In writing an Introduction such as this it is good to be brief.
poems printed in this book need no preliminary commendations
from me or anyone else. The author has left us his own
but impressive Foreword; this, and his Poems, can speak for him,
backed by the authority of his experience
as an infantry soldier,
and sustained by nobility and originality of style. All that was strongest
Owen survives in his poems; any superficial impressions
of his personality, any records of his conversation, behaviour,
would be irrelevant and unseemly. The curiosity which demands such morsels
would be incapable of
appreciating the richness of his work.
The discussion of his experiments in assonance and dissonance
(of which `Strange
Meeting' is the finest example) may be left
to the professional critics of verse, the majority of whom
will be more
preoccupied with such technical details than with
the profound humanity of the self-revelation manifested in
lines as those at the end of his `Apologia pro Poemate Meo',
and in that other poem which he named `Greater Love'.
importance of his contribution to the literature of the War
cannot be decided by those who, like myself, both admired him
as a poet
and valued him as a friend. His conclusions about War
are so entirely in accordance with my own that
I cannot attempt
to judge his work with any critical detachment. I can only affirm
that he was a man of absolute
integrity of mind. He never wrote his poems
(as so many war-poets did) to make the effect of a personal gesture.
pitied others; he did not pity himself. In the last year of his life
he attained a clear vision of what he needed
to say, and these poems
survive him as his true and splendid testament.
Wilfred Owen was born at Oswestry on 18th
March 1893. He was educated
at the Birkenhead Institute, and matriculated at London University in 1910.
he obtained a private tutorship near Bordeaux,
where he remained until 1915. During this period he became acquainted
the eminent French poet, Laurent Tailhade, to whom he showed
his early verses, and from whom he received considerable encouragement.
1915, in spite of delicate health, he joined the Artists' Rifles O.T.C.,
was gazetted to the Manchester Regiment, and served
with their 2nd Battalion
in France from December 1916 to June 1917, when he was invalided home.
Fourteen months later
he returned to the Western Front and served
with the same Battalion, ultimately commanding a Company.
He was awarded
the Military Cross for gallantry while taking part
in some heavy fighting on 1st October. He was killed on 4th November
while endeavouring to get his men across the Sambre Canal.
A month before his death he wrote to his mother:
"My nerves are
in perfect order. I came out again in order to help these boys;
directly, by leading them as well
as an officer can;
indirectly, by watching their sufferings that I may speak of them
as well as a pleader can."
Let his own words be his epitaph: --
"Courage was mine, and I had mystery;
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery."
This book is not about heroes. English Poetry is not yet fit to speak
of them. Nor
is it about deeds or lands, nor anything about glory, honour,
dominion or power,except War.
Above all, this book is
not concerned with Poetry.
The subject of it is War, and the pity of War.
The Poetry is in the pity.
Yet these elegies
are not to this generation,
This is in no sense consolatory.
They may be to the next.
All the poet can do to-day
is to warn.
That is why the true Poets must be truthful.
If I thought the letter of this book would last,
have used proper names; but if the spirit of it survives Prussia, --
my ambition and those names will be content;
for they will have
achieved themselves fresher fields than Flanders.
This Preface was found, in an unfinished condition,
among Wilfred Owen's papers
Apologia pro Poemate Meo
of the Old Men and the Young
Arms and the Boy
Anthem for Doomed Youth
Dulce et Decorum
S. I. W.
Wild with all Regrets
It seemed that out of the battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since
Through granites which Titanic wars had groined.
Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in
thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed
Lifting distressful hands as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall;
With a thousand fears
that vision's face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues
"Strange, friend," I said, "Here is no cause to mourn."
"None," said the other, "Save the undone years,
hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something has been left,
Which must die
now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled.
discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress,
None will break ranks, though
nations trek from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery;
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery;
To miss the
march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels
would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.
am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark; for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now . . ."
was found among the author's papers.
It ends on this strange note.)
wheels run oiled with blood. Forget we that.
