Wilfred Edward Salter Owen, MC was an English poet and soldier. He was one of the leading poets of the First World War.
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Famous Wilfred Owen Poems
Ever again to breathe pure happiness,
So happy that we gave away our toy?
We smiled at nothings, needing no caress?
Have we not laughed too often since with Joy?
Have we not stolen too strange and sorrowful wrongs
For her hands’ pardoning? The sun may cleanse,
And time, and starlight. Life will sing great songs,
And gods will show us pleasures more than men’s.
Yet heaven looks smaller than the old doll’s-home,
No nestling place is left in bluebell bloom,
And the wide arms of trees have lost their scope.
The former happiness is unreturning:
Boys’ griefs are not so grievous as our yearning,
Boys have no sadness sadder than our hope.
I mind as ‘ow the night afore that show
Us five got talking, — we was in the know,
“Over the top to-morrer; boys, we’re for it,
First wave we are, first ruddy wave; that’s tore it.”
“Ah well,” says Jimmy, — an’ ‘e’s seen some scrappin’ —
“There ain’t more nor five things as can ‘appen;
Ye get knocked out; else wounded — bad or cushy;
Scuppered; or nowt except yer feeling mushy.”
One of us got the knock-out, blown to chops.
T’other was hurt, like, losin’ both ‘is props.
An’ one, to use the word of ‘ypocrites,
‘Ad the misfortoon to be took by Fritz.
Now me, I wasn’t scratched, praise God Almighty
(Though next time please I’ll thank ‘im for a blighty),
But poor young Jim, ‘e’s livin’ an’ ‘e’s not;
‘E reckoned ‘e’d five chances, an’ ‘e’s ‘ad;
‘E’s wounded, killed, and pris’ner, all the lot —
The ruddy lot all rolled in one. Jim’s mad.
The Kind Ghosts
She sleeps on soft, last breaths; but no ghost looms
Out of the stillness of her palace wall,
Her wall of boys on boys and dooms on dooms.
She dreams of golden gardens and sweet glooms,
Not marvelling why her roses never fall
Nor what red mouths were torn to make their blooms.
The shades keep down which well might roam her hall.
Quiet their blood lies in her crimson rooms
And she is not afraid of their footfall.
They move not from her tapestries, their pall,
Nor pace her terraces, their hecatombs,
Lest aught she be disturbed, or grieved at all
So the church Christ was hit and buried
Under its rubbish and its rubble.
In cellars, packed-up saints long serried,
Well out of hearing of our trouble.
One Virgin still immaculate
Smiles on for war to flatter her.
She’s halo’d with an old tin hat,
But a piece of hell will batter her.
Not this week nor this month dare I lie down
In languour under lime trees or smooth smile.
Love must not kiss my face pale that is brown.
My lips, parting, shall drink space, mile by mile;
Strong meats be all my hunger; my renown
Be the clean beauty of speed and pride of style.
Cold winds encountered on the racing Down
Shall thrill my heated bareness; but awhile
None else may meet me till I wear my crown
Uriconium: An Ode
It lieth low near merry England’s heart
Like a long-buried sin; and Englishmen
Forget that in its death their sires had part.
And, like a sin, Time lays it bare again
To tell of races wronged,
And ancient glories suddenly overcast,
And treasures flung to fire and rabble wrath.
If thou hast ever longed
To lift the gloomy curtain of Time Past,
And spy the secret things that Hades hath,
Here through this riven ground take such a view.
The dust, that fell unnoted as a dew,
Wrapped the dead city’s face like mummy-cloth:
All is as was: except for worm and moth.
Since Jove was worshipped under Wrekin’s shade
Or Latin phrase was writ in Shropshire stone,
Since Druid chaunts desponded in this glade
Or Tuscan general called that field his own,
How long ago? How long?
How long since wanderers in the Stretton Hills
Met men of shaggy hair and savage jaw,
With flint and copper prong,
Aiming behind their dikes and thorny grilles?
Ah! those were days before the axe and saw,
Then were the nights when this mid-forest town
Held breath to hear the wolves come yelping down,
And ponderous bears ‘long Severn lifted paw,
And nuzzling boars ran grunting through the shaw.
Ah me! full fifteen hundred times the wheat
Hath risen, and bowed, and fallen to human hunger
Since those imperial days were made complete.
The weary moon hath waxen old and younger
These eighteen thousand times
Without a shrine to greet her gentle ray.
And other temples rose; to Power and Pelf,
And chimed centurial chimes
Until their very bells are worn away.
While King by King lay cold on vaulted shelf
And wars closed wars, and many a Marmion fell,
And dearths and plagues holp sire and son to hell;
And old age stiffened many a lively elf
And many a poet’s heart outdrained itself.
I had forgot that so remote an age
Beyond the horizon of our little sight,
Is far from us by no more spanless gauge
Than day and night, succeeding day and night,
Until I looked on Thee,
Thou ghost of a dead city, or its husk!
