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Friday Poem: Wilfred Owen

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Wilfred Owen was an English poet and soldier. He is regarded as the greatest poet of the First World War, known for his verse about the horrors of trench and gas warfare. His widely known works are Dulce et Decorum est, Insensibility, Anthem for Doomed Youth, and Strange Meeting.

Owen had been writing poetry even before the war started, dating his poetic beginnings to a stay at Broxton by the Hill when he was ten years old. Much of his early writing and poetry were influenced by the Romantic poets Keats and Shelley.

On the 4th of November 1918, Owen was killed, exactly a week before the signing of the Armistice, which ended the war. He is buried at Ors Communal Cemetery, in northern France. The inscription on his gravestone, is based on a quote from his poetry: "SHALL LIFE RENEW THESE BODIES? OF A TRUTH ALL DEATH WILL HE ANNUL" W.O.

To commemorate Wilfred’s life and poetry, The Wilfred Owen Association was formed in 1989. The Association has established permanent public memorials in Shrewsbury and Oswestry. In addition to readings, talks, visits and performances, it promotes and encourages exhibitions, conferences, awareness and appreciation of Owen's poetry. The Association presents a Poetry Award to honor a poet for a sustained body of work that includes memorable war poems.

 

To celebrate the late poet's birthday, which will take place on Sunday, we're taking a look at two of his best-known works -

 

  1. 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 goodbyes.

      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.

 

 

  1. 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 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 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.

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