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Wilfred Owen



POEMS

 

 

Contents

Introductionby Siegfried Sassoon
Preface
StrangeMeeting
GreaterLove
Apologiapro Poemate Meo
TheShow
MentalCases
Parableof the Old Men and the Young
Armsand the Boy
Anthemfor Doomed Youth
TheSend-off
Insensibility
Dulceet Decorum est
TheSentry
TheDead-Beat
Exposure
SpringOffensive
TheChances
S.I. W.
Futility
SmileSmileSmile
Conscious
ATerre
Wildwith all Regrets
Disabled
TheEnd

 

 

   ----====----

 

 

Introduction

In writingan Introduction such as this it is good to be brief.The poemsprinted in this book need no preliminary commendationsfrom me oranyone else.  The author has left us his own fragmentarybutimpressive Foreword; thisand his Poemscan speak for himbacked bythe authority of his experience as an infantry soldierandsustained by nobility and originality of style.  All that wasstrongestin WilfredOwen survives in his poems; any superficial impressionsof hispersonalityany records of his conversationbehaviourorappearancewould beirrelevant and unseemly.  The curiosity which demands suchmorselswould beincapable of appreciating the richness of his work.

Thediscussion of his experiments in assonance and dissonance(of which`Strange Meeting' is the finest example) may be leftto theprofessional critics of versethe majority of whomwill bemore preoccupied with such technical details than withtheprofound humanity of the self-revelation manifested insuchmagnificent lines as those at the end of his `Apologia pro PoemateMeo'and inthat other poem which he named `Greater Love'.

Theimportance of his contribution to the literature of the Warcannot bedecided by those wholike myselfboth admired him as a poetand valuedhim as a friend.  His conclusions about Warare soentirely in accordance with my own that I cannot attemptto judgehis work with any critical detachment.  I can only affirmthat hewas a man of absolute integrity of mind.  He never wrote hispoems(as somany war-poets did) to make the effect of a personal gesture.He pitiedothers; he did not pity himself.  In the last year of his lifeheattained a clear vision of what he needed to sayand these poemssurvivehim as his true and splendid testament.

WilfredOwen was born at Oswestry on 18th March 1893.  He was educatedat theBirkenhead Instituteand matriculated at London University in 1910.In 1913 heobtained a private tutorship near Bordeauxwhere heremained until 1915.  During this period he became acquaintedwith theeminent French poetLaurent Tailhadeto whom he showedhis earlyversesand from whom he received considerable encouragement.In 1915in spite of delicate healthhe joined the Artists' Rifles O.T.C.wasgazetted to the Manchester Regimentand served with their 2ndBattalionin Francefrom December 1916 to June 1917when he was invalided home.Fourteenmonths later he returned to the Western Front and servedwith thesame Battalionultimately commanding a Company.

He wasawarded the Military Cross for gallantry while taking partin someheavy fighting on 1st October.  He was killed on 4th November1918whileendeavouring to get his men across the Sambre Canal.

A monthbefore his death he wrote to his mother:  "My nerves arein perfectorder.  I came out again in order to help these boys;directlyby leading them as well as an officer can;indirectlyby watching their sufferings that I may speak of themas well asa pleader can."  Let his own words be his epitaph: --

             "Courage was mineand I had mystery;
              Wisdom was mineand I had mastery."

Siegfried Sassoon.

 

 

Preface

 

This bookis not about heroes.  English Poetry is not yet fit to speak
  ofthem.  Nor is it about deeds or landsnor anything about gloryhonour
 dominion or power
                             except War.
Above allthis book is not concerned with Poetry.
Thesubject of it is Warand the pity of War.
The Poetryis in the pity.
Yet theseelegies are not to this generation
       This is in no sense consolatory.

 

They maybe to the next.
All thepoet can do to-day is to warn.
That iswhy the true Poets must be truthful.
If Ithought the letter of this book would last
I mighthave used proper names; but if the spirit of it survives Prussia--
  myambition and those names will be content; for they will have
 achieved themselves fresher fields than Flanders.

 

 
    Note. --  This Preface was foundin an unfinished condition
                   among Wilfred Owen's papers.

