“My subject is war, and the pity of war. The Poetry is in the pity.”
Okay, so here’s something new. As far as I can tell, I have done 36 book reviews so far, and none of them were about poetry.
Oh Shit, I hear you say. She said the P Word.
Yes, I did. And see, I get it. Poetry is weird and most of us have been burnt by bad Literature Classes in School. Nobody likes poetry in school, and that might have to do with the poems that teachers choose – they are full of metaphors and alliterations and honestly nobody has fun counting out syllables and trying to come up with a meaning behind the iambic pentameter.
(That word alone gives me flashbacks.)
Because here is the thing. Poetry is not meant to be analyzed. It is meant to be felt.
It doesn’t work all the time – sometimes when I read a poem, it just feels like a bunch of words and sometimes when I read a poem it feels like someone ripping my heart out of my body and throwing it at my face at 90 mph.
That is the beauty of poetry.
And for this week, and because it has been 100 years since the First World War ended, I want to introduce you to one of my favourite poets. Everybody, meet Wilfred Owen.
One of the things the First World War is known for is its poetry. I have tried to come up with a reason behind the fact that this war brought us so many great poets, when none of the other modern wars did. (The Vietnam War did, a bit, but mostly in the anti-war movement, which is another thought worth exploring.)
Owen is one of the more popular poets of The Great War – we have discussed Rupert Graves, and Sassoon is another one. And you can’t help but read his work with a distinct sense of awe and sorrow once you know he was one of the victims of the war.
(He died on November 4, 1918 – seven days (almost to the exact hour) before the war ended. His mother received the telegram on Armistice Day.)
So what makes his poems so good? I couldn’t tell you. All I know is that you can’t read it without feeling something.
His two most famous poems – Dulce et Decorum Est and Anthem for Doomed Youth – tell you more of the reality of war than any book ever could. Look them up.
But there’s another side to Owen, one it took me a long time to discover. Because. You see. Owen was gay. And he wrote one of the most moving love letters that I have ever read.
So let’s leave the horror and brutality of the trenches behind and honor Owen’s memory instead with this excerpt from his letter to Sigfried Sasson.
“I love you, dispassionately, so much, so very much, dear Fellow, that the blasting little smile you wear on reading this can’t hurt me in the least.
And you have fixed my Life – however short. You did not light me: I was always a mad comet; but you have fixed me. I spun round you a satellite for a month, but I shall swing out soon, a dark star in the orbit where you will blaze.”
Next week – we’ll extend our stay in the World War I corner of literature – but we’ll look at one very important, very tiny, and yet very much forgotten story of this conflict.
(it’s also the first book that i got at my new job. Because it bears repeating: I have access to free books at my new job.)