WWI Poetry

I was admittedly skeptical of this whole experience at the start, but the WWI simulation provided a clarity and perspective that I did not expect. There was no attempting to add extra “zest,” romanticized ideals or noble patriotism. I felt this world sought to capture the bleak, demoralized, exhausted spirit of the place and the soldiers there. I particularly appreciated the scurrying rats that darted about – you can actually click on them and it provides a little fact snippet about how terrible and prevalent the rats really were.

The poetry exhibits scattered about in the relevant locations also demonstrated the bleak conditions and worn out morals of the soldiers – the tellingly-titled “Does it matter?” by Sigfreid Sasson, for instance. Wilfred Owens’ “Dulce et Decorum est” especially brought this weariness of heart home to me. The first lines of the poem powerfully convey the defeated, bitter feelings and total mental and physical fatigue of the troops simply trying to do their job and survive another day:

“Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge.”

Finally, it ends in an utterly disillusioned, cynical declaration:

“If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,

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.”

This is no picnic of glory-hunting and honor-winning. The spoon-fed idealism of patriotism and glory of being able to die for one’s country ring suddenly hallow when the unspeakable death, suffering, and traumatic experiences destroy the sense of youth and adventure you once had.

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2 thoughts on “WWI Poetry

  1. I agree, and I was struck by these same things. There wasn’t any trying to make things look better here. It was presenting things as they were. Both poems you mentioned seemed to be asking if it was worth it, to be wounded, and lose lives, for the sake of one’s country, and each of them seem to be saying that no, it is not worth it. They seem to have realized that there isn’t any glory in this kind of fighting, and I was very struck by the way this virtual world depicted it.

  2. The thing about the “old lie” that I thought was most interesting was that the poet took a quote from ancient Rome and applied it to this modern-day war. The implication he is making is that this war was supposed to be a continuation of all other wars, i.e., it would be a war of honor, and all the soldiers would be glorious heroes. But it seems like the thing that separates WW1 from all other wars is the absence of this fact, and that millions of men died for a cause that no one was able to establish. So it is an ironic reference to the great Roman past, and a sneer at the modern way of living and making war.

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