Wilfred Owen(1893-1918)Anthem for Doomed Youth (1917)
What passing bells for those who die as cattle? Only the monstrous anger of the guns. Only the stuttering rifles rapid rattle Can patter out their hasty orisons.**No mockeries for them from prayers or bells, Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells; And bugles calling for them from sad shires. What candles may be held to speed them all? Not in the hands of boys, but in the eyes Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes. The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall; Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds, And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
**reverent prayersDulce Et Decorum Est (1917)
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 gas-shells dropping softly 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 floundering 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 devils 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: It is sweet and decorous to die for ones country.Manchester Guardian 29 December 1918
Lieutenant Wilfred Owen, MC, an officer of the Manchester Regiment, was killed in action on the Sambre Canal a week before the Armistice, aged 25Others have shown the disenchantment of war, have unlegended the roselight and romance of it, but none with such compassion for the disenchanted or such sternly just and justly stem judgment on the idyllisers. To him the sight and sound of a man gassed suffice to give the lie to dulce et decorum and the rest of it If he glorifies the soldiers - and he does, gloriously - it is as victim, not as victor; not as the hero achieving, but as one whose sacrificial love passes the love of women.
His verse, as he says in his preface, is all of the pity of war, and except in the pity there is no poetry. But it is a heroic exception, for the pity gets itself into poetry in phrases which are not the elegant chasing of ineffectual silver, but tile vital unbeautiful beauty of unwashed gold. It is the poetry of pain, searing and piercing to pity; it is the poetry of the Tragic Muse, whose visage, though marred more than any man, is yet transfigured in the sorrow of song. He has revealed the soul of the soldier as no one else has revealed it, not because his vision of the externals was less vivid and cleaving, but because to that vision he added an imagination of the heart that made him sure of his values clogged their chariot wheels.Created by Mr. Johnson