But even as we could walk by field and hedge
Hence to the distant sea
So, by the rote of common dawn and dusk,
We travel back to history’s utmost edge.
Yea, when through thy old streets I took my way,
And recked a thousand years as yesterday,
Methought sage fancy wrought a sacrilege
To steal for me such godly privilege!
For here lie remnants from a banquet table –
Oysters and marrow-bones, and seeds of grape –
The statement of whose age must sound a fable;
And Samian jars, whose sheen and flawless shape
Look fresh from potter’s mould.
Plasters with Roman finger-marks impressed;
Bracelets that from the warm Italian arm
Might seem to be scarce cold;
And spears – the same that pushed the Cymry west-
Unblunted yet; with tools of forge and farm
Abandoned, as a man in sudden fear
Drops what he holds to help his swift career:
For sudden was Rome’s flight, and wild the alarm.
The Saxon shock was like Vesuvius’ qualm.
O ye who prate of modern art and craft .
Mark well that Gaulish brooch, and test that screw!
Art’s fairest buds on antique stem are graft.
Under the sun is nothing wholly new!
At Viricon today
The village anvil rests on Roman base
And in a garden, may be seen a bower
With pillars for its stay
That anciently in basilic had place.
The church’s font is but a pagan dower:
A Temple’s column, hollowed into this.
So is the glory of our artifice,
Our pleasure and our worship, but the flower
Of Roman custom and of Roman power.
O ye who laugh and, living as if Time
Meant but the twelve hours ticking round your dial,
Find it too short for thee, watch the sublime,
Slow, epochal time-registers awhile,
Which are Antiquities.
O ye who weep and call all your life too long
And moan: Was ever sorrow like to mine?
Muse on the memories
That sad sepulchral stones and ruins prolong.
Here might men drink of wonder like strong wine
And feel ephemeral troubles soothed and curbed.
Yet farmers, wroth to have their laws disturbed,
Are sooner roused for little loss to pine
Than we are moved by mighty woes long syne.
Above this reverend ground, what traveller checks?
Yet cities such as these one time would breed
Apocalyptic visions of world-wrecks.
Let Saxon men return to them, and heed!
They slew and burnt,
But after, prized what Rome had given away
Out of her strength and her prosperity.
Have they yet learnt
The precious truth distilled from Rome’s decay?
Ruins! On England’s heart press heavily!
For Rome hath left us more than walls and words
And better yet shall leave; and more than herds
Or land or gold gave the Celts to us in fee;
E’en Blood, which makes poets sing and prophets see.
Hospital Barge At Cerisy
Budging the sluggard ripples of the Somme,
A barge round old Cérisy slowly slewed.
Softly her engines down the current screwed,
And chuckled softly with contented hum,
Till fairy tinklings struck their croonings dumb.
The waters rumpling at the stern subdued;
The lock-gate took her bulging amplitude;
Gently from out the gurgling lock she swum.
One reading by that calm bank shaded eyes
To watch her lessening westward quietly.
Then, as she neared the bend, her funnel screamed.
And that long lamentation made him wise
How unto Avalon, in agony,
Kings passed in the dark barge, which Merlin dreamed.
His face was charged with beauty as a cloud
With glimmering lightning. When it shadowed me
I shook, and was uneasy as a tree
That draws the brilliant danger, tremulous, bowed.
So must I tempt that face to loose its lightning.
Great gods, whose beauty is death, will laugh above,
Who made his beauty lovelier than love.
I shall be bright with their unearthly brightening.
And happier were it if my sap consume;
Glorious will shine the opening of my heart;
The land shall freshen that was under gloom;
What matter if all men cry aloud and start,
And women hide bleak faces in their shawl,
At those hilarious thunders of my fall?
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,
dominion or power,
Above all, this book is not concerned with Poetry.
The subject of it is War, and the pity of War.
The Poetry is in the pity.
Yet these elegies are not to this generation,
This is in no sense consolatory.
They may be to the next.
All the poet can do to-day is to warn.
That is why the true Poets must be truthful.
If I thought the letter of this book would last,
I might have used proper names; but if the spirit of it survives Prussia, —
my ambition and those names will be content; for they will have
achieved themselves fresher fields than Flanders
O World Of Many Worlds
O World of many worlds, O life of lives,
What centre hast thou? Where am I?
O whither is it thy fierce onrush drives?
Fight I, or drift; or stand; or fly?
The loud machinery spins, points work in touch;
Wheels whirl in systems, zone in zone.
Myself having sometime moved with such,
Would strike a centre of mine own.
Lend hand, O Fate, for I am down, am lost!
Fainting by violence of the Dance…
Ah thanks, I stand – the floor is crossed,
And I am where but few advance.
I see men far below me where they swarm…
(Haply above me – be it so!
Does space to compass-points conform,
And can we say a star stands high or low?)