 

 

StrangeMeeting

 

It seemedthat out of the battle I escaped
Down someprofound dull tunnellong since scooped
Throughgranites which Titanic wars had groined.
Yet alsothere encumbered sleepers groaned
Too fastin thought or death to be bestirred.
Thenas Iprobed themone sprang upand stared
Withpiteous recognition in fixed eyes
Liftingdistressful hands as if to bless.
And by hissmileI knew that sullen hall;
With athousand fears that vision's face was grained;
Yet noblood reached there from the upper ground
And noguns thumpedor down the flues made moan.
"Strangefriend" I said"Here is no cause to mourn."
"None"said the other"Save the undone years
Thehopelessness.  Whatever hope is yours
Was mylife also; I went hunting wild
After thewildest beauty in the world
Which liesnot calm in eyesor braided hair
But mocksthe steady running of the hour
And if itgrievesgrieves richlier than here.
For by myglee might many men have laughed
And of myweeping something has been left
Which mustdie now.  I mean the truth untold
The pityof warthe pity war distilled.
Now menwill go content with what we spoiled.
Ordiscontentboil bloodyand be spilled.
They willbe swift with swiftness of the tigress
None willbreak ranksthough nations trek from progress.
Couragewas mineand I had mystery;
Wisdom wasmineand I had mastery;
To missthe march of this retreating world
Into vaincitadels that are not walled.
Thenwhenmuch blood had clogged their chariot-wheels
I would goup and wash them from sweet wells
Even withtruths that lie too deep for taint.
I wouldhave poured my spirit without stint
But notthrough wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheadsof men have bled where no wounds were.
I am theenemy you killedmy friend.
I knew youin this dark; for so you frowned
Yesterdaythrough me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried;but my hands were loath and cold.
Let ussleep now . . ."

 

 
   (This poem was found among the author's papers.
   It ends on this strange note.)

 

 
 *Another Version*

 

Earth'swheels run oiled with blood.  Forget we that.
Let us liedown and dig ourselves in thought.
Beauty isyours and you have mastery
Wisdom ismineand I have mystery.
We twowill stay behind and keep our troth.
Let usforego men's minds that are brute's natures
Let us notsup the blood which some say nurtures
Be we notswift with swiftness of the tigress.
Let usbreak ranks from those who trek from progress.
Miss wethe march of this retreating world
Into oldcitadels that are not walled.
Let us lieout and hold the open truth.
Then whentheir blood hath clogged the chariot wheels
We will goup and wash them from deep wells.
Whatthough we sink from men as pitchers falling
Many shallraise us up to be their filling
Even fromwells we sunk too deep for war
And filledby brows that bled where no wounds were.

 

 
   *Alternative line --*

 

Even asOne who bled where no wounds were.

 

 

GreaterLove

 

Red lipsare not so red
  As the stained stones kissed by the English dead.
Kindnessof wooed and wooer
Seemsshame to their love pure.
O Loveyour eyes lose lure
  When I behold eyes blinded in my stead!

 

Yourslender attitude
  Trembles not exquisite like limbs knife-skewed
Rollingand rolling there
Where Godseems not to care;
Till thefierce Love they bear
  Cramps them in death's extreme decrepitude.

 

Your voicesings not so soft--
  Though even as wind murmuring through raftered loft--
Your dearvoice is not dear
Gentleand evening clear
As theirswhom none now hear
  Now earth has stopped their piteous mouths that coughed.

 

Heartyouwere never hot
  Nor largenor full like hearts made great with shot;
And thoughyour hand be pale
Paler areall which trail
Your crossthrough flame and hail:
  Weepyou may weepfor you may touch them not.

 

 

Apologiapro Poemate Meo

 

Itoosaw 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 itwas 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.

 

Itoohave dropped off fear --
   Behind the barragedead as my platoon
   And sailed my spirit surginglight and clear
   Past the entanglement where hopes lay strewn;

 

Andwitnessed exultation --
   Faces that used to curse mescowl for scowl
   Shine and lift up with passion of oblation
   Seraphic for an hour; though they were foul.

 

I havemade 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 Joywhose 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 haveperceived 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.

 

Neverthelessexcept 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 shallnot 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.

 

 
November1917.

 

 

TheShow

 

My soullooked down from a vague height with Death
Asunremembering how I rose or why
And saw asad landweak with sweats of dearth
Graycratered like the moon with hollow woe
And fittedwith great pocks and scabs of plaques.

 

Across itsbeardthat horror of harsh wire
Theremoved thin caterpillarsslowly uncoiled.
It seemedthey pushed themselves to be as plugs
Ofditcheswhere they writhed and shrivelledkilled.

 

By themhad slimy paths been trailed and scraped
Roundmyriad warts that might be little hills.

 

Fromgloom's last dregs these long-strung creatures crept
Andvanished out of dawn down hidden holes.

 

(And smellcame up from those foul openings
As out ofmouthsor deep wounds deepening.)

 

Ondithering feet upgatheredmore and more
Brownstrings towards strings of graywith bristling spines
Allmigrants from green fieldsintent on mire.

