“Apologia Pro Poemate Meo” by Wilfred Owen

ANZAC Day Special:
In commemoration of the First World War
Perhaps there can be no more poignant context for poetry than pointless, grinding, immense slaughter; perhaps there can be no greater poet than Wilfred Owen. In his “Apology for My Poetry,” Owen beautifully inscribes the perversity of soldier-victims of slaughter finding joy in their camaraderie and in their own perpetration of slaughter, and he indicts all of humanity for its institution of war that compels such perversity. The title is mordant; it is we who must apologize to Owen – and to all the other victims of war – for creating the conditions in which he created this poetry.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“Apologia Pro Poemate Meo”

Wilfred Owen

I, too, saw God through mud,–
The mud that cracked on cheeks when wretches smiled.
War brought more glory to their eyes than blood,
And gave their laughs more glee than shakes a child.

Merry it was to laugh there–
Where death becomes absurd and life absurder.
For power was on us as we slashed bones bare
Not to feel sickness or remorse of murder.

I, too, have dropped off Fear–
Behind the barrage, dead as my platoon,
And sailed my spirit surging light and clear
Past the entanglement where hopes lay strewn;

And witnessed exultation–
Faces that used to curse me, scowl for scowl,
Shine and lift up with passion of oblation,
Seraphic for an hour; though they were foul.

I have made fellowships–
Untold of happy lovers in old song.
For love is not the binding of fair lips
With the soft silk of eyes that look and long,

By Joy, whose ribbon slips,–
But wound with war’s hard wire whose stakes are strong;
Bound with the bandage of the arm that drips;
Knit in the webbing of the rifle-thong.

I have perceived much beauty
In the hoarse oaths that kept our courage straight;
Heard music in the silentness of duty;
Found peace where shell-storms spouted reddest spate.

Nevertheless, except you share
With them in hell the sorrowful dark of hell,
Whose world is but the trembling of a flare,
And heaven but as the highway for a shell,

You shall not hear their mirth:
You shall not come to think them well content
By any jest of mine. These men are worth
Your tears. You are not worth their merriment.