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Have you ever seen a picture of Owen without a uniform?




‘Suffer dishonour and disgrace, but never resort to arms. Be bullied, be outraged, be killed – but do not kill….Pure Christianity will not fit in with pure patriotism.’

 

 

 

MORE POETRY

TWO FAMOUS POEMS FROM THE FIRST WORLD WAR
| FOR THE FALLEN | ANTHEM FOR A DOOMED YOUTH |


  anthem for a doomed youth
| the story of the poem | what does the poem say? |

THE STORY OF THE POEM
Wilfred Owen was one of those young men ‘straight of limb, true of eye’ that Laurence Binyon’s poem is about. He was 21 when the First World War began. As he wrote:
‘War broke. And now the winter of the world
With perishing great darkness closes in.’

Wilfred Owen had no intention of becoming a soldier as a career: he planned to be a poet. All the same, after training with the Artists’ Rifles he was placed in the Manchester Regiment, a battalion of professionals, and became an officer. In the bitterly cold winter of 1916-17 he experienced life in the trenches for the first time. His letters home gave some idea of the horrors the men had to endure. ‘Everything unnatural, broken, blasted…unburiable bodies outside the dugouts, still there a week later….’ No-Man’s Land under snow, Wilfred Owen wrote, was ‘like the face of the moon, chaotic, crater-ridden, uninhabitable, awful, the abode of madness’.

The poems (and also the published letters) for which he would later be famous were written in the midst of war and from first-hand experience. He described the daily life of trench soldiers, ‘half-crazed by the buffeting of the high explosives’, suffering cruelly from thirst, lying in wet snow, often unable to stand or even crawl about because there was no cover. He also experienced shell-shock, and had several spells in hospital. At least in hospital he had time to think. Wilfred Owen’s reading of the teaching of Jesus convinced him that fighting was wrong. ‘Suffer dishonour and disgrace, but never resort to arms. Be bullied, be outraged, be killed – but do not kill….Pure Christianity will not fit in with pure patriotism.’

But when he left hospital Wilfred Owen chose to return to the front line, out of loyalty to the soldiers in his command. At least, he thought, he could help them by keeping them out of unnecessary danger – and by speaking up sympathetically on behalf of those who were suffering badly. He was killed just a week before political leaders brought the war to an end in November 1918.

Before he died Wilfred Owen had been planning to publish a book of poems. He drafted its famous Preface: ‘My subject is war and the pity of war. The poetry is in the pity.’ He divided his poems into groups under separate headings such as ‘unnaturalness of weapons’, ‘inhumanity of war’, and ‘willingness of the old to sacrifice the young’ – which are all still issues today. Another section was simply called ‘grief’, and that is the section in which he placed ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’.

what does the poem say?




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