A Terre

- 1893-1918
          (Being the philosophy of many Soldiers.)

Sit on the bed; I’m blind, and three parts shell,
Be careful; can’t shake hands now; never shall.
Both arms have mutinied against me—brutes.
My fingers fidget like ten idle brats.

I tried to peg out soldierly—no use!
One dies of war like any old disease.
This bandage feels like pennies on my eyes.
I have my medals?—Discs to make eyes close.
My glorious ribbons?—Ripped from my own back
In scarlet shreds. (That’s for your poetry book.)

A short life and a merry one, my brick!
We used to say we’d hate to live dead old,—
Yet now . . . I’d willingly be puffy, bald, 
And patriotic. Buffers catch from boys
At least the jokes hurled at them, I suppose
Little I’d ever teach a son, but hitting,
Shooting, war, hunting, all the arts of hurting.
Well, that’s what I learnt,—that, and making money.
Your fifty years ahead seem none too many?
Tell me how long I’ve got? God! For one year
To help myself to nothing more than air!
One Spring! Is one too good to spare, too long?
Spring wind would work its own way to my lung,
And grow me legs as quick as lilac-shoots.
My servant’s lamed, but listen how he shouts! 
When I’m lugged out, he’ll still be good for that.
Here in this mummy-case, you know, I’ve thought
How well I might have swept his floors for ever,
I’d ask no night off when the bustle’s over,
Enjoying so 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,
Less warm than dust that mixes with arms’ tan?
I’d love to be a sweep, now, black as Town,
Yes, or a muckman. Must I be his load?

O Life, Life, let me breath,—a dug-out rat!
Not worse than ours the existences rats lead—
Nosing along at night down some safe vat,
They find a shell-proof home before they rot.
Dead men may envy living mites in cheese,
Or good germs even. Microbes have their joys,
And subdivide, and never come to death,
Certainly flowers have the easiest time on earth.
“I shall be one with nature, herb, and stone.”
Shelley would tell me. Shelley would be stunned;
The dullest Tommy hugs that fancy now.
“Pushing up daisies,” is their creed, you know.
To grain, then, go my fat, to buds my sap,
For all the usefulness there is in soap.
D’you think the Boch will ever stew man-soup?
Some day, no doubt, if . . .
                                        Friend, be very sure
I shall be better off with plants that share
More peaceably the meadow and the shower.
Soft rains will touch me,—as they could touch once,
And nothing but the sun shall make me ware.
Your guns may crash around me. I’ll not hear;
Or, if I wince, I shall not know I wince.
Don’t take my soul’s poor comfort for your jest.
Soldiers may grow a soul when turned to fronds,
But here the thing’s best left at home with friends.

My soul’s a little grief, grappling your chest,
To climb your throat on sobs; easily chased
On other sighs and wiped by fresher winds.

Carry my crying spirit till it’s weaned
To do without what blood remained these wounds. 

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.