Let us lie down and dig ourselves in thought.
Beauty is yours and
you have mastery,
Wisdom is mine, and I have mystery.
We two will stay behind and keep our troth.
Let us forego men's
minds that are brute's natures,
Let us not sup the blood which some say nurtures,
Be we not swift with swiftness of
Let us break ranks from those who trek from progress.
Miss we the march of this retreating world
old citadels that are not walled.
Let us lie out and hold the open truth.
Then when their blood hath clogged the chariot
We will go up and wash them from deep wells.
What though we sink from men as pitchers falling
Many shall raise
us up to be their filling
Even from wells we sunk too deep for war
And filled by brows that bled where no wounds were.
*Alternative line --*
Even as One who bled where no wounds were.
lips are not so red
As the stained stones kissed by the English dead.
Kindness of wooed and wooer
shame to their love pure.
O Love, your eyes lose lure
When I behold eyes blinded in my stead!
Trembles not exquisite like limbs knife-skewed,
Rolling and rolling there
seems not to care;
Till the fierce Love they bear
Cramps them in death's extreme decrepitude.
voice sings not so soft, --
Though even as wind murmuring through raftered loft, --
Your dear voice is
Gentle, and evening clear,
As theirs whom none now hear
Now earth has stopped their piteous
mouths that coughed.
Heart, you were never hot,
Nor large, nor full like hearts made great with shot;
though your hand be pale,
Paler are all which trail
Your cross through flame and hail:
Weep, you may
weep, for you may touch them not.
Apologia pro Poemate Meo
I, too, saw God through mud --
The mud that cracked on cheeks when wretches smiled.
War brought more glory to their eyes than blood,
And gave their laughs more glee than shakes a child.
Merry it was to laugh there --
becomes absurd and life absurder.
For power was on us as we slashed bones bare
Not to feel sickness or remorse of murder.
I, too, have dropped off fear --
Behind the barrage,
dead as my platoon,
And sailed my spirit surging, light and clear
Past the entanglement
where hopes lay strewn;
And witnessed exultation --
Faces that used to curse me, scowl for scowl,
Shine and lift up with passion of oblation,
Seraphic for an hour; though they were foul.
made fellowships --
Untold of happy lovers in old song.
For love is not the binding
of fair lips
With the soft silk of eyes that look and long,
By Joy, whose ribbon slips, --
But wound with war's hard wire whose stakes are strong;
Bound with the bandage of the arm that drips;
Knit in the welding of the rifle-thong.
I have perceived much beauty
In the hoarse oaths that
kept our courage straight;
Heard music in the silentness of duty;
where shell-storms spouted reddest spate.
Nevertheless, except you share
With them in hell the
sorrowful dark of hell,
Whose world is but the trembling of a flare,
but as the highway for a shell,
You shall not hear their mirth:
You shall not come to think them
By any jest of mine. These men are worth
You are not worth their merriment.
My soul looked down
from a vague height with Death,
As unremembering how I rose or why,
And saw a sad land, weak with sweats of dearth,
cratered like the moon with hollow woe,
And fitted with great pocks and scabs of plaques.
Across its beard, that
horror of harsh wire,
There moved thin caterpillars, slowly uncoiled.
It seemed they pushed themselves to be as plugs
ditches, where they writhed and shrivelled, killed.
By them had slimy paths been trailed and scraped
warts that might be little hills.
From gloom's last dregs these long-strung creatures crept,
And vanished out of
dawn down hidden holes.
(And smell came up from those foul openings
As out of mouths, or deep wounds deepening.)
dithering feet upgathered, more and more,
Brown strings towards strings of gray, with bristling spines,
from green fields, intent on mire.
Those that were gray, of more abundant spawns,
Ramped on the rest and ate them
and were eaten.
I saw their bitten backs curve, loop, and straighten,
I watched those agonies curl, lift, and flatten.
in terror what that sight might mean,
I reeled and shivered earthward like a feather.
