Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | November 4, 2013

Wilfred Owen

Wilfred Owen

The British poet Wilfred Owen died 95 years ago today — killed in action, November 4, 1918, a few days before the end of World War I. Supposedly, his parents received the notification of his death seven days later, on November 11, as the town church bells were ringing to announce that the Armistice had gone into effect and the fighting was over. He was 25 when he died.

Like many, many other students over the past nine decades, I read “Dulce et Decorum est” in high school. That is probably Owen’s best known poem. For today, I reproduce one of his less famous poems (i.e., not one of the ones regularly assigned to students in secondary school):

PARABLE OF THE OLD MEN 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 stretchèd 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, thy son.
Behold! Caught in a thicket by its horns,
A Ram. Offer the Ram of Pride instead.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

(For some reason that totally escapes me, when Owen’s friend and literary executor Siegfried Sassoon published this poem in 1920, he omitted the last line.)

Image Credit: Picture of Owen from Sassoon’s 1920 collection of Owen’s poetry. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

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Responses

  1. That’s … pretty good, actually.

    • I thought so. It’s not a standard selection for high school English Lit curricula, for whatever reason.

    • My senior’s English lit book has maybe 1 page in 4 devoted to reprinting actual texts, with “helpful” material filling the rest. I agree that the “author, dates, text” style of anthology is a poor fit for most high-schoolers, but that one goes entirely too far in the other direction. Such a book certainly isn’t going to have room for off-the-beaten-path works.


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