I’ve been following this year’s Remembrance celebrations and wishing somebody would quote at least one poem by Wilfred Owen who served and died in the trenches and knew exactly what he was writing about. But nobody has. And what is worse an unpleasant MP got up on his hind legs in the house just after Remembrance Sunday to tell us all the old, stale sentimental lie, that ‘our brave boys had died to save democracy’ which for a bit of unmitigated and specious tripe, ought to take any thinking persons breath away. So here is our superb Wilfred Owen to speak for those of us who know what that dreadful war was about and how obscene it was.
This is what he said in the preface to his collected poems:
This book is not about heroes. English poetry is not yet fit to speak of them.
Nor is it about deeds, or lands, nor anything about glory, honour, might, majesty, dominion, or power, except War.
Above all I am not concerned with Poetry.
My subject is War, and the pity of War.
The Poetry is in the pity.
Yet these elegies are to this generation in no sense consolatory. They may be to the next. All a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true Poets must be truthful.
Not glory, honor, might, majesty, dominion or power you’ll notice. Just war. And told as it was in all its squalor, filth, blood, pain and death.
And here is Owen again spelling it out clearly to us in his poem ‘The Parable of the Old Man and the Young’.
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 stretchèd 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,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.
There is nothing more I can say after that. Ave atque vale Wilfred.