Wilfred Owen, der havde skrevet overvejende religiøst inspirerede digte siden sin tidlige ungdom, underviste i årene 1913-15 i engelsk i Frankrig. Dybt berørt af adskillige besøg på militærhospitaler meldte han sig under fanerne i 1915. I januar 1917 blev han overflyttet til skyttegravene i Frankrig, hvor hans livssyn blev totalt ændret. Han deltog som officer i slaget ved Somme, men blev indlagt med granatchok på et hospital i Scotland. På hospitalet mødte han Siegfried Sassoon, hvis dystre antikrigsdigte vakte genklang hos Owen. Sassoon vejledte og rådgav Owen, som herefter skrev det bedste i sin korte karriere, mens han reconvalcerede. Owen var oprørt over det meningsløse myrderi på slagmarken, hvor soldaterne led, kæmpede og gøde i skyttegravenes mudder og elendighe. og over at ingen (især kirken) var i stand til at stoppe det.

Han døde et år efter at være vendt tilbage til fronten og kun en uge før krigen sluttede i 1918.

Wilfred Owen, who had written mainly religiously inspired poetry since his early youth, taught English in France in the years 1913-15. Deeply affected by several visits to military hospitals he joined the army in 1915. In January 1917 he was transferred to the trenches in France, where his outlook on life changed completely. He took part as an officer in the battle of the Somme, but was hopitalised in Scotland with shell shock. At the hospital he met Siegfried Sasson whose sombre anti-war poetry Owen identfied with. Sassoon tutored and advised Owen who subsequently wrote the best poems of his short career while reconvalescing. Owen was revolted by the senseless killing on the battlefield, where soldiers suffered, fought and died miserably in the muddy trenches, and by the fact that no one (the church in particular) was able to stop it.

He died a year after having returned to the front and only a week before the war ended in 1918.

Greater Love

Red lips are not so red
As the stained stones kissed by the English dead.
Kindness of wooed and wooer
Seems shame to their love pure.
O Love, your eyes lose lure
When I behold eyes blinded in my stead!
Your slender attitude
Trembles not exquisite like limbs knife-skewed,
Rolling and rolling there
Where God seems not to care;
Till the fierce Love they bear
Cramps them in death's extreme decrepitude.
Your voice sings not so soft, –
Though even as wind murmuring through raftered loft, –
Your dear voice is not dear,
Gentle, and evening clear,
As theirs whom none now hear
Now earth has stopped their piteous mouths that coughed.
Heart, you were never hot,
Nor large, nor full like hearts made great with shot;
And though your hand be pale,
Paler are all which trail
Your cross through flame and hail:
Weep, you may weep, for you may touch them not.


Mental Cases

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.


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 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.


Dulce et Decorum est

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 gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! – An ecstacy 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
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.

Reproduced here under educational Fair Use laws

The Wilfred Owen Multimedia Digital Archive

Poems by Wilfred Owen. With an Introduction by Siegfried Sassoon