 

Those thatwere grayof more abundant spawns
Ramped onthe rest and ate them and were eaten.

 

I sawtheir bitten backs curveloopand straighten
I watchedthose agonies curlliftand flatten.

 

Whereatin terror what that sight might mean
I reeledand shivered earthward like a feather.

 

And Deathfell with melike a deepening moan.
And Hepicking a manner of wormwhich half had hid
Itsbruises in the earthbut crawled no further
Showed meits feetthe feet of many men
And thefresh-severed head of itmy head.

 

 

MentalCases

 

Who arethese?  Why sit they here in twilight?
Whereforerock theypurgatorial shadows
Droopingtongues from jaws that slob their relish
Baringteeth that leer like skulls' tongues wicked?
Stroke onstroke of pain-- but what slow panic
Gougedthese chasms round their fretted sockets?
Ever fromtheir hair and through their hand palms
Miseryswelters.  Surely we have perished
Sleepingand walk hell; but who these hellish?

 

-- Theseare men whose minds the Dead have ravished.
Memoryfingers in their hair of murders
Multitudinousmurders they once witnessed.
Wadingsloughs of flesh these helpless wander
Treadingblood from lungs that had loved laughter.
Alwaysthey must see these things and hear them
Batter ofguns and shatter of flying muscles
Carnageincomparable and human squander
Rucked toothick for these men's extrication.

 

Thereforestill their eyeballs shrink tormented
Back intotheir brainsbecause on their sense
Sunlightseems a bloodsmear; night comes blood-black;
Dawnbreaks open like a wound that bleeds afresh
-- Thustheir heads wear this hilarioushideous
Awfulfalseness of set-smiling corpses.
-- Thustheir hands are plucking at each other;
Picking atthe rope-knouts of their scourging;
Snatchingafter us who smote thembrother
Pawing uswho dealt them war and madness.

 

 

Parableof the Old Men and the Young

 

So Abramroseand clave the woodand went
And tookthe fire with himand a knife.
And asthey sojourned both of them together
Isaac thefirst-born spake and saidMy Father
Behold thepreparationsfire and iron
But wherethe lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abrambound the youth with belts and straps
Andbuilded parapets and trenches there
Andstretch\ed forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo!an angel called him out of heaven
SayingLay not thy hand upon the lad
Neither doanything to him.  Behold
A ramcaught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer theRam of Pride instead of him.
But theold man would not sobut slew his son. . . .

 

 

Armsand the Boy

 

Let theboy try along this bayonet-blade
How coldsteel isand keen with hunger of blood;
Blue withall malicelike a madman's flash;
And thinlydrawn with famishing for flesh.

 

Lend himto stroke these blindblunt bullet-heads
Which longto muzzle in the hearts of lads.
Or givehim cartridges of fine zinc teeth
Sharp withthe sharpness of grief and death.

 

For histeeth seem for laughing round an apple.
There lurkno claws behind his fingers supple;
And Godwill grow no talons at his heels
Norantlers through the thickness of his curls.

 

 

 
Anthemfor Doomed Youth

 

Whatpassing-bells for these who die as cattle?
  Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
  Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patterout their hasty orisons.
Nomockeries for them; no prayers nor bells
Nor anyvoice of mourning save the choirs--
Theshrilldemented choirs of wailing shells;
And buglescalling for them from sad shires.

 

Whatcandles may be held to speed them all?
  Not in the hands of boysbut in their eyes
Shallshine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
  The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Theirflowers the tenderness of patient minds
And eachslow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

 

 

TheSend-off

 

Down theclosedarkening lanes they sang their way
To thesiding-shed
And linedthe train with faces grimly gay.

 

Theirbreasts were stuck all white with wreath and spray
As men'saredead.

 

Dullporters watched themand a casual tramp
Stoodstaring hard
Sorry tomiss them from the upland camp.
Thenunmovedsignals noddedand a lamp
Winked tothe guard.

 

Sosecretlylike wrongs hushed-upthey went.
They werenot ours:
We neverheard to which front these were sent.

 

Nor thereif they yet mock what women meant
Who gavethem flowers.

 

Shall theyreturn to beatings of great bells
In wildtrainloads?
A fewafewtoo few for drums and yells
May creepbacksilentto still village wells
Uphalf-known roads.

 

 

Insensibility

 

 

   I

 

Happy aremen who yet before they are killed
Can lettheir veins run cold.
Whom nocompassion fleers
Or makestheir feet
Sore onthe alleys cobbled with their brothers.
The frontline withers
But theyare troops who fadenot flowers
For poets'tearful fooling:
Mengapsfor filling
Losses whomight have fought
Longer;but no one bothers.