And Death fell with me, like
a deepening moan.
And He, picking a manner of worm, which half had hid
Its bruises in the earth, but crawled no further,
me its feet, the feet of many men,
And the fresh-severed head of it, my head.
are these? Why sit they here in twilight?
Wherefore rock they, purgatorial shadows,
Drooping tongues from jaws
that slob their relish,
Baring teeth that leer like skulls' tongues wicked?
Stroke on stroke of pain, -- but what slow
Gouged these chasms round their fretted sockets?
Ever from their hair and through their hand palms
swelters. Surely we have perished
Sleeping, and walk hell; but who these hellish?
-- These are men whose minds
the Dead have ravished.
Memory fingers in their hair of murders,
Multitudinous murders they once witnessed.
sloughs of flesh these helpless wander,
Treading blood from lungs that had loved laughter.
Always they must see these
things and hear them,
Batter of guns and shatter of flying muscles,
Carnage incomparable and human squander
too thick for these men's extrication.
Therefore still their eyeballs shrink tormented
Back into their brains, because
on their sense
Sunlight seems a bloodsmear; night comes blood-black;
Dawn breaks open like a wound that bleeds afresh
Thus their heads wear this hilarious, hideous,
Awful falseness of set-smiling corpses.
-- Thus their hands are plucking
at each other;
Picking at the rope-knouts of their scourging;
Snatching after us who smote them, brother,
us who dealt them war and madness.
Parable of the Old Men and the Young
So Abram rose, and
clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretch\ed forth the knife
to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything
to him. Behold,
A ram caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old
man would not so, but slew his son. . . .
Arms and the Boy
Let the boy try along this bayonet-blade
cold steel is, and keen with hunger of blood;
Blue with all malice, like a madman's flash;
And thinly drawn with famishing
Lend him to stroke these blind, blunt bullet-heads
Which long to muzzle in the hearts of lads.
give him cartridges of fine zinc teeth,
Sharp with the sharpness of grief and death.
For his teeth seem for laughing
round an apple.
There lurk no claws behind his fingers supple;
And God will grow no talons at his heels,
through the thickness of his curls.
Anthem for Doomed Youth
What passing-bells for these
who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning
save the choirs, --
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy
glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
Down the close, darkening
lanes they sang their way
To the siding-shed,
And lined the train with faces grimly gay.
Their breasts were stuck
all white with wreath and spray
As men's are, dead.
Dull porters watched them, and a casual tramp
Sorry to miss them from the upland camp.
Then, unmoved, signals nodded, and a lamp
Winked to the guard.
secretly, like wrongs hushed-up, they went.
They were not ours:
We never heard to which front these were sent.
there if they yet mock what women meant
Who gave them flowers.
Shall they return to beatings of great bells
A few, a few, too few for drums and yells,
May creep back, silent, to still village wells
Happy are men who yet before they are killed
let their veins run cold.
Whom no compassion fleers
Or makes their feet
Sore on the alleys cobbled with their brothers.
front line withers,
But they are troops who fade, not flowers
For poets' tearful fooling:
Men, gaps for filling
who might have fought
Longer; but no one bothers.
And some cease feeling
themselves or for themselves.
Dullness best solves
The tease and doubt of shelling,
And Chance's strange arithmetic
simpler than the reckoning of their shilling.
They keep no check on Armies' decimation.
are these who lose imagination:
They have enough to carry with ammunition.
Their spirit drags no pack.
wounds save with cold can not more ache.
Having seen all things red,
Their eyes are rid
Of the hurt of the colour
of blood for ever.
And terror's first constriction over,
Their hearts remain small drawn.
Their senses in some scorching
cautery of battle
Now long since ironed,
Can laugh among the dying, unconcerned.
the soldier home, with not a notion
How somewhere, every dawn, some men attack,
And many sighs are drained.
the lad whose mind was never trained:
His days are worth forgetting more than not.
