Wilfred Owen, a renowned World War I poet, is considered exceptional for several reasons. Owen’s poetry is deeply rooted in his own experiences as a soldier during World War I. Having served on the front lines, he wrote with a profound understanding of the harsh realities of war. This authenticity gives his work a raw and genuine quality that resonates with readers.
Owen’s poetry is known for its vivid and poignant imagery. He used powerful and evocative language to convey the horrors of war, making his poetry emotionally charged and impactful. His descriptions of trench warfare, gas attacks, and the psychological toll on soldiers are particularly vivid. I can’t think of any soldier in modern times that can write the way that he did.
Owen was a staunch critic of the glorification of war and the romanticized notions of heroism. His poems often challenge the conventional narratives surrounding war and expose the physical and psychological trauma suffered by soldiers. This anti-war stance set him apart from many other poets of his time. He was not only a powerful storyteller but also a technically skilled poet. He experimented with form and meter, using techniques such as pararhyme to create a sense of dissonance and unease in his poems. His mastery of poetic devices enhances the impact of his message. This is something that you do not see today. Most poetry written by modern military poets are quite amateurish.
His poetry goes beyond personal experience and serves as a broader commentary on the social and political issues of his time. He addressed themes such as the dehumanizing effects of war, the impact on civilian populations, and the failures of leadership. Owen humanized the soldiers in his poetry, emphasizing their vulnerability, fear, and the toll war took on their mental well-being. This approach challenged prevailing perceptions of war heroes and presented a more nuanced and empathetic portrayal of those who served.
Wilfred Owen’s impact extends beyond his own time. His work has influenced subsequent generations of poets, writers, and artists, contributing to a broader understanding of the human cost of war. Many consider him a pioneer in expressing the emotional and psychological toll of combat.
To the siding-shed,
And lined the train with faces grimly gay.Their breasts were stuck all white with wreath and spray
As men’s are, dead.Dull porters watched them, and a casual tramp
Stood staring hard,
Sorry to miss them from the upland camp.
Then, unmoved, signals nodded, and a lamp
Winked to the guard.So secretly, like wrongs hushed-up, they went.
They were not ours:
We never heard to which front these were sent.Nor there if they yet mock what women meant
Who gave them flowers.Shall they return to beatings of great bells
In wild trainloads?
A few, a few, too few for drums and yells,
May creep back, silent, to still village wells
Up half-known roads.
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries 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.
Be careful; can’t shake hands now; never shall.
Both arms have mutinied against me — brutes.
My fingers fidget like ten idle brats.I tried to peg out soldierly — no use!
One dies of war like any old disease.
This bandage feels like pennies on my eyes.
I have my medals? — Discs to make eyes close.
My glorious ribbons? — Ripped from my own back
In scarlet shreds. (That’s for your poetry book.)A short life and a merry one, my brick!
We used to say we’d hate to live dead old, —
Yet now . . . I’d willingly be puffy, bald,
And patriotic. Buffers catch from boys
At least the jokes hurled at them. I suppose
Little I’d ever teach a son, but hitting,
Shooting, war, hunting, all the arts of hurting.
Well, that’s what I learnt, — that, and making money.
Your fifty years ahead seem none too many?
Tell me how long I’ve got? God! For one year
To help myself to nothing more than air!
One Spring! Is one too good to spare, too long?
Spring wind would work its own way to my lung,
And grow me legs as quick as lilac-shoots.
My servant’s lamed, but listen how he shouts!
When I’m lugged out, he’ll still be good for that.
Here in this mummy-case, you know, I’ve thought
How well I might have swept his floors for ever,
I’d ask no night off when the bustle’s over,
Enjoying so the dirt. Who’s prejudiced
Against a grimed hand when his own’s quite dust,
Less live than specks that in the sun-shafts turn,
Less warm than dust that mixes with arms’ tan?
I’d love to be a sweep, now, black as Town,
Yes, or a muckman. Must I be his load?O Life, Life, let me breathe, — a dug-out rat!
Not worse than ours the existences rats lead —
Nosing along at night down some safe vat,
They find a shell-proof home before they rot.
Dead men may envy living mites in cheese,
Or good germs even. Microbes have their joys,
And subdivide, and never come to death,
Certainly flowers have the easiest time on earth.
“I shall be one with nature, herb, and stone.”
Shelley would tell me. Shelley would be stunned;
The dullest Tommy hugs that fancy now.
“Pushing up daisies,” is their creed, you know.
To grain, then, go my fat, to buds my sap,
For all the usefulness there is in soap.
D’you think the Boche will ever stew man-soup?
Some day, no doubt, if . . .
Friend, be very sure
I shall be better off with plants that share
More peaceably the meadow and the shower.
Soft rains will touch me, — as they could touch once,
And nothing but the sun shall make me ware.
Your guns may crash around me. I’ll not hear;
Or, if I wince, I shall not know I wince.
Don’t take my soul’s poor comfort for your jest.
Soldiers may grow a soul when turned to fronds,
But here the thing’s best left at home with friends.My soul’s a little grief, grappling your chest,
To climb your throat on sobs; easily chased
On other sighs and wiped by fresher winds.Carry my crying spirit till it’s weaned
To do without what blood remained these wounds.
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