Original poem reprinted online here: “1914” by Wilfred Owen
Originally read: December 16, 2012
More information about the Poet: Wilfred Owen
War broke: and now the Winter of the world
With perishing great darkness closes in.
The foul tornado, centred at Berlin,
Is over all the width of Europe whirled,
Rending the sails of progress. Rent or furled
Are all Art’s ensigns. Verse wails. Now begin
Famines of thought and feeling. Love’s wine’s thin.
The grain of human Autumn rots, down-hurled.
For after Spring had bloomed in early Greece,
And Summer blazed her glory out with Rome,
An Autumn softly fell, a harvest home,
A slow grand age, and rich with all increase.
But now, for us, wild Winter, and the need
Of sowings for new Spring, and blood for seed.
So this poem is a timepiece which depicts the feeling/mood/era of World War I. War poems are tricky things. There’s always the outsider looking in perspective — the ones who judge the war, and there’s always the insider trying to make sense of it all for the outside. I’ll admit, that I don’t have a sense for war even though America has, technically, been at war for over ten years at this point. It’s really kind of odd when I think about it.
Anyway, this is not a politics blog (oh those will come eventually, or actually I have done those in the past). And the strongest feature in the poem are the phrases in the poem. I note several in my written notes: “sails of progress”, “verse wails”, “human Autumn rots”, “blood for seed”. It’s not like these words create strong realistic images — but there’s a surreal aspect with the descriptions.
And even though those phrases aren’t tied down to “real images” they work for me in two ways.
1. As a person who never has been to war and only understands such things through movies, articles, etc. I feel the phrases agree with my thoughts about war.
2. Looking at the phrases — they might come as euphemisms for real life actions — a rotting body, the artist torn asunder. It’s the only way that I, or the speaker, can comprehend war. But we are distanced from the “real” thing.
I guess I come away with this question after rereading this poem. Is the surreal easier to relate to since, theoretically, no one can experience a surreal image, or is it just, for me, difficult to conceive and/or emote with concrete images if I haven’t directly experienced them before. I’m not too sure anymore. As always.