 

 
   II

 

And somecease feeling
Eventhemselves or for themselves.
Dullnessbest solves
The teaseand doubt of shelling
AndChance's strange arithmetic
Comessimpler than the reckoning of their shilling.
They keepno check on Armies' decimation.

 

 
   III

 

Happy arethese who lose imagination:
They haveenough to carry with ammunition.
Theirspirit drags no pack.
Their oldwounds save with cold can not more ache.
Havingseen all things red
Their eyesare rid
Of thehurt of the colour of blood for ever.
Andterror's first constriction over
Theirhearts remain small drawn.
Theirsenses in some scorching cautery of battle
Now longsince ironed
Can laughamong the dyingunconcerned.

 

 
   IV

 

Happy thesoldier homewith not a notion
Howsomewhereevery dawnsome men attack
And manysighs are drained.
Happy thelad whose mind was never trained:
His daysare worth forgetting more than not.
He singsalong the march
Which wemarch taciturnbecause of dusk
The longforlornrelentless trend
Fromlarger day to huger night.

 

 
   V

 

We wisewho with a thought besmirch
Blood overall our soul
How shouldwe see our task
Butthrough his blunt and lashless eyes?
Aliveheis not vital overmuch;
Dyingnotmortal overmuch;
Nor sadnor proud
Norcurious at all.
He cannottell
Old men'splacidity from his.

 

 
   VI

 

But cursedare dullards whom no cannon stuns
That theyshould be as stones.
Wretchedare theyand mean
Withpaucity that never was simplicity.
By choicethey made themselves immune
To pityand whatever mourns in man
Before thelast sea and the hapless stars;
Whatevermourns when many leave these shores;
Whatevershares
Theeternal reciprocity of tears.

 

 

Dulceet Decorum est

 

Bentdoublelike old beggars under sacks
Knock-kneedcoughing like hagswe cursed through sludge
Till onthe haunting flares we turned our backs
Andtowards our distant rest began to trudge.
Menmarched asleep.  Many had lost their boots
But limpedonblood-shod.  All went lameall blind;
Drunk withfatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Ofgas-shells dropping softly behind.

 

Gas! GAS!  Quickboys! --  An ecstasy of fumbling
Fittingthe clumsy helmets just in time
Butsomeone still was yelling out and stumbling
Andflound'ring like a man in fire or lime. --
Dimthrough the misty panes and thick green light
As under agreen seaI saw him drowning.

 

In all mydreams before my helpless sight
He plungesat megutteringchokingdrowning.

 

If in somesmothering dreamsyou too could pace
Behind thewagon that we flung him in
And watchthe white eyes writhing in his face
Hishanging facelike a devil's sick of sin
If youcould hearat every joltthe blood
Comegargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Bitter asthe cud
Of vileincurable sores on innocent tongues--
My friendyou would not tell with such high zest
Tochildren ardent for some desperate glory
The oldLie:  Dulce et decorum est
Pro patriamori.

 

 

TheSentry

 

We'd foundan old Boche dug-outand he knew
And gaveus hellfor shell on frantic shell
Hammeredon topbut never quite burst through.
Rainguttering down in waterfalls of slime
Kept slushwaist highthat rising hour by hour
Choked upthe steps too thick with clay to climb.
What murkof air remained stank oldand sour
With fumesof whizz-bangsand the smell of men
Who'dlived there yearsand left their curse in the den
If nottheir corpses. . . .
                            There we herded from the blast
Ofwhizz-bangsbut one found our door at last.
Buffetingeyes and breathsnuffing the candles.
And thud!flump! thud! down the steep steps came thumping
Andsplashing in the flooddeluging muck --
Thesentry's body; then his riflehandles
Of oldBoche bombsand mud in ruck on ruck.
We dredgedhim upfor killeduntil he whined
"Osirmy eyes -- I'm blind -- I'm blindI'm blind!"
CoaxingIheld a flame against his lids
And saidif he could see the least blurred light
He was notblind; in time he'd get all right.
"Ican't" he sobbed.  Eyeballshuge-bulged like squids
Watch mydreams still; but I forgot him there
In postingnext for dutyand sending a scout
To beg astretcher somewhereand floundering about
To otherposts under the shrieking air.

 

Thoseother wretcheshow they bled and spewed
And onewho would have drowned himself for good--
I try notto remember these things now.
Let dreadhark back for one word only:  how
Half-listeningto that sentry's moans and jumps
And thewild chattering of his broken teeth
Renewedmost horribly whenever crumps
Pummelledthe roof and slogged the air beneath --
Throughthe dense dinI saywe heard him shout
"Isee your lights!"  But ours had long died out.

