More matter with less art


It’s easier to feature the occasional Jack Kerouac or Robert Frost on these humble and virtual pages than it is Wilfred Owen. The reason for me (and hey, it’s my blog after all) is that I can relate to the messages from Mending Wall, or The Road Not Taken, or On The Road because they touch on themes that are relevant even today. But on reading Owen there’s no easy correlations or connections, as it’s witness to a past reality too difficult to imagine and the only link I can bring myself to make with this modern world is just how amazingly, ignorantly, stupendously lucky our generation is. Less than a hundred years on. The other thing is just how difficult it is to excerpt Owen. Unlike Frost, the lines don’t stand up on their own as individually quotable, as although the quality is set by the tone and imagery he conjures, the brilliance lies in the structure of his work. 
Due to out-of-office commitments, posting will be light today. I leave you to consider the work that Siegfried Sassoon called Owen’s “passport to immortality”, Strange Meeting.

Strange Meeting
Wilfred Owen (1893 – 1918)

It seemed that out of the battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which Titanic wars had groined.
Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall;
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.
With a thousand fears that vision’s face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
“Strange, friend,” I said, “Here is no cause to mourn.”
“None,” said the other, “Save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something has been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled.
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress,
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery;
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery;
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.
I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark; for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now …

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