Monday, November 4, 2013

Asleep, Wilfred Owen

Writer’s Almanac today reminds us that

“It was on this day in 1918 that British war poet Wilfred Owen  was killed in World War I, at the age of 25. In the days before his death, Owen had been excited because he knew the war was almost over. The Germans were retreating and the French had joyfully welcomed the British troops. In his last letter to his mother, Owens wrote: "It is a great life. I am more oblivious than yourself, dear Mother, of the ghastly glimmering of the guns outside, and the hollow crashing of the shells. Of this I am certain: you could not be visited by a band of friends half so fine as surround me here." A few days later, he was trying to get his men across a canal in the early morning hours when they were attacked by enemy fire, and Owen was fatally wounded. The war ended the following week.”


Under his helmet, up against his pack,
After so many days of work and waking
Sleep took him by the brow and laid him back.

There, in the happy no-time of his sleeping,
Death took him by the heart. There heaved a quaking
Of frustrate life, like child within him leaping…
Then chest and sleepy arms once more fell slack.

And soon the slow stray blood comes creeping
From the intrusive lead, like ants on track.

                        *      *     *     *

Whether his deeper sleep lie shaded by the shaking
Of great wings, and the thoughts of stars.
High-pillowed on calm clouds of God’s making,
Above those clouds, these rains, these sheets of lead,
And these winds’ scimitars;
-- Or whether yet his thin and sodden head
Confuses more and more with the low mould,
His hair being one with the gray grass
Of finished fields, and wire-scrags rusty old,…
Who knows? Who hopes? Who troubles? Let it pass!
He sleeps. He sleeps less tremulous, less cold
Than we who wake, and waking say, Alas!