 

 

TheDead-Beat

 

Hedropped-- more sullenly than wearily
Lay stupidlike a codheavy like meat
And noneof us could kick him to his feet;
Justblinked at my revolverblearily;
-- Didn'tappear to know a war was on
Or see theblasted trench at which he stared.
"I'lldo 'em in" he whined"If this hand's spared
I'llmurder themI will."

 

                           A low voice said
"It'sBlightyp'rapshe sees; his pluck's all gone
Dreamingof all the valiantthat AREN'T dead:
Boldunclessmiling ministerially;
Maybe hisbrave young wifegetting her fun
In somenew homeimproved materially.
It's notthese stiffs have crazed him; nor the Hun."

 

We senthim down at lastout of the way.
Unwounded;-- stout ladtoobefore that strafe.
Malingering? Stretcher-bearers winked"Not half!"

 

Next day Iheard the Doc.'s well-whiskied laugh:
"Thatscum you sent last night soon died.  Hooray!"

 

 

Exposure
 

 

   I

 

Our brainsachein the merciless iced east winds that knife us . . .
Wearied wekeep awake because the night is silent . . .
Lowdrooping flares confuse our memory of the salient . . .
Worried bysilencesentries whispercuriousnervous
       But nothing happens.

 

Watchingwe hear the mad gusts tugging on the wire.
Liketwitching agonies of men among its brambles.
Northwardincessantlythe flickering gunnery rumbles
Far offlike a dull rumour of some other war.
       What are we doing here?

 

Thepoignant misery of dawn begins to grow . . .
We onlyknow war lastsrain soaksand clouds sag stormy.
Dawnmassing in the east her melancholy army
Attacksonce more in ranks on shivering ranks of gray
       But nothing happens.

 

Suddensuccessive flights of bullets streak the silence.
Lessdeadly than the air that shudders black with snow
Withsidelong flowing flakes that flockpause and renew
We watchthem wandering up and down the wind's nonchalance
       But nothing happens.

 

 
   II

 

Paleflakes with lingering stealth come feeling for our faces --
We cringein holesback on forgotten dreamsand staresnow-dazed
Deep intograssier ditches.  So we drowsesun-dozed
Litteredwith blossoms trickling where the blackbird fusses.
       Is it that we are dying?

 

Slowly ourghosts drag home:  glimpsing the sunk fires glozed
Withcrusted dark-red jewels; crickets jingle there;
For hoursthe innocent mice rejoice:  the house is theirs;
Shuttersand doors all closed:  on us the doors are closed --
       We turn back to our dying.

 

Since webelieve not otherwise can kind fires burn;
Now eversuns smile true on childor fieldor fruit.
For God'sinvincible spring our love is made afraid;
Thereforenot loathwe lie out here; therefore were born
       For love of God seems dying.

 

To-nightHis frost will fasten on this mud and us
Shrivellingmany hands and puckering foreheads crisp.
Theburying-partypicks and shovels in their shaking grasp
Pause overhalf-known faces.  All their eyes are ice
       But nothing happens.

 

 

SpringOffensive

 

Haltedagainst the shade of a last hill
They fedandlying easywere at ease
Andfinding comfortable chests and knees
Carelesslyslept.  But many there stood still
To facethe starkblank sky beyond the ridge
Knowingtheir feet had come to the end of the world.

 

Marvellingthey stoodand watched the long grass swirled
By the Maybreezemurmurous with wasp and midge
For thoughthe summer oozed into their veins
Like theinjected drug for their bones' pains
Sharp ontheir souls hung the imminent line of grass
Fearfullyflashed the sky's mysterious glass.

 

Hour afterhour they ponder the warm field --
And thefar valley behindwhere the buttercups
Hadblessed with gold their slow boots coming up
Where eventhe little brambles would not yield
Butclutched and clung to them like sorrowing hands;
Theybreathe like trees unstirred.

 

Till likea cold gust thrilled the little word
At whicheach body and its soul begird
Andtighten them for battle.  No alarms
Of buglesno high flagsno clamorous haste --
Only alift and flare of eyes that faced
The sunlike a friend with whom their love is done.
O largershone that smile against the sun--
Mightierthan his whose bounty these have spurned.

 

Sosoonthey topped the hilland raced together
Over anopen stretch of herb and heather
Exposed. And instantly the whole sky burned
With furyagainst them; and soft sudden cups
Opened inthousands for their blood; and the green slopes
Chasmedand steepened sheer to infinite space.

 

Of themwho running on that last high place
Leapt toswift unseen bulletsor went up
On the hotblast and fury of hell's upsurge
Or plungedand fell away past this world's verge
Some sayGod caught them even before they fell.

