Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Soldier Poets of The First World War - 2nd Lt, Wilfred Edward Salter Owen MC, 5th Bn. Manch. R., T.F., attd. 2nd Bn.

British poet and soldier Wilfred Owen was killed today in 1918, one week before the end of the Great War.  He was 25 years old.  He wrote this poem in November, 1917, the year before his death.  He and his men came under enemy fire as he led them across the Sambre–Oise Canal in France.

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—
            Where death 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.

I have 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;
            Found peace 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,
            And heaven but as the highway for a shell,

You shall not hear their mirth;
            You shall not come to think them well content
            By any jest of mine.  These men are worth
            Your tears.  You are not worth their merriment.

November 1917