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that the modern nation-state is imagined by its citizens.
If we follow Macintyre’s lead, then the the real incoherence that Owen’s poem reveals
is caused not by the contrast between two descriptions of dying for the state, but between the
image of the state as something worth dying for, and the reality of this dying which is bereft
of the meaning ascribed to it by the image. As if the realistic description of dying in the
75 There is every reason to supose that this friend was actually Jessi Pope (the first version of the poem was
dedicated to her), the author of pro-war propaganda poems full of naive images and trivial comparisons. One
such example is Play the Game, in which she compares war with football: “Football’s a sport/ And a rare sport
too,/ Don’t make it a source of shame./ Today there are worthier things to be done./ Englishmen, play the game!”
Macintyre, “Poetry as Political Philosophy”, 160 44 battlefield makes us realise that death is real, the real ending (almost a whole verse that Owen
dedicates to describing the corpse and its fate is there to remind us of this finality), which is
somehow suppresed or disguised in the image of the patria which it is “sweet and right” to die
for. It is therefore, not the reality of the act of dying, however painful and horrible it might be,
that is primarily obscured by this image, but the reality, and the finality, of death itself. The
modern state is something that requires self-sacrifice, but is not actually worthy of sacrifice.
That is why to claim that it is “sweet and right” to sacrifice one’s life for the country is a lie.
A lie which may not be seen as such by everyone, a lie which we may be persuaded into
believing, especially if we are young and “ardent for some desperate glory”, but still, a lie
It is interesting, and indicative, to note that in her text “Pro Patria Mori: Death and the
State”, Yael Tamir refers to the poetry of Wilfred Owen, but not to “Dulce et Decorum Est”
which would seem to be the obvious choice, but to a lesser known Owen’s poem “Asleep”:
“Under his helmet, up against his pack,
After the many days of work and waking,
Sleep took him by the brow and laid him back.
And in the happy no-time of his sleeping, CEU eTD Collection Death took him by the heart.”77
Tamir cites this poem as an example of how “nationalist discourse attempts to portray
the moment of death as instantanious, gracious, and painless rather than as brutal and
painfull.”78 Leaving aside the obvious blunder of classifying Owen’s poetry as “nationalistic
discourse” (it would be difficult to find an author or an oeuvre less deserving to be put into
this category), and also Tamir’s clear misunderstanding of Owen’s verses (for what they offer
is not just another version of the worn-out metaphor of “death as eternal sleep”, but quite the
78 Wilfred Owen, Asleep
Tamir, “Pro Patria Mori”, 235 45 contrary of death as something that brea...
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