“Disabled,” Wilfred Owen

He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark,
And shivered in his ghastly suit of grey,
Legless, sewn short at elbow.  Through the park
Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn,
Voices of play and pleasure after day,
Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him.

About this time Town used to swing so gay
When glow-lamps budded in the light-blue trees
And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim,
—In the old times, before he threw away his knees.
Now he will never feel again how slim
Girls’ waists are, or how warm their subtle hands,
All of them touch him like some queer disease.

There was an artist silly for his face,
For it was younger than his youth, last year.
Now he is old; his back will never brace;
He’s lost his colour very far from here,
Poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry,
And half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race,
And leap of purple spurted from his thigh.
One time he liked a bloodsmear down his leg,
After the matches carried shoulder-high.
It was after football, when he’d drunk a peg,
He thought he’d better join.  He wonders why . . .
Someone had said he’d look a god in kilts.

That’s why; and maybe, too, to please his Meg,
Aye, that was it, to please the giddy jilts,
He asked to join.  He didn’t have to beg;
Smiling they wrote his lie; aged nineteen years.
Germans he scarcely thought of; and no fears
Of Fear came yet.  He thought of jewelled hilts
For daggers in plaid socks; of smart salutes;
And care of arms; and leave; and pay arrears;
Esprit de corps; and hints for young recruits.
And soon, he was drafted out with drums and cheers.

Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal.
Only a solemn man who brought him fruits
Thanked him; and then inquired about his soul.
Now, he will spend a few sick years in Institutes,
And do what things the rules consider wise,
And take whatever pity they may dole.
To-night he noticed how the women’s eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
How cold and late it is!  Why don’t they come
And put him into bed?  Why don’t they come?

– Wilfred Owen, “Disabled”

“Wild with all Regrets,” Wilfred Owen

To Siegfried Sassoon

My arms have mutinied against me—brutes!
My fingers fidget like ten idle brats,
My back’s been stiff for hours, damned hours.
Death never gives his squad a Stand-at-ease.
I can’t read.  There:  it’s no use.  Take your book.
A short life and a merry one, my buck!
We said we’d hate to grow dead old.  But now,
Not to live old seems awful:  not to renew
My boyhood with my boys, and teach ’em hitting,
Shooting and hunting,—all the arts of hurting!
—Well, that’s what I learnt.  That, and making money.
Your fifty years in store seem none too many;
But I’ve five minutes.  God!  For just two years
To help myself to this good air of yours!
One Spring!  Is one too hard to spare?  Too long?
Spring air would find its own way to my lung,
And grow me legs as quick as lilac-shoots.

Yes, there’s the orderly.  He’ll change the sheets
When I’m lugged out, oh, couldn’t I do that?
Here in this coffin of a bed, I’ve thought
I’d like to kneel and sweep his floors for ever,—
And ask no nights off when the bustle’s over,
For I’d enjoy 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?
Dear dust,—in rooms, on roads, on faces’ tan!
I’d love to be a sweep’s boy, black as Town;
Yes, or a muckman.  Must I be his load?
A flea would do.  If one chap wasn’t bloody,
Or went stone-cold, I’d find another body.

Which I shan’t manage now.  Unless it’s yours.
I shall stay in you, friend, for some few hours.
You’ll feel my heavy spirit chill your chest,
And climb your throat on sobs, until it’s chased
On sighs, and wiped from off your lips by wind.

I think on your rich breathing, brother, I’ll be weaned
To do without what blood remained me from my wound.

– Wilfred Owen, “Wild with all Regrets”

“Exposure,” by Wilfred Owen

I

Our brains ache, in the merciless iced east winds that knife us . . .
Wearied we keep awake because the night is silent . . .
Low drooping flares confuse our memory of the salient . . .
Worried by silence, sentries whisper, curious, nervous,
But nothing happens.

Watching, we hear the mad gusts tugging on the wire.
Like twitching agonies of men among its brambles.
Northward incessantly, the flickering gunnery rumbles,
Far off, like a dull rumour of some other war.
What are we doing here?

The poignant misery of dawn begins to grow . . .
We only know war lasts, rain soaks, and clouds sag stormy.
Dawn massing in the east her melancholy army
Attacks once more in ranks on shivering ranks of gray,
But nothing happens.

Sudden successive flights of bullets streak the silence.
Less deadly than the air that shudders black with snow,
With sidelong flowing flakes that flock, pause and renew,
We watch them wandering up and down the wind’s nonchalance,
But nothing happens.

II

Pale flakes with lingering stealth come feeling for our faces—
We cringe in holes, back on forgotten dreams, and stare, snow-dazed,
Deep into grassier ditches.  So we drowse, sun-dozed,
Littered with blossoms trickling where the blackbird fusses.
Is it that we are dying?

Slowly our ghosts drag home:  glimpsing the sunk fires glozed
With crusted dark-red jewels; crickets jingle there;
For hours the innocent mice rejoice:  the house is theirs;
Shutters and doors all closed:  on us the doors are closed—
We turn back to our dying.

Since we believe not otherwise can kind fires burn;
Nor ever suns smile true on child, or field, or fruit.
For God’s invincible spring our love is made afraid;
Therefore, not loath, we lie out here; therefore were born,
For love of God seems dying.

To-night, His frost will fasten on this mud and us,
Shrivelling many hands and puckering foreheads crisp.
The burying-party, picks and shovels in their shaking grasp,
Pause over half-known faces.  All their eyes are ice,
But nothing happens.

– Wilfred Owen, “Exposure”

“Parable of the Old Men and the Young,” Wilfred Owen

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 stretchéd 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. . . .

– Wilfred Owen, “Parable of the Old Men and the Young”

“Mental Cases,” Wilfred Owen

Who are these?  Why sit they here in twilight?
Wherefore rock they, purgatorial shadows,
Drooping tongues from jaws that slob their relish,
Baring teeth that leer like skulls’ tongues wicked?
Stroke on stroke of pain,—but what slow panic,
Gouged these chasms round their fretted sockets?
Ever from their hair and through their hand palms
Misery swelters.  Surely we have perished
Sleeping, and walk hell; but who these hellish?

—These are men whose minds the Dead have ravished.
Memory fingers in their hair of murders,
Multitudinous murders they once witnessed.
Wading sloughs of flesh these helpless wander,
Treading blood from lungs that had loved laughter.
Always they must see these things and hear them,
Batter of guns and shatter of flying muscles,
Carnage incomparable and human squander
Rucked too thick for these men’s extrication.

Therefore still their eyeballs shrink tormented
Back into their brains, because on their sense
Sunlight seems a bloodsmear; night comes blood-black;
Dawn breaks open like a wound that bleeds afresh
—Thus their heads wear this hilarious, hideous,
Awful falseness of set-smiling corpses.
—Thus their hands are plucking at each other;
Picking at the rope-knouts of their scourging;
Snatching after us who smote them, brother,
Pawing us who dealt them war and madness.

– Wilfred Owen, “Mental Cases”