Wilfred Owen

My choice of Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) today is another nod to the GCE ‘O’ Level syllabus of x number of years ago when I was at school in Birmingham and would have been knee-deep in exams at this time of year. If I tell you that I took mine in the year that Virginia Wade won the Women’s Singles title at Wimbledon….well I will leave you to work it out.

As I don’t have the original copy of the poetry book from school (we didn’t have to buy our own text books) then the next best thing is the Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse (edited by Philip Larkin, 1973, 1985). This is stamped as once belonging to a college in Coventry but I promise that I came by it honestly, via a second-hand book shop.

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for those who die as cattle?

Jacket of OUP 20th Century Verse

Horror of War

Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
 Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,-
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
 The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

I haven’t read Wilfred Owen for a while, though he was my favourite from the syllabus. The problem with studying anything for an exam is that you hack it to pieces until sick of it. I have found that for me, Owen’s poetry  has survived the school experience and that after a certain grace period, I could read it again. I also still read Owen because of my interest in reading about the First World War – in literary fiction, poetry, biography and history. He was the first World War I poet that I read and I could probably trace my interest in WWI all the way back to that stuffy classroom and Wilfred Owen. Perhaps I should do a First World War post in the near future?

That’s all for today’s edition of the poetry reading challenge, but drop me a line with your school literary loves (or hates)….