Today I thought it was important to remember and reflect the 100th Anniversary of the death of one of Britain's literary titans – Wilfred Owen.
Considered to be the finest of the First World War poets, his unique and descriptive use of words have become a lasting legacy of the expression of the futility of war.
Initially coaxed and encouraged by Siegfried Sassoon, his poetry grew darker and more profound as the war dragged on.
He had an unerring ability to tell an absorbing story within his lines, filling your head with a thousand images. Where Sassoon would purposely use his anger to get his defiant message across, Owen would often quietly and effectively just tell it how he saw it.
His death, just one week before the end of the war, was a tragedy in itself. It also left a huge, empty chasm, where we can only wonder as to what this sensitive and intelligent man would have become, and what he would have achieved with his pen.
It was hard to choose one of his poems to illustrate his craft, especially with the magnificent Anthem for Doomed Youth and Dulce et Decorum Est shining like beacons of light, but I've gone for The Sentry.
Another story within a poem, which to Owen, as an seasoned front-line soldier, would have experienced first-hand.
Do please read his other work.
We'd found an old Boche dug-out, and he knew,
And gave us hell, for shell on frantic shell
Hammered on top, but never quite burst through.
Rain, guttering down in waterfalls of slime
Kept slush waist high, that rising hour by hour,
Choked up the steps too thick with clay to climb.
What murk of air remained stank old, and sour
With fumes of whizz-bangs, and the smell of men
Who'd lived there years, and left their curse in the den,
If not their corpses. . . .
There we herded from the blast
Of whizz-bangs, but one found our door at last.
Buffeting eyes and breath, snuffing the candles.
And thud! flump! thud! down the steep steps came thumping
And splashing in the flood, deluging muck —
The sentry's body; then his rifle, handles
Of old Boche bombs, and mud in ruck on ruck.
We dredged him up, for killed, until he whined
"O sir, my eyes — I'm blind — I'm blind, I'm blind!"
Coaxing, I held a flame against his lids
And said if he could see the least blurred light
He was not blind; in time he'd get all right.
"I can't," he sobbed. Eyeballs, huge-bulged like squids
Watch my dreams still; but I forgot him there
In posting next for duty, and sending a scout
To beg a stretcher somewhere, and floundering about
To other posts under the shrieking air.
Those other wretches, how they bled and spewed,
And one who would have drowned himself for good, —
I try not to remember these things now.
Let dread hark back for one word only: how
Half-listening to that sentry's moans and jumps,
And the wild chattering of his broken teeth,
Renewed most horribly whenever crumps
Pummelled the roof and slogged the air beneath —
Through the dense din, I say, we heard him shout
"I see your lights!" But ours had long died out.