Wilfred Owen - A Terre

  • Created by: Lily Ciel
  • Created on: 24-04-11 15:55

A Terre.

"Being the philosophy of many soldiers" Owen added to the title, and logically he included it under "Philosophy" in his Preface's List of Contents. Philosophical it is, under-rated too and not the object of much critical attention.

One poem became another. Scarborough 3 December 1917: "…finished an important poem this afternoon", and on 6th he reported that WILD WITH ALL REGRETS was "begun and ended two days ago at one gasp." The following April, at Ripon, found him retouching "a photographic representation" of an officer dying of wounds, which after further revision that July had turned into A TERRE, a poem the Sitwells included in their 1919 publication WHEELS.

A lengthy birth and among Owen's war poems the lengthiest (65 lines) of all. About WILD WITH ALL REGRETS (it applies equally to A TERRE) he had written to Sassoon, "If simplicity, if imaginativeness, if sympathy, if resonance of vowels, make poetry I have not succeeded. But if you say, 'Here is poetry', it will be so for me. What do you think of my Vowel-rime stunt?" By that he meant pararhyme with which the poem is top-heavy, a "stunt" that should perhaps be used more sparingly lest it lose its power to surprise.

Ten stanzas of variable length, each explore a different aspect of the situation: 1 (lines 1-4) The dying man's physical state, 2 (5-10) His mental condition. 3 (11-18) Looking back, 4 (19-24) Clinging to life, 5 (25-35) Dirt and death - an extended metaphor, 6 (36-47) Consolation and idealism denied, 7 (48-57) How will it be?

(58-60) Hope rejected, 9 (61-63) Who is this friend? 10 (64-65) A cry from the heart

In hospital an officer lies dying of wounds. We can tell he's an officer from the diction which though largely colloquial is not the same demotic that we find in THE CHANCES. "I tried to peg out soldierly" (5) - a croquet term; "my buck" (11) - a fine fellow; "buffers" (14) - old fashioned-types; not the language of the average private soldier who again was less likely to be talking about teaching a son hitting, shooting, war and hunting (16-17).

His medals, once cherished, now mere "pennies on my eyes" (7), the ribbons having been "ripped from my own back" (9). How different now from then, when to be old and to be dead would seem much the same. He envies his servant, still alive when he himself is gone, whose menial tasks he wishes he could do; even envies trench rats their living state. No feeble attempt at humour can disguise the fear and anguish. To live one more year, one spring even:

Spring wind would work its own way to my lung,

And grow me legs as quick as lilac-shoots. (23-4)

Freakishly, whimsically he thinks

Dead men may envy living mites in cheese

Or good germs even. Microbes have their Joys. (40-1)

How will he end up? As grain…buds…soap? (48-9)

Do you think the…


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