 

But whatsay such as from existence' brink
Venturedbut drave too swift to sink.
The fewwho rushed in the body to enter hell
And thereout-fiending all its fiends and flames
Withsuperhuman inhumanities
Long-famousgloriesimmemorial shames --
Andcrawling slowly backhave by degrees
Regainedcool peaceful air in wonder --
Why speakthey not of comrades that went under?

 

 

TheChances

 

I mind as'ow the night afore that show
Us fivegot talking-- we was in the know
"Overthe top to-morrer; boyswe're for it
First wavewe arefirst ruddy wave; that's tore it."
"Ahwell" says Jimmy-- an' 'e's seen some scrappin' --
"Thereain't more nor five things as can 'appen;
Ye getknocked out; else wounded -- bad or cushy;
Scuppered;or nowt except yer feeling mushy."

 

One of usgot the knock-outblown to chops.
T'otherwas hurtlikelosin' both 'is props.
An' oneto use the word of 'ypocrites
'Ad themisfortoon to be took by Fritz.
Now meIwasn't scratchedpraise God Almighty
(Thoughnext time please I'll thank 'im for a blighty)
But pooryoung Jim'e's livin' an' 'e's not;
'Ereckoned 'e'd five chancesan' 'e's 'ad;
'E'swoundedkilledand pris'nerall the lot --
The ruddylot 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
   Disciplineand orderliness of life
   I cannot mourn him."
                            W. B. Yeats.

 

 

Pattinggoodbyedoubtless they told the lad
He'dalways show the Hun a brave man's face;
Fatherwould sooner him dead than in disgrace--
Was proudto see him goingayeand glad.
Perhapshis Mother whimpered how she'd fret
Until hegot a nicesafe wound to nurse.
Sisterswould wish girls too could shootchargecurse. . .
Brothers-- would send his favourite cigarette
Each weekmonth after monththey wrote the same
Thinkinghim sheltered in some Y.M. Hut
Where oncean hour a bullet missed its aim
And missesteased the hunger of his brain.
His eyesgrew old with wincingand his hand
Recklesswith ague.  Courage leakedas sand
From thebest sandbags after years of rain.
But neverleavewoundfevertrench-footshock
Untrappedthe wretch.  And death seemed still withheld
Fortorture of lying machinally shelled
At thepleasure of this world's Powers who'd run amok.

 

He'd seenmen shoot their handson night patrol
Theirpeople never knew.  Yet they were vile.
"Deathsooner than dishonourthat's the style!"
So Fathersaid.

 

                One dawnour wire patrol
Carriedhim.  This timeDeath had not missed.
We coulddo nothingbut wipe his bleeding cough.
Could itbe accident? --  Rifles go off . . .
Notsniped?  No.  (Later they found the English ball.)

 

It was thereasoned crisis of his soul.
Againstthe fires that would not burn him whole
But kepthim for death's perjury and scoff
And life'shalf-promisingand both their riling.

 

With himthey buried the muzzle his teeth had kissed
Andtruthfully wrote the Mother "Tim died smiling."

 

 

Futility

 

Move himinto the sun --
Gently itstouch awoke him once
At homewhispering of fields unsown.
Always itwoke himeven in France
Until thismorning and this snow.
Ifanything might rouse him now
The kindold sun will know.

 

Think howit wakes the seeds --
Wokeoncethe clays of a cold star.
Are limbsso dear-achievedare sides
Full-nerved-- still warm-- too hard to stir?
Was it forthis the clay grew tall?
-- O whatmade fatuous sunbeams toil
To breakearth's sleep at all?

 

 

SmileSmileSmile

 

Head tolimp headthe sunk-eyed wounded scanned
Yesterday'sMail; the casualties (typed small)
And(large) Vast Booty from our Latest Haul.
Alsotheyread of Cheap Homesnot yet planned;
Forsaidthe paper"When this war is done
The men'sfirst instinct will be making homes.
Meanwhiletheir foremost need is aerodromes
It beingcertain war has just begun.
Peacewould do wrong to our undying dead--
The sonswe offered might regret they died
If we gotnothing lasting in their stead.
We must besolidly indemnified.
Though allbe worthy Victory which all bought
We rulerssitting in this ancient spot
Wouldwrong our very selves if we forgot
Thegreatest glory will be theirs who fought
Who keptthis nation in integrity."
Nation?--  The half-limbed readers did not chafe
But smiledat one another curiously
Likesecret men who know their secret safe.
This isthe thing they know and never speak
ThatEngland one by one had fled to France
(Not manyelsewhere now save under France).
Picturesof these broad smiles appear each week
And peoplein whose voice real feeling rings
Say: How they smile!  They're happy nowpoor things.