Not more complex the millions of the stars
Than are the hearts of mortal brothers;
As far remote as Neptune from small Mars
Is one man’s nature from another’s.
But all hold course unalterably fixed;
They follow destinies foreplanned:
I envy not these lives in their faith unmixed,
I would not step with such a band.
To be a meteor, fast, eccentric, lone,
Lawless; in passage through all spheres,
Warning the earth of wider ways unknown
And rousing men with heavenly fears…
This is the track reserved for my endeavour;
Spanless the erring way I wend.
Blackness of darkness is my meed for ever?
And barren plunging without end?
O glorious fear! Those other wandering souls
High burning through that outer bourne
Are lights unto themselves. Fair aureoles
Self-radiated these are worn.
And when in after times those stars return
And strike once more earth’s horizon,
They gather many satellites astern,
For they are greater than this system’s Sun.
Song Of Songs
Sing me at morn but only with your laugh;
Even as Spring that laugheth into leaf;
Even as Love that laugheth after Life.
Sing me but only with your speech all day,
As voluble leaflets do; let viols die;
The least word of your lips is melody!
Sing me at eve but only your sigh!
Like lifting seas it solaceth; breathe so,
Slowly and low, the sense that no songs say.
Sing me at midnight with your murmurous heart!
Let youth’s immortal-moaning chord be heard
Throbbing through you, and sobbing, unsubdued.
On My Songs
Though unseen Poets, many and many a time,
Have answered me as if they knew my woe,
And it might seem have fashioned so their rime
To be my own soul’s cry; easing the flow
Of my dumb tears with language sweet as sobs,
Yet are there days when all these hoards of thought
Hold nothing for me. Not one verse that throbs
Throbs with my heart, or as my brain is fraught.
‘Tis then I voice mine own weird reveries:
Low croonings of a motherless child, in gloom
Singing his frightened self to sleep, are these.
One night, if thou shouldst lie in this Sick Room,
Dreading the Dark thou darest not illume,
Listen; my voice may haply lend thee ease.
I am the ghost of Shadwell Stair.
Along the wharves by the water-house,
And through the cavernous slaughter-house,
I am the shadow that walks there.
Yet I have flesh both firm and cool,
And eyes tumultuous as the gems
Of moons and lamps in the full Thames
When dusk sails wavering down the pool.
Shuddering the purple street-arc burns
Where I watch always; from the banks
Dolorously the shipping clanks
And after me a strange tide turns.
I walk till the stars of London wane
And dawn creeps up the Shadwell Stair.
But when the crowing syrens blare
I with another ghost am lain.
Some little while ago, I had a mood
When what we know as ‘Nature’ seemed to me
So sympathetic, ample, sweet, and good
That I preferred it to Society.
Not for a season, be it understood,
But altogether and perpetually.
As far as feeling went, I thought I could
Be quit of men, live independently.
For men and minds, heart-humours and heart’s-tease
Disturbed without exciting: whereas woods,
The seasonal changes, and the chanting seas
Were both soul-rousing and sense-lulling. Moods,
Such moods prolonged, became a mania.
I found the stark stretch of a bleak-blown moor
Least barren of all places. Mere extranca
Seemed populace and town: things to ignore.
But if the sovereign sun I might behold
With condescension coming down benign,
And blessing all the field and air with gold,
Then the contentment of the world was mine.
In secret deserts where the night was nude
And each excited star grew ardent-eyed,
I tasted more than this life’s plenitude,
And far as farthest stars perceive, I spied.
Once, when the whiteness of the spectral moon
Had terrorized the creatures of the wold,
When that long staring of the glazed-eyed
Had stupefied the land and made it cold,
I fell seduced into a madness; for,
Forgetting in that night the life of days,
I said I had no need of fellows more,
I madly hated men and all their ways.
I hated, feeling hated; I supposed
That others did not need me any more.
The book of human knowledge I then closed;
Passion, art, science? Trifles to ignore.
But in my error, men ignored not me,
And did not let me in my moonbeams bask.
And I took antidotes; though what they be
Unless yourself be poisoned, do not ask.
For I am overdosed. The City now
Holds all my passion; these my soul most feels:
Crowds surging; racket of traffic; market row;
Bridges, sonorous under rapid wheels;
Pacific lamentations of a bell;
The smoking of the old men at their doors;
All attitudes of children; the farewell
And casting-off of ships for far-off shores.
In Shrewsbury Town e’en Hercules wox tired,
Tired of the streets that end not up nor down;
Tired of the Quarry, though seats may be hired
Of Shrewsbury Town.
Tired of the tongues that knew not his renown;
Tired of the Quarry Bye-Laws, so admired
By the Salopian, the somnambulant clown.
Weak as a babe, and in like wise attired,
He leaned upon his club; frowned a last frown,
And of ineffable boredom, so expired
In Shrewsbury Town.