"'Oh! [...]! I'm hit,' he said; and died.
Whether he vainly cursed or prayed indeed,
The Bullets chirped-In vain, vain, vain!
Machine-guns chuckled,-Tut-tut! Tut-tut!
And the Big Gun guffawed.
"Another sighed,-'O Mother, -Mother, - Dad!'
Then smiled at nothing, childlike, being dead.
And the lofty Shrapnel-cloud
And the splinters spat, and tittered.
"'My Love!' one moaned. Love-languid seemed his mood,
Till slowly lowered, his whole faced kissed the mud.
And the Bayonets' long teeth grinned;
Rabbles of Shells hooted and groaned;
And the Gas hissed."
by Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)
A person can write poetry by following the rules. A poet writes only by feeling them.
This was Lieutenant Wilfred Edward Salter Owen.
I discovered Owen a few years ago in a used-books store. I had read "Dulce Et Decorum Est" years before in high school. The memory of that poem, and the image of Owen on the cover of this book spoke to me (I have a weakness for handsome faces, I guess).
I don't usually read poetry books. But I opened up the Owen anthology on one of my long train rides into the city for work and ended up reading it completely through, over the course of a week or two--introduction, poetry, appendices, everything. I annotated it and copied bits from it into my writer's journal.
Owen's poems are like nothing I have ever read before. Stark. Soulful. Disillusioned. Even irreverent in certain lines (hence the censoring above). Merciless in their muddy trench-war imagery. But nevertheless beautiful. Poignant. Unforgettable. His poetry bristles like barbed wire and waltzes with philosophy. It sings and gurgles blood at the same time. Few have succeeded in imitating his style. He gave me the ambition to someday master pararhyme.
He was a reserved man, quiet, but his friends said his silence spoke better than their conversation. Described as lacking confidence in, and hard on, himself, he possessed a tenderness for friends, a striking smile, and a drive to wake the world to the horrors of the War to End All Wars in any way he could — and through his writing he did. He died at age 25, serving his men. A natural leader. Yet before his death he issued a call to action that reverberated through the literary world — and still does.
I am that young now. Yet what would I bequeath the world, with the gifts I have, if I were in his place? Not so much, I feel. And that is its own call to action for me.
If you're curious, click the book above.