 

 
23rdSeptember 1918.

 

 

Conscious

 

Hisfingers wakeand flutter up the bed.
His eyescome open with a pull of will
Helped bythe yellow may-flowers by his head.
Ablind-cord drawls across the window-sill . . .
How smooththe floor of the ward is! what a rug!
And who'sthat talkingsomewhere out of sight?
Why arethey laughing?  What's inside that jug?
"Nurse! Doctor!"  "Yes; all rightall right."

 

But suddendusk bewilders all the air --
Thereseems no time to want a drink of water.
Nurselooks so far away.  And everywhere
Music androses burnt through crimson slaughter.
Cold;cold; he's cold; and yet so hot:
Andthere's no light to see the voices by --
No time todreamand ask -- he knows not what.

 

 

ATerre

 

   (Being the philosophy of many Soldiers.)

 

Sit on thebed; I'm blindand three parts shell
Becareful; can't shake hands now; never shall.
Both armshave mutinied against me -- brutes.
My fingersfidget like ten idle brats.

 

I tried topeg out soldierly -- no use!
One diesof war like any old disease.
Thisbandage feels like pennies on my eyes.
I have mymedals? --  Discs to make eyes close.
Myglorious ribbons? --  Ripped from my own back
In scarletshreds.  (That's for your poetry book.)

 

A shortlife and a merry onemy brick!
We used tosay we'd hate to live dead old--
Yet now .. . I'd willingly be puffybald
Andpatriotic.  Buffers catch from boys
At leastthe jokes hurled at them.  I suppose
Little I'dever teach a sonbut hitting
Shootingwarhuntingall the arts of hurting.
Wellthat's what I learnt-- thatand making money.
Your fiftyyears ahead seem none too many?
Tell mehow long I've got?  God!  For one year
To helpmyself to nothing more than air!
OneSpring!  Is one too good to sparetoo long?
Springwind would work its own way to my lung
And growme legs as quick as lilac-shoots.
Myservant's lamedbut listen how he shouts!
When I'mlugged outhe'll still be good for that.
Here inthis mummy-caseyou knowI've thought
How well Imight have swept his floors for ever
I'd ask nonight off when the bustle's over
Enjoyingso the dirt.  Who's prejudiced
Against agrimed hand when his own's quite dust
Less livethan specks that in the sun-shafts turn
Less warmthan dust that mixes with arms' tan?
I'd loveto be a sweepnowblack as Town
Yesor amuckman.  Must I be his load?

 

O LifeLifelet me breathe-- a dug-out rat!
Not worsethan ours the existences rats lead --
Nosingalong at night down some safe vat
They finda shell-proof home before they rot.
Dead menmay envy living mites in cheese
Or goodgerms even.  Microbes have their joys
Andsubdivideand never come to death
Certainlyflowers have the easiest time on earth.
"Ishall be one with natureherband stone."
Shelleywould tell me.  Shelley would be stunned;
Thedullest Tommy hugs that fancy now.
"Pushingup daisies" is their creedyou know.
To grainthengo my fatto buds my sap
For allthe usefulness there is in soap.
D'youthink the Boche will ever stew man-soup?
Some dayno doubtif . . .
                             Friendbe very sure
I shall bebetter off with plants that share
Morepeaceably the meadow and the shower.
Soft rainswill touch me-- as they could touch once
Andnothing but the sun shall make me ware.
Your gunsmay crash around me.  I'll not hear;
Orif IwinceI shall not know I wince.
Don't takemy soul's poor comfort for your jest.
Soldiersmay grow a soul when turned to fronds
But herethe thing's best left at home with friends.

 

My soul'sa little griefgrappling your chest
To climbyour throat on sobs; easily chased
On othersighs and wiped by fresher winds.

 

Carry mycrying spirit till it's weaned
To dowithout what blood remained these wounds.

 

 

Wildwith all Regrets

 

   (Another version of "A Terre".)

 

     To Siegfried Sassoon

 

 
My armshave mutinied against me -- brutes!
My fingersfidget like ten idle brats
My back'sbeen stiff for hoursdamned hours.
Deathnever gives his squad a Stand-at-ease.
I can'tread.  There:  it's no use.  Take your book.
A shortlife and a merry onemy buck!
We saidwe'd hate to grow dead old.  But now
Not tolive old seems awful:  not to renew
My boyhoodwith my boysand teach 'em hitting
Shootingand hunting-- all the arts of hurting!
-- Wellthat's what I learnt.  Thatand making money.
Your fiftyyears in store seem none too many;
But I'vefive minutes.  God!  For just two years
To helpmyself to this good air of yours!
OneSpring!  Is one too hard to spare?  Too long?
Spring airwould find its own way to my lung
And growme legs as quick as lilac-shoots.

