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1914 by Wilfred Owen

Some notes for you


Background
A letter from Owen to his mother dated 21 December 1914:
When I read that a shell fell into a group of 16 schoolboys and killed fifteen, I raved. Talk about
rumours of wars and earthquakes in diverse places The beginning of the End must be ended,
and the beginning of the middle of the end is now.
After reading what Owen wrote to his mother about the Germans shelling of Scarborough (a
seaside town in England) when sixteen died and 443 were wounded, we could guess that this
poem was probably written about this month, December 1014.
Some people have suggested that this was Owens first poem about the war, revised in August
1917 when he was visiting Siegfried Sassoon. But what did Owen himself think about it when
revising it three years later?
.
Rhyme & Rhythm
Only lines 5 and 7 break the otherwise regular iambic metre. The rhymes too are conventional: no
subtle pararhymes here. Of more relevance is how intention conforms to received opinion on the war at
that time, as exemplified by such as Rupert Brooke or Julian Grenfell.
.
Octet
The contrast between the diction on the octet (lines 1 - 8) and in the sestet
(9 - 14) is very marked (obvious).
The octet has:
whirled (L4)
rend (L5) all words that indicate of (or are linked to)
destructive force
down-hurled (L8)

famine (L7)
rots (L8) destructions legacies (what is present
AFTER destruction)

wails (L6) the human response




1914 by Wilfred Owen

All are results of that fearsome over-reaching word tornado (L3)
.

Lines 1 & 2

the winter of the world
With perishing great darkness closes in.

Owen knew his Shelley
1
. Hed been given the complete poetical works for his 21st birthday on 18
March 1914. In The Revolt of Islam, Owen would have read:

This is the winter of the world; and here
We die, even as the winds of Autumn fade

.

Sestet
How different when we come to the sestet which completes the metaphor of
seasonal change. Spring blooms, summer blazes, harvest is rich with all
increase (line 12) until spring comes once more.
War destroys but peace follows and renews.
Unfortunately a price has to be paid, as Owen acknowledges in his final line
with the allusion to blood for seed (line 14