He sings along the march
we march taciturn, because of dusk,
The long, forlorn, relentless trend
From larger day to huger night.
We wise, who with a thought besmirch
Blood over all our soul,
How should we see our task
But through his
blunt and lashless eyes?
Alive, he is not vital overmuch;
Dying, not mortal overmuch;
Nor sad, nor proud,
curious at all.
He cannot tell
Old men's placidity from his.
But cursed are
dullards whom no cannon stuns,
That they should be as stones.
Wretched are they, and mean
With paucity that never
By choice they made themselves immune
To pity and whatever mourns in man
Before the last sea and
the hapless stars;
Whatever mourns when many leave these shores;
The eternal reciprocity of tears.
et Decorum est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
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 gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! -- An ecstasy
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
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.
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,
face, like a devil's sick of sin,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, --
My friend, you would not tell with such
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
We'd found an old Boche dug-out, and he knew,
And gave us hell, for shell on frantic shell
on top, but never quite burst through.
Rain, guttering down in waterfalls of slime
Kept slush waist high, that rising
hour by hour,
Choked up the steps too thick with clay to climb.
What murk of air remained stank old, and sour
fumes of whizz-bangs, and the smell of men
Who'd lived there years, and left their curse in the den,
If not their corpses.
. . .
There we herded from the blast
Of whizz-bangs, but one found our door at last.
Buffeting eyes and breath, snuffing the
And thud! flump! thud! down the steep steps came thumping
And splashing in the flood, deluging muck --
sentry's body; then his rifle, handles
Of old Boche bombs, and mud in ruck on ruck.
We dredged him up, for killed, until
"O sir, my eyes -- I'm blind -- I'm blind, I'm blind!"
Coaxing, I held a flame against his lids
if he could see the least blurred light
He was not blind; in time he'd get all right.
"I can't," he sobbed. Eyeballs,
huge-bulged like squids
Watch my dreams still; but I forgot him there
In posting next for duty, and sending a scout
beg a stretcher somewhere, and floundering about
To other posts under the shrieking air.
Those other wretches, how
they bled and spewed,
And one who would have drowned himself for good, --
I try not to remember these things now.
dread hark back for one word only: how
Half-listening to that sentry's moans and jumps,
And the wild chattering
of his broken teeth,
Renewed most horribly whenever crumps
Pummelled the roof and slogged the air beneath --
the dense din, I say, we heard him shout
"I see your lights!" But ours had long died out.
He dropped, -- more sullenly than wearily,
Lay stupid like a cod, heavy like meat,
of us could kick him to his feet;
Just blinked at my revolver, blearily;
-- Didn't appear to know a war was on,
see the blasted trench at which he stared.
"I'll do 'em in," he whined, "If this hand's spared,
I'll murder them, I
A low voice said,
"It's Blighty, p'raps, he sees; his pluck's all gone,
Dreaming of all the valiant, that AREN'T dead:
uncles, smiling ministerially;
Maybe his brave young wife, getting her fun
In some new home, improved materially.
not these stiffs have crazed him; nor the Hun."
We sent him down at last, out of the way.
Unwounded; -- stout lad,
too, before that strafe.
Malingering? Stretcher-bearers winked, "Not half!"
Next day I heard the Doc.'s well-whiskied
"That scum you sent last night soon died. Hooray!"
Our brains ache, in the merciless iced east winds that knife us . . .
Wearied we keep awake because the night
is silent . . .
Low drooping flares confuse our memory of the salient . . .
Worried by silence, sentries whisper, curious,
But nothing happens.
Watching, we hear the mad gusts tugging
on the wire.
Like twitching agonies of men among its brambles.
Northward incessantly, the flickering gunnery rumbles,
off, like a dull rumour of some other war.
What are we doing here?
poignant misery of dawn begins to grow . . .
We only know war lasts, rain soaks, and clouds sag stormy.
in the east her melancholy army
Attacks once more in ranks on shivering ranks of gray,
But nothing happens.
Sudden successive flights of bullets streak the silence.
