Wild With All Regrets, by Wilfred Owen

16 September 2014

(To S.S.)

My arms have mutinied against me — brutes!
My fingers fidget like ten idle brats,
My back’s been stiff for hours, damned hours.
Death never gives his squad a Stand-at-ease.
I can’t read. There: it’s no use. Take your book.
A short life and a merry one, my buck!
We said we’d hate to grow dead old. But now,
Not to live old seems awful: not to renew
My boyhood with my boys, and teach ’em hitting,
Shooting and hunting, — all the arts of hurting!
— Well, that’s what I learnt. That, and making money.
Your fifty years in store seem none too many;
But I’ve five minutes. God! For just two years
To help myself to this good air of yours!
One Spring! Is one too hard to spare? Too long?
Spring air would find its own way to my lung,
And grow me legs as quick as lilac-shoots.

* * * *

Yes, there’s the orderly. He’ll change the sheets
When I’m lugged out, oh, couldn’t I do that?
Here in this coffin of a bed, I’ve thought
I’d like to kneel and sweep his floors for ever, —
And ask no nights off when the bustle’s over,
For I’d enjoy the dirt; who’s prejudiced
Against a grimed hand when his own’s quite dust, —
Less live than specks that in the sun-shafts turn?
Dear dust, — in rooms, on roads, on faces’ tan!
I’d love to be a sweep’s boy, black as Town;
Yes, or a muckman. Must I be his load?
A flea would do. If one chap wasn’t bloody,
Or went stone-cold, I’d find another body.

* * * *

Which I shan’t manage now. Unless it’s yours.
I shall stay in you, friend, for some few hours.
You’ll feel my heavy spirit chill your chest,
And climb your throat on sobs, until it’s chased
On sighs, and wiped from off your lips by wind.
I think on your rich breathing, brother, I’ll be weaned
To do without what blood remained me from my wound.

//

Owen wrote this poem in December 1917. The title comes from Tennyson, and the dedication is to Siegfried Sassoon, and later expanded it into the better-known  ‘A Terre (being the philosophy of many soldiers’. ‘A Terre’ is more fully developed in its theme, and even manages to have some fun – if that’s the right word – with Shelley:

“‘I shall be one with nature, herb, and stone’
Shelley would tell me. Shelley would be stunned:
The dullest Tommy hugs that fancy now.
‘Pushing up daisies’ is their creed, you know.”

I like this a lot, and also the point about the ‘buffers’ being mocked by schoolboys, but nevertheless alive to be so.  Both certainly have their virtues. But ‘Wild…’ retains a directness, its less polished transitions between images more jarring; beginning with the cry against the ‘mutiny’ of the arms rather than the deadening passivity of ‘Sit on the bed’ (so poignant in its way) gives more of the sense of the wildness of the title.

[Read in The War Poems, by Wilfred Owen, ed. Jon Stallworthy; published by Chatto & Windus. Ripped from poemhunter.]

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