What If?

Friday 13 June 2014

 This weekend on A Poetry Show, we’re going to be playing poetry from war poet Wilfred Owen.

Owen died one week before the First World War ended. He had published some poems before he died but the main body of work we know today came from the efforts of Owen’s fellow poet, Siegfried Sassoon, collating and compiling the pages found in Owen’s effects. This was the preface that Sassoon found amongst Owen’s possessions.

This book is not about heroes.  English Poetry is not yet fit to speak of them.  Nor is it about deeds or lands, nor anything about glory, honour, dominion or power,
                                     except War.
       Above all, this book is not concerned with Poetry.
       The subject of it is War, and the pity of War.
       The Poetry is in the pity.
       Yet these elegies are not to this generation,
               This is in no sense consolatory.

       They may be to the next.
       All the poet can do to-day is to warn.
       That is why the true Poets must be truthful.

       If I thought the letter of this book would last, I might have used proper names; but if the spirit of it survives Prussia,--my ambition and those names will be content; for they will have achieved themselves fresher fields than Flanders.

Perhaps one of the most maddening aspects of Owen’s poetry is that it was invested so much in the war that eventually killed him. It’s understandable that he should write about the horrors and atrocities that surrounded him. But, given his ability to convey a clarity of sentiment, one has to wonder what poetry he might have produced if he had been able to write during peacetime.

Obviously, he was demonstrating the truthfulness of the true poet. But, still, it would have been interesting to see what insights could have been provided from the author of works such as Dulce et Decorum Est, Anthem for Doomed Youth and the following, seldom visited sonnet: The End.

The End
After the blast of lightning from the east,
The flourish of loud clouds, the Chariot throne,
After the drums of time have rolled and ceased
And from the bronze west long retreat is blown,

Shall Life renew these bodies?  Of a truth
All death will he annul, all tears assuage?
Or fill these void veins full again with youth
And wash with an immortal water age?

When I do ask white Age, he saith not so,--
"My head hangs weighed with snow."
And when I hearken to the Earth she saith
My fiery heart sinks aching.  It is death.
Mine ancient scars shall not be glorified
Nor my titanic tears the seas be dried."
Wilfred Owen

Join us on Saturday night on A Poetry Show to hear more work from this extraordinary poet.

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