Apologia Pro Poemate Meo

- 1893-1918
I, too, saw God through mud—
	 The mud that cracked on cheeks when wretches smiled.
	 War brought more glory to their eyes than blood,
	 And gave their laughs more glee than shakes a child.

Merry it was to laugh there—
	 Where death becomes absurd and life absurder.
	 For power was on us as we slashed bones bare
	 Not to feel sickness or remorse of murder.

I, too, have dropped off fear—
	 Behind the barrage, dead as my platoon,
	 And sailed my spirit surging, light and clear
	 Past the entanglement where hopes lay strewn;

And witnessed exultation—
	 Faces that used to curse me, scowl for scowl,
	 Shine and lift up with passion of oblation,
         Seraphic for an hour; though they were foul. 

I have made fellowships—
	 Untold of happy lovers in old song.
	 For love is not the binding of fair lips
	 With the soft silk of eyes that look and long,

But Joy, whose ribbon slips,—
	 But wound with war’s hard wire whose stakes are strong;
	 Bound with the bandage of the arm that drips;
	 Knit in the welding of the rifle-thong.

I have perceived much beauty
	 In the hoarse oaths that kept our courage straight;
	 Heard music in the silentness of duty;
	 Found peace where shell-storms spouted reddest spate.

Nevertheless, except you share
	 With them in hell the sorrowful dark of hell,
	 Whose world is but the trembling of a flare,
	 And heaven but as the highway for a shell,

You shall not hear their mirth:
	 You shall not come to think them well content
	 By any jest of mine. These men are worth
	 Your tears: You are not worth their merriment. 

More by Wilfred Owen

The Unreturning

Suddenly night crushed out the day and hurled
Her remnants over cloud-peaks, thunder-walled.
Then fell a stillness such as harks appalled
When far-gone dead return upon the world.

There watched I for the Dead; but no ghost woke.
Each one whom Life exiled I named and called.
But they were all too far, or dumbed, or thralled;
And never one fared back to me or spoke.

Then peered the indefinite unshapen dawn
With vacant gloaming, sad as half-lit minds,
The weak-limned hour when sick men’s sighs are drained.
And while I wondered on their being withdrawn,
Gagged by the smothering wing which none unbinds,
I dreaded even a heaven with doors so chained.

S. I. W.

		“I will to the King,
		 And offer him consolation in his trouble,
		 For that man there has set his teeth to die,
		 And being one that hates obedience,
		 Discipline, and orderliness of life,
		 I cannot mourn him.”
							W. B. Yeats.

Patting goodbye, doubtless they told the lad
He’d always show the Hun a brave man’s face;
Father would sooner him dead than in disgrace,—
Was proud to see him going, aye, and glad.
Perhaps his Mother whimpered how she’d fret
Until he got a nice, safe wound to nurse.
Sisters would wish girls too could shoot, charge, curse, . . .
Brothers—would send his favourite cigarette,
Each week, month after month, they wrote the same,
Thinking him sheltered in some Y. M. Hut,
Where once an hour a bullet missed its aim
And misses teased the hunger of his brain.
His eyes grew old with wincing, and his hand
Reckless with ague. Courage leaked, as sand
From the best sandbags after years of rain.
But never leave, wound, fever, trench-foot, shock,
Untrapped the wretch. And death seemed still withheld
for torture of lying machinally shelled,
At the pleasure of his world’s Powers who’d run amok. 

He’d seen men shoot their hands, on night patrol,
Their people never knew. Yet they were vile.
“Death sooner than dishonor, that’s the style!”
So Father said.

                                       One dawn, our wire patrol
Carried him. This time, Death had not missed.
We could do nothing, but wipe his bleeding cough.
Could it be accident?—Rifles go off . . .
Not sniped? No. (Later they found the English ball.)

It was the reasoned crisis of his soul.
Against the fires that would not burn him whole
But kept him for death’s perjury and scoff
And life’s half-promising, and both their riling.

With him they buried the muzzle his teeth had kissed.
And truthfully wrote the Mother “Tim died smiling.”

Arms and the Boy

Let the boy try along this bayonet-blade
How cold steel is, and keen with hunger of blood;
Blue with all malice, like a madman’s flash;
And thinly drawn with famishing for flesh.

Lend him to stroke these blind, blunt bullet-heads
Which long to muzzle in the hearts of lads.
Or give him cartridges of fine zinc teeth,
Sharp with the sharpness of grief and death.

For this teeth seem for laughing round an apple,
There lurk no claws behind his fingers supple;
And God will grow no talons at his heels,
Nor antlers through the thickness of his curls.