Less deadly than the air that shudders
black with snow,
With sidelong flowing flakes that flock, pause and renew,
We watch them wandering up and down the wind's
But nothing happens.
flakes with lingering stealth come feeling for our faces --
We cringe in holes, back on forgotten dreams, and stare, snow-dazed,
into grassier ditches. So we drowse, sun-dozed,
Littered with blossoms trickling where the blackbird fusses.
Is it that we are dying?
Slowly our ghosts drag home: glimpsing the sunk fires glozed
With crusted dark-red
jewels; crickets jingle there;
For hours the innocent mice rejoice: the house is theirs;
Shutters and doors all
closed: on us the doors are closed --
We turn back to our dying.
we believe not otherwise can kind fires burn;
Now ever suns smile true on child, or field, or fruit.
For God's invincible
spring our love is made afraid;
Therefore, not loath, we lie out here; therefore were born,
For love of God seems dying.
To-night, His frost will fasten on this mud and us,
Shrivelling many hands and puckering
The burying-party, picks and shovels in their shaking grasp,
Pause over half-known faces. All
their eyes are ice,
But nothing happens.
against the shade of a last hill,
They fed, and, lying easy, were at ease
And, finding comfortable chests and knees
slept. But many there stood still
To face the stark, blank sky beyond the ridge,
Knowing their feet had come to
the end of the world.
Marvelling they stood, and watched the long grass swirled
By the May breeze, murmurous with
wasp and midge,
For though the summer oozed into their veins
Like the injected drug for their bones' pains,
on their souls hung the imminent line of grass,
Fearfully flashed the sky's mysterious glass.
Hour after hour they
ponder the warm field --
And the far valley behind, where the buttercups
Had blessed with gold their slow boots coming
Where even the little brambles would not yield,
But clutched and clung to them like sorrowing hands;
like trees unstirred.
Till like a cold gust thrilled the little word
At which each body and its soul begird
tighten them for battle. No alarms
Of bugles, no high flags, no clamorous haste --
Only a lift and flare of eyes
The sun, like a friend with whom their love is done.
O larger shone that smile against the sun, --
than his whose bounty these have spurned.
So, soon they topped the hill, and raced together
Over an open stretch
of herb and heather
Exposed. And instantly the whole sky burned
With fury against them; and soft sudden cups
in thousands for their blood; and the green slopes
Chasmed and steepened sheer to infinite space.
Of them who running
on that last high place
Leapt to swift unseen bullets, or went up
On the hot blast and fury of hell's upsurge,
plunged and fell away past this world's verge,
Some say God caught them even before they fell.
But what say such
as from existence' brink
Ventured but drave too swift to sink.
The few who rushed in the body to enter hell,
there out-fiending all its fiends and flames
With superhuman inhumanities,
Long-famous glories, immemorial shames --
crawling slowly back, have by degrees
Regained cool peaceful air in wonder --
Why speak they not of comrades that went
I mind as 'ow the night afore that show
Us five got talking, -- we
was in the know,
"Over the top to-morrer; boys, we're for it,
First wave we are, first ruddy wave; that's tore it."
well," says Jimmy, -- an' 'e's seen some scrappin' --
"There ain't more nor five things as can 'appen;
Ye get knocked
out; else wounded -- bad or cushy;
Scuppered; or nowt except yer feeling mushy."
One of us got the knock-out, blown
T'other was hurt, like, losin' both 'is props.
An' one, to use the word of 'ypocrites,
'Ad the misfortoon
to be took by Fritz.
Now me, I wasn't scratched, praise God Almighty
(Though next time please I'll thank 'im for a blighty),
poor young Jim, 'e's livin' an' 'e's not;
'E reckoned 'e'd five chances, an' 'e's 'ad;
'E's wounded, killed, and pris'ner,
all the lot --
The ruddy lot all rolled in one. Jim's mad.
S. I. W.
"I will to the King,
And offer him consolation in his trouble,
For that man there
has set his teeth to die,
And being one that hates obedience,
orderliness of life,
I cannot mourn him."
