e'en flying feet o'ertake,
Nor spare a recreant chivalry,
A back that cowers, or loins that quake.
True Virtue never knows defeat:
Her robes she keeps unsullied still,
Nor takes, nor quits, her curule seat
To please a people's veering will.
True Virtue opens heaven to worth:
She makes the way she does not find:
The vulgar crowd, the humid earth,
Her soaring pinion leaves behind.
Seal'd lips have blessings sure to come:
Who drags Eleusis' rite today,
That man shall never share my home,
Or join my voyage: roofs give way
And boats are wreck'd: true men and thieves
Neglected Justice oft confounds:
Though Vengeance halt, she seldom leaves
The wretch whose flying steps she hounds.

**************************

From 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 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.


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