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Wilfred Owen - Collected Poems Book Review

(b. Oswestry, England, March 18th, 1893
d. Sambre-Oise Canal, France, November 4th, 1918)


What can be said of the great man? Lucky, certainly not. Killed in the final week of the war that was to end all wars, it has to be said that Wilfred was ahead of his time.

In a time when little children in Liverpool were humiliated, for showing fear during German bombing raids, by teachers presenting them with white feathers, Owen, Sassoon, Brooke, and Binyon were putting war in its proper perspective.

They saw the hell from first hand experience, and wrote about it in a way that was not ambiguous like Wordsworth's 'Prelude'. The war was sick, a sick waste, and they said so.

The War Poets started the 20th Century anti-war movement as a strong entity. We are in their debt.

Owen must have been a troubled man for a long while. He was in no fit state to fight twice*, but felt compelled to go back to his men, so he was in a stronger position to voice his protest - and speak for his comrades, and also to protect them as well as he could.

Like Brooke he never saw the war's end. Wilfred Owen died on November 4th, 1918. He was only 25, dying at the same age as his inspiration, Keats.

- Paul Rance/

* Wilfred suffered from a nervous disorder, after being left alongside the shattered body of a friend.

Previously published in Peace & Freedom, Spring, 1989.


What passing bells for those 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 good-byes.
  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.


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 tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped 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

"It was not despair, or terror, it was more terrible than terror, for it was a blindfold look, and without expression, like a dead rabbit's. It will never be painted, and no actor will ever seize it." An extract from a letter by Wilfred to his mother, describing the look on the faces of British troops in France in 1917."

DISABLED (extract)

To-night he noticed how the women's eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.


So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold!
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

WILFRED OWEN RELATED BOOKS AVAILABLE FROM AMAZON links are in blue, links are in red. Image links lead to

Wilfred Owen: A New Biography Wilfred Owen: A New Biography
Dominic Hibberd
Wilfred Owen: A New Biography
Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen
Wilfred Owen; Paperback
Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen
Poets of the Great War (Unabridged)
Audio Download
The Works of Wilfred Owen The Works of Wilfred Owen
Wilfred Owen; Paperback
The Works of Wilfred Owen
Wilfred Owen: Selected Letters
Wilfred Owen; Paperback
Wilfred Owen: Selected Letters
Wilfred Owen (Border Lines (Bridgend, Wales).)
Merryn Williams; Paperback
Wilfred Owen (Border Lines (Bridgend, Wales).)

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