W. B. Yeats.
Patting goodbye, doubtless they told the lad
He'd always show the Hun a brave man's face;
would sooner him dead than in disgrace, --
Was proud to see him going, aye, and glad.
Perhaps his Mother whimpered how
Until he got a nice, safe wound to nurse.
Sisters would wish girls too could shoot, charge, curse, . . .
-- would send his favourite cigarette,
Each week, month after month, they wrote the same,
Thinking him sheltered in
some Y.M. Hut,
Where once an hour a bullet missed its aim
And misses teased the hunger of his brain.
His eyes grew
old with wincing, and his hand
Reckless with ague. Courage leaked, as sand
From the best sandbags after years
But never leave, wound, fever, trench-foot, shock,
Untrapped the wretch. And death seemed still withheld
torture of lying machinally shelled,
At the pleasure of this world's Powers who'd run amok.
He'd seen men shoot
their hands, on night patrol,
Their people never knew. Yet they were vile.
"Death sooner than dishonour, that's
So Father said.
One dawn, our wire patrol
Carried him. This time, Death had not missed.
We could do nothing, but wipe his bleeding
Could it be accident? -- Rifles go off . . .
Not sniped? No. (Later they found the English
It was the reasoned crisis of his soul.
Against the fires that would not burn him whole
But kept him for
death's perjury and scoff
And life's half-promising, and both their riling.
With him they buried the muzzle his
teeth had kissed,
And truthfully wrote the Mother "Tim died smiling."
into the sun --
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it woke him, even in
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.
how it wakes the seeds --
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs so dear-achieved, are sides
-- still warm, -- too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
-- O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
earth's sleep at all?
Smile, Smile, Smile
Head to limp head, the sunk-eyed wounded scanned
Mail; the casualties (typed small)
And (large) Vast Booty from our Latest Haul.
Also, they read of Cheap Homes, not
For, said the paper, "When this war is done
The men's first instinct will be making homes.
their foremost need is aerodromes,
It being certain war has just begun.
Peace would do wrong to our undying dead, --
sons we offered might regret they died
If we got nothing lasting in their stead.
We must be solidly indemnified.
all be worthy Victory which all bought,
We rulers sitting in this ancient spot
Would wrong our very selves if we forgot
greatest glory will be theirs who fought,
Who kept this nation in integrity."
Nation? -- The half-limbed readers
did not chafe
But smiled at one another curiously
Like secret men who know their secret safe.
This is the thing they
know and never speak,
That England one by one had fled to France
(Not many elsewhere now save under France).
of these broad smiles appear each week,
And people in whose voice real feeling rings
Say: How they smile!
They're happy now, poor things.
23rd September 1918.
His fingers wake,
and flutter up the bed.
His eyes come open with a pull of will,
Helped by the yellow may-flowers by his head.
drawls across the window-sill . . .
How smooth the floor of the ward is! what a rug!
And who's that talking, somewhere
out of sight?
Why are they laughing? What's inside that jug?
"Nurse! Doctor!" "Yes; all right, all
But sudden dusk bewilders all the air --
There seems no time to want a drink of water.
Nurse looks so
far away. And everywhere
Music and roses burnt through crimson slaughter.
Cold; cold; he's cold; and yet so hot:
there's no light to see the voices by --
No time to dream, and ask -- he knows not what.
(Being the philosophy of many Soldiers.)
Sit on the bed; I'm blind, and three parts shell,
Be careful; can't
shake hands now; never shall.
Both arms have mutinied against me -- brutes.
My fingers fidget like ten idle brats.
tried to peg out soldierly -- no use!
One dies of war like any old disease.
This bandage feels like pennies on my eyes.
have my medals? -- Discs to make eyes close.
My glorious ribbons? -- Ripped from my own back
shreds. (That's for your poetry book.)
A short life and a merry one, my brick!
