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Unformatted text preview: community they purport to describe,
then this exclusion from rational criticism can hardly be defended. If images can be true or
false, than the truth of the nationalist imagery must be tested, and if we follow Maintyre’s
advice, this is best done in poetry.
One such test is given in Wilred Owen’s famous poem “Deulce et Decorum Est”. The
poem’ which describes a death of a soldier dying of gas-poisoning in the WWI battle field,
concludes with the following lines:
“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
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, CEU eTD Collection The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.”74
Although Owen also states his main claim properly and very out-rightly, he supports it
not with arguments, but, quite in accordance with Macintyre’s dictum – with poetic images.
We are to believe that dying for the state is not sweet and becoming because of the images
that the poem shows us. And these can be clearly distinguished in two sets. First, there are the
images of a soldier’s death on the battlefield, and the later transportation of his corpse, 74 Wilfred Owen, “Dulce Et Decorum Est” 43 described in all the horrible details. Second, in the end of the poem there is an image of a
distant and unnamed “friend”75, who is quite obviously seated somewhere safe, far from the
battle-lines, and who is actually the one reciting the Horace’s words to the young,
inexperienced and enthusiastic listeners. By setting these two sets of images side by side,
Owen puts these the latter to the test, to use Macintyre’s terminology, and shows its falsity.
One of the reasons why images differ from statements, Macintyre asserts is that “a true
statement remains true when conjoined with other statements”, while, “an image conjoined
with others may thereby acquire new revelatory power, or lose what it previously had.” 76 So
in Owen’s poem, Horace’s proverb proves to be false when conjoined with the image of a
soldier dying of gas-poisoning, and since the latter is as real as can be, the former must be
false, it must be a lie. What could be a reason for this “imaginative incoherence”?
We could look for this reason in the obvious contrast between the “sweet and right”
death that Horace promised in the famous verse, on the one hand, and the painful and horrible
one described by Owen, on the other. However, although there are certainly many important
things to be said about the inhuman methods of modern, especially chemical warfare, the act
of dying in war has never, not even in Horace’s time, been “sweet”, measured by any sensible
standards. Therefore, I am inclined to think that the reason we are looking for lies not in a, CEU eTD Collection relatively contingent facts about the war technology, but in a deeper incoherence i...
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