Disabled – Wilfred Owen


He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark,
And shivered in his ghastly suit of grey,
Legless, sewn short at elbow. Through the park
Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn,
Voices of play and pleasure after day,
Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him.

About this time Town used to swing so gay
When glow-lamps budded in the light blue trees,
And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim,-
In the old times, before he threw away his knees.
Now he will never feel again how slim Girls’ waists are,
or how warm their subtle hands.
All of them touch him like some queer disease.

There was an artist silly for his face,
For it was younger than his youth, last year.
Now, he is old; his back will never brace;
He’s lost his colour very far from here,
Poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry,
And half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race
And leap of purple spurted from his thigh.

One time he liked a blood-smear down his leg,
After the matches, carried shoulder-high.
It was after football, when he’d drunk a peg,
He thought he’d better join. – He wonders why.
Someone had said he’d look a god in kilts,
That’s why; and maybe, too, to please his Meg,
Aye, that was it, to please the giddy jilts
He asked to join. He didn’t have to beg;
Smiling they wrote his lie: aged nineteen years.

Germans he scarcely thought of; all their guilt,
And Austria’s, did not move him. And no fears
Of Fear came yet. He drought of jewelled hills
For daggers in plaid socks; of smart salutes;
And care of arms; and leave; and pay arrears;
Esprit de corps; and hints for young recruits.

And soon, he was drafted out with drums and cheers.
Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal.
Only a solemn man who brought him fruits
Thanked him; and then enquired about his soul.

Now, he will spend a few sick years in institutes,
And do what things the rules consider wise,
And take whatever pity they may dole.
Tonight he noticed how the women’s eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
How cold and late it is! Why don’t they come
And put him into bed? Why don’t they come?

Wilfred Owen

Here is a Remembrance Day poem. Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon are reknown for their WW1poetry. Both actively served in the trenches. Wilfred Owen died at the very end of the war while on duty at the age of 25 and is best known for his poem ‘Anthem for a Doomed Youth’.

In a recent U3A poetry session we looked at contrast in poems and there is great personal contrast in this poem.

The youth who really wanted go to war for such sorry reasons … look a god in kilts / to please the giddy jilts  is a different picture after his return. He is now legless and restricted by a wheelchair … previously he was a champion at sport, previously his youth and mobility swept the girls off the floor … now all the girls ignore him and what is more he is condemned to reliance on the support of a Carer in order to perform the basic of tasks.

The drain of life- vitality to remain living but dead is dramatically stated in the following lines in the third stanza …
He’s lost his colour very far from here,
Poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry

It is a poem that highlights the long lasting effect of war on those that survived … especially the difficulties of those returning in coming to terms with their change of circumstance … and at a very personal level. Wilfred Owen spent some time convalescing in Scotland before he returned for a second tour of duty. It was here that he met Siegfried Sassoon and many other men that had been wounded or suffered shell-shock.

But perhaps of more importance the poem highlights the naivety and unprepared nature of many young men that enlisted without any knowledge and understanding of the nature of war- succumbing to the glory image perpetuated throughout society at the time of the First World War. The poetry of Owen and Sassoon continues to wave a flag in a different direction.

… here is a link to another WordPress analysis of this poem

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