We used to say we'd hate to
live dead old, --
Yet now . . . I'd willingly be puffy, bald,
And patriotic. Buffers catch from boys
the jokes hurled at them. I suppose
Little I'd ever teach a son, but hitting,
Shooting, war, hunting, all the
arts of hurting.
Well, that's what I learnt, -- that, and making money.
Your fifty years ahead seem none too many?
me how long I've got? God! For one year
To help myself to nothing more than air!
One Spring! Is one
too good to spare, too long?
Spring wind would work its own way to my lung,
And grow me legs as quick as lilac-shoots.
servant's lamed, but listen how he shouts!
When I'm lugged out, he'll still be good for that.
Here in this mummy-case,
you know, I've thought
How well I might have swept his floors for ever,
I'd ask no night off when the bustle's over,
so the dirt. Who's prejudiced
Against a grimed hand when his own's quite dust,
Less live than specks that in the
Less warm than dust that mixes with arms' tan?
I'd love to be a sweep, now, black as Town,
or a muckman. Must I be his load?
O Life, Life, let me breathe, -- a dug-out rat!
Not worse than ours the
existences rats lead --
Nosing along at night down some safe vat,
They find a shell-proof home before they rot.
men may envy living mites in cheese,
Or good germs even. Microbes have their joys,
And subdivide, and never come
Certainly flowers have the easiest time on earth.
"I shall be one with nature, herb, and stone."
would tell me. Shelley would be stunned;
The dullest Tommy hugs that fancy now.
"Pushing up daisies," is their
creed, you know.
To grain, then, go my fat, to buds my sap,
For all the usefulness there is in soap.
the Boche will ever stew man-soup?
Some day, no doubt, if . . .
Friend, be very sure
I shall be better off with plants that share
More peaceably the meadow and the shower.
rains will touch me, -- as they could touch once,
And nothing but the sun shall make me ware.
Your guns may crash around
me. I'll not hear;
Or, if I wince, I shall not know I wince.
Don't take my soul's poor comfort for your jest.
may grow a soul when turned to fronds,
But here the thing's best left at home with friends.
My soul's a little grief,
grappling your chest,
To climb your throat on sobs; easily chased
On other sighs and wiped by fresher winds.
my crying spirit till it's weaned
To do without what blood remained these wounds.
Wild with all Regrets
(Another version of "A Terre".)
To Siegfried Sassoon
My arms have mutinied
against me -- brutes!
My fingers fidget like ten idle brats,
My back's been stiff for hours, damned hours.
never gives his squad a Stand-at-ease.
I can't read. There: it's no use. Take your book.
A short life
and a merry one, my buck!
We said we'd hate to grow dead old. But now,
Not to live old seems awful: not
My boyhood with my boys, and teach 'em hitting,
Shooting and hunting, -- all the arts of hurting!
that's what I learnt. That, and making money.
Your fifty years in store seem none too many;
But I've five minutes.
God! For just two years
To help myself to this good air of yours!
One Spring! Is one too hard to spare?
Spring air would find its own way to my lung,
And grow me legs as quick as lilac-shoots.
the orderly. He'll change the sheets
When I'm lugged out, oh, couldn't I do that?
Here in this coffin of a bed,
I'd like to kneel and sweep his floors for ever, --
And ask no nights off when the bustle's over,
I'd enjoy the dirt; who's prejudiced
Against a grimed hand when his own's quite dust, --
Less live than specks that
in the sun-shafts turn?
Dear dust, -- in rooms, on roads, on faces' tan!
I'd love to be a sweep's boy, black as Town;
or a muckman. Must I be his load?
A flea would do. If one chap wasn't bloody,
Or went stone-cold, I'd find
Which I shan't manage now. Unless it's yours.
I shall stay in you, friend, for some few hours.
feel my heavy spirit chill your chest,
And climb your throat on sobs, until it's chased
On sighs, and wiped from off
your lips by wind.
I think on your rich breathing, brother, I'll be weaned
To do without what blood remained me
from my wound.
