Friday, November 13, 2015

Two Poems by Wilfred Owen

Dulce et Decorum est
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 tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped 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 flound’ring 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 devil's 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.

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 rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now 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.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
   Not in the hands of boys, but in their 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.

“Wilfred Owen (1893 - 1918) - who was born in Oswestry on the Welsh borders, and brought up in Birkenhead and Shrewsbury - is widely recognized as one of the greatest voices of the First World War. At the time of his death he was virtually unknown - only four of his poems were published during his lifetime - but he had always been determined to be a poet, and had experimented with verse from an early age. In 1913-1915, whilst teaching at Bordeaux and Bagnères-de-Bigorre in France, he worked on the rhyming patterns which became characteristic of his poetry; but it was not until the summer of 1917 that he found his true voice.

“In 1915 Owen enlisted in the British Army. His first experiences of active service at Serre and St. Quentin in January-April 1917 led to shell-shock and his return to Britain. Whilst he was undergoing treatment at the Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh, he met one of his literary heroes, Siegfried Sassoon, who provided him with guidance, and encouragement to bring his war experiences into his poetry.

“When Owen returned to the Western Front, after more than a year away, he took part in the breaking of the Hindenburg Line at Joncourt (October 1918) for which he was awarded the Military Cross in recognition of his courage and leadership. He was killed on 4 November 1918 during the battle to cross the Sambre-Oise canal at Ors, [seven days before Armistice Day].

“Virtually all the poems for which he is now remembered were written in a creative burst between August 1917 and September 1918. His self-appointed task was to speak for the men in his care, to show the 'Pity of War', which he also expressed in vivid letters home. His bleak realism, his energy and indignation, his compassion and his great technical skill are evident in many well-known poems, and phrases or lines from his work (‘Each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds’ … ‘The Old Lie: Dulce et decorum est …’ ) are frequently quoted…”

From Wilfred Owen: Poet of the Trenches 

Selected Books: Poems, edited by Siegfried Sassoon (London: Chatto & Windus, 1920; New York: Huebsch, 1921); The Poems of Wilfred Owen, edited by Edmund Blunden (Chatto & Windus, 1931; New York: Viking, 1931); Thirteen Poems (Northampton, Mass.: Gehenna Press, 1956); The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen, edited by C. Day Lewis (Chatto & Windus, 1963; New York: New Directions, 1964); War Poems and Others, edited by Dominic Hibberd (Chatto & Windus, 1973); Ten War Poems (Oxford: Taurus Press, 1974); Wilfred Owen: The Complete Poems and Fragments, edited by Jon Stallworthy (New York: Random House, 1983). 

Periodical Publications: "Song of Songs," anonymous, Hydra: Journal of the Craiglockhart War Hospital, no. 10 (1 September 1917); "The Next War," anonymous, Hydra: Journal of the Craiglockhart War Hospital, no. 11 (29 September 1917). 

Letters: Collected Letters of Wilfred Owen, edited by John Bell and Harold Owen (Oxford University Press, 1967). 

From the Poetry Foundation.

Wilfred Owen (March 18, 1893 - November 4, 1918)

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