Dulce et Decorum est (2020)

For SATB choir acapella with divisi
Duration: ca. 5'.

Performed and recorded live by Choral Arts Initiative as part of the PREMIERE| Project Festival on July 2nd, 2022. Brandon Elliott, Artistic Director. Connor Scott, Conductor.

One of Wilfred Owen’s most famous works, the text depicts the horrific scene of a WWI soldier experiencing the effects of chlorine gas in excruciating detail. Upon first reading the text, I was struck by Owen’s incredibly graphic imagery and emotional intensity. The horror, trauma, fear, and rage that came with fighting in the war is so powerfully encapsulated and yet, it’s merely a fraction of what the soldiers have experienced. The latin phrase “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori,” or “How sweet and fitting it is to die for one’s country,” is used ironically in the poem to condemn the war and those who would glorify it.

"Dulce et decorum est" by Wilfred Owen (1893 - 1918)

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, out-stripped 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.

Latin text by Horace (65 BC - 8 BC)

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori:
mors et fugacem persequitur virum
nec parcit inbellis iuventae
poplitibus timidoque tergo.

How sweet and fitting it is to die for one's country:
Death pursues the man who flees,
spares not the hamstrings or cowardly backs
Of battle-shy youths.