5th December 1917.
He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting
And shivered in his ghastly suit of grey,
Legless, sewn short at elbow. Through the park
boys rang saddening like a hymn,
Voices of play and pleasure after day,
Till gathering sleep had mothered them from
About this time Town used to swing so gay
When glow-lamps budded in the light-blue trees
And girls glanced
lovelier as the air grew dim,
-- In the old times, before he threw away his knees.
Now he will never feel again how
Girls' waists are, or how warm their subtle hands,
All of them touch him like some queer disease.
was an artist silly for his face,
For it was younger than his youth, last year.
Now he is old; his back will never brace;
lost his colour very far from here,
Poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry,
And half his lifetime lapsed
in the hot race,
And leap of purple spurted from his thigh.
One time he liked a bloodsmear down his leg,
matches carried shoulder-high.
It was after football, when he'd drunk a peg,
He thought he'd better join. He wonders
why . . .
Someone had said he'd look a god in kilts.
That's why; and maybe, too, to please his Meg,
was it, to please the giddy jilts,
He asked to join. He didn't have to beg;
Smiling they wrote his lie; aged nineteen
Germans he scarcely thought of; and no fears
Of Fear came yet. He thought of jewelled hilts
in plaid socks; of smart salutes;
And care of arms; and leave; and pay arrears;
Esprit de corps; and hints for young
And soon, he was drafted out with drums and cheers.
Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal.
a solemn man who brought him fruits
Thanked him; and then inquired about his soul.
Now, he will spend a few sick years
And do what things the rules consider wise,
And take whatever pity they may dole.
To-night he noticed
how the women's eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
How cold and late it is! Why don't they
And put him into bed? Why don't they come?
After the blast of lightning
from the east,
The flourish of loud clouds, the Chariot throne,
After the drums of time have rolled and ceased
from the bronze west long retreat is blown,
Shall Life renew these bodies? Of a truth
All death will he annul,
all tears assuage?
Or fill these void veins full again with youth
And wash with an immortal water age?
do ask white Age, he saith not so, --
"My head hangs weighed with snow."
And when I hearken to the Earth she saith
fiery heart sinks aching. It is death.
Mine ancient scars shall not be glorified
Nor my titanic tears the seas
General Notes: --
Due to the general circumstances surrounding Wilfred
and his death one week before the war ended, it should be noted
that these poems are not all in their final form.
had only had a few of his poems published during his lifetime,
and his papers were in a state of disarray when Siegfried
his friend and fellow poet, put together this volume.
The 1920 edition was the first edition of Owen's poems,
1921 reprint (of which this is a transcript) added one more --
and nothing else happened until Edmund Blunden's 1931 edition.
with that edition, there remained gaps, and several more editions
added more and more poems and fragments, in various forms,
it was difficult to tell which of Owen's drafts were his final ones,
until Jon Stallworthy's "Complete Poems and Fragments"
included all that could be found, and tried to put them
in chronological order, with the latest revisions, etc.
it should not be surprising if some or most of these poems
differ from later editions.
After Owen's death, his
writings gradually gained pre-eminence,
so that, although virtually unknown during the war, he came into high regard.
Britten, the British composer who set nine of Owen's works
as the text of his "War Requiem" (shortly after the Second World
called Owen "by far our greatest war poet, and one of the most original poets
of this century." (Owen is
especially noted for his use of pararhyme.)
Five of those nine texts are some form of poems included here, to wit:
for Doomed Youth', `Futility', `Parable of the Old Men and the Young',
`The End', and `Strange Meeting'. The other
four were `[Bugles Sang]',
`The Next War', `Sonnet [Be slowly lifted up]' and `At a Calvary
Near the Ancre' -- all of
which the reader may wish to pursue,
being some of Owen's finest work. Fortunately, the poem which I consider
best, and which is one of his most quoted -- `Dulce et Decorum est',
is included in this volume..
R. Light. Monroe, North Carolina, July, 1997.