HAPPY BIRTHDAY – Wilfred Owen, born 18 March 1893
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.
He was one of the major poets of World War I and his story is made especially sad because he died in the very last week of the war. His mother received the dreaded telegram as the Armistice Day celebrations were taking place in the streets outside. Most of his poems were published posthumously.
Wilfred Owen is a character in Pat Barker’s wonderful series of novels, the Regeneration trilogy. He was friendly with Siegfried Sassoon and was greatly influenced by Sassoon while they were in Craiglockhart Hospital together during the war. I’ve visited Craiglokhart and they have a nice little museum about the war poets and their stay there.
Wilfred Owen, like other young poets, set off for the trenches believing war would soon be over. His idealism was soon shattered and he wrote so vividly of the horror and futility of war. His Dulce et Decorum Est shows up that misplaced idealism and patriotism for what it was. If only more people read the poems of Wilfred Owen, we might be able to get rid of armies and put an end to wars!
Wilfred Owen was killed in action on 4 November 1918, exactly one week (almost to the hour) before the signing of the Armistice which ended the war. He was 25 years old.
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