The Great War through the eyes of a poet

(Image:  In the trenches south of Armèntieres, 1915, From The Western Front, Then and Now, by John Giles)

As many of you know, I’ve slowly been developing a story about a pair of distant cousins whose great grandfathers perished in the Great War.  I must admit to having a morbid fascination with this most horrific period of human history.  In the course of my research, I stumbled upon a collection of poetry,  written about the war and the experiences of the men who fought those bloody and futile battles.  I just have to share one or two of these with you.   I’ll begin with this one by Wilfred Owen.  The soldiers faced not only the enemy in battle but also the terrible conditions of trench warfare.  The mud, the water, the lice and rats, and the cold:

Exposure

Our brains ache, in the merciless iced east winds that knive us…

Wearied, we keep awake because the night is silent…

Low, drooping flares confuse our memory of the salient…

Worried by silence, sentries whisper, curious, nervous,

But nothing happens

0

Watching, we hear the mad gusts tugging on the wire,

Like twitching agonies of men among its brambles.

Northward, incessantly, the flickering gunnery rumbles,

Far off, like a dull rumour of some other war.

What are we doing here?

0

The poignant misery of dawn begins to grow…

We only know war lasts, rain soaks, and clouds sag stormy.

Dawn massing in the east her melancholy army

Attacks once more in ranks on shivering ranks of gray,

But nothing happens.

0

Sudden successive flights of bullets streak the silence.

Less deathly than the air that shudders black with snow,

With sidelong flowing flakes that flock, pause, and renew;

We watch them wandering up and down the wind’s nonchalance,

But nothing happens.

0

Pale flakes with fingering stealth come feeling for our faces-

We cringe in holes, back on forgotten dreams, and stare, snow-dazed,

Deep into grassier ditches.  So we drowse, sun-dozed,

Littered with blossoms trickling where the blackbird fusses.

Is it that we are dying?

0

Slowly our ghosts drag home:  glimpsing the sunk fires, glozed

With crusted dark, red jewels; crickets jingle there;

For hours the innocent mice rejoice:  the house is theirs;

Shutters and doors all closed: on us the doors are closed,

We turn back to our dying.

0

Since we believe not otherwise can kind fires burn;

Nor ever suns smile true on child, or field, or fruit.

For God’s invincible spring our love is made afraid;

Therefore, not loath, we lie out here; therefore were born,

For love of God seems dying.

0

Tonight, His frost will fasten on this mud and us,

Shriveling many hands, puckering foreheads crisp.

The burying party, picks and shovels in their shaking grasp,

Pause over half known faces.  All their eyes are ice,

But nothing happens.


Originally published in: The Collected Works of Wilfred Owen, Copyright Chatto & Windus Ltd. 1963

9 thoughts on “The Great War through the eyes of a poet

  1. Heart breaking! How much we prefer to drown ourselves in pretend horror stories! Those we can shut down when October passes. But War? We can’t walk away like we can from Halloween. My thanks to those who have defended me. Thank you, Dr. Meg for a reminder to be thankful – don’t have to wait for Thanksgiving.

    Liked by 1 person

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