 

Yesthere's the orderly.  He'll change the sheets
When I'mlugged outohcouldn't I do that?
Here inthis coffin of a bedI've thought
I'd liketo kneel and sweep his floors for ever--
And ask nonights off when the bustle's over
For I'denjoy the dirt; who's prejudiced
Against agrimed hand when his own's quite dust--
Less livethan specks that in the sun-shafts turn?
Dear dust-- in roomson roadson faces' tan!
I'd loveto be a sweep's boyblack as Town;
Yesor amuckman.  Must I be his load?
A fleawould do.  If one chap wasn't bloody
Or wentstone-coldI'd find another body.

 

Which Ishan't manage now.  Unless it's yours.
I shallstay in youfriendfor some few hours.
You'llfeel my heavy spirit chill your chest
And climbyour throat on sobsuntil it's chased
On sighsand wiped from off your lips by wind.

 

I think onyour rich breathingbrotherI'll be weaned
To dowithout what blood remained me from my wound.

 

 
5thDecember 1917.

 

 

Disabled

 

He sat ina wheeled chairwaiting for dark
Andshivered in his ghastly suit of grey
Leglesssewn short at elbow.  Through the park
Voices ofboys rang saddening like a hymn
Voices ofplay and pleasure after day
Tillgathering sleep had mothered them from him.

 

About thistime Town used to swing so gay
Whenglow-lamps budded in the light-blue trees
And girlsglanced lovelier as the air grew dim
-- In theold timesbefore he threw away his knees.
Now hewill never feel again how slim
Girls'waists areor how warm their subtle hands
All ofthem touch him like some queer disease.

 

There wasan artist silly for his face
For it wasyounger than his youthlast year.
Now he isold; his back will never brace;
He's losthis colour very far from here
Poured itdown shell-holes till the veins ran dry
And halfhis lifetime lapsed in the hot race
And leapof purple spurted from his thigh.
One timehe liked a bloodsmear down his leg
After thematches carried shoulder-high.
It wasafter footballwhen he'd drunk a peg
He thoughthe'd better join.  He wonders why . . .
Someonehad said he'd look a god in kilts.

 

That'swhy; and maybetooto please his Meg
Ayethatwas itto please the giddy jilts
He askedto join.  He didn't have to beg;
Smilingthey wrote his lie; aged nineteen years.
Germans hescarcely thought of; and no fears
Of Fearcame yet.  He thought of jewelled hilts
Fordaggers in plaid socks; of smart salutes;
And careof arms; and leave; and pay arrears;
Esprit decorps; and hints for young recruits.
And soonhe was drafted out with drums and cheers.

 

Somecheered him homebut not as crowds cheer Goal.
Only asolemn man who brought him fruits
Thankedhim; and then inquired about his soul.
Nowhewill spend a few sick years in Institutes
And dowhat things the rules consider wise
And takewhatever pity they may dole.
To-nighthe noticed how the women's eyes
Passedfrom him to the strong men that were whole.
How coldand late it is!  Why don't they come
And puthim into bed?  Why don't they come?

 

 

TheEnd

 

After theblast of lightning from the east
Theflourish of loud cloudsthe Chariot throne
After thedrums of time have rolled and ceased
And fromthe bronze west long retreat is blown

 

Shall Liferenew these bodies?  Of a truth
All deathwill he annulall tears assuage?
Or fillthese void veins full again with youth
And washwith an immortal water age?

 

When I doask white Agehe saith not so--
"Myhead hangs weighed with snow."
And when Ihearken to the Earth she saith
My fieryheart sinks aching.  It is death.
Mineancient scars shall not be glorified
Nor mytitanic tears the seas be dried."

 

 

NOTES

 

Blighty: Englandor a wound that would take a soldier home (to England).

S. I. W.: Self Inflicted Wound.

Parable ofthe Old Men and the Young:  A retold story from the Biblebut with adifferent ending.  The phrase "Abram bound the youthwith beltsand straps" refers to the youth who went to warwith alltheir equipment belted and strapped on.  Other versions of thispoemhave anadditional line.

Dulce etDecorum est:  The phrase "Dulce et decorum est pro patriamori"is a Latinphrase from Horaceand translates literally something like"Sweetand proper it is for your country (fatherland) to die."The poemwas originally intended to be addressed to an authorwho hadwritten war poems for children.  "Dim through the mistypanes . . ."should beunderstood by anyone who has worn a gas mask.

 

 

 




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