“It is sweet and good (or right) to die for your fatherland,” wrote the poet Horace (Odes III.2.13), and echoes of this idea are seen in requiems and memorials throughout history. “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori,” translated “What joy, for fatherland to die!” in the 1882 translation below, is even inscribed over the rear entrance to Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
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.
Quotation from Horace. The Odes and Carmen Saeculare of Horace. John Conington. trans. London. George Bell and Sons. 1882. Text is available online from Tufts University through a Creative Commons license.
NOTE: The phrase, “Dulce Et Decorum Est,” has been used in many ways, but was most famously adapted as the ironic title of an anti-war poem by British poet Wilfred Owen during World War I.