November 11, 2012

Veterans Day: "My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity."

Born in England, Wilfred Owen, a soldier in World War I and a poet, was killed in action on November 4, 1918, one week before the Armistice.  He is one of 16 of the Great War poets commemorated in Westminster Abbey's Poet Corner.  The inscription on the slate is Owen's, "My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity."

Pat Barker's novel Regeneration, the first of a trilogy of novels on the First World War, describes the experience of British army officers being treated for shell shock at Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh.  Dr. William Rivers, an army psychiatrist, treats the traumatized officers so they can be returned  to battle, among them Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, both poets.

In an interview referenced in the Wikipedia article about the book,  Pat Barker said, "The trilogy is trying to tell something about the parts of war that don't get into the official accounts".

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Barker states that she chose to write about World War I "because it's come to stand in for other wars, as a sort of idealism of the young people in August 1914 in Germany and in England. They really felt this was the start of a better world. And the disillusionment, the horror and the pain followed that. I think because of that it's come to stand for the pain of all wars." 

The book was made into a fine film, titled Behind the Lines, which you can find on Netflix.  It closes with this stirring rendition of a poem Wilfred Owen wrote.

 
The Parable of the Old Man and the Young

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in the thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.
Posted by Jill Fallon at November 11, 2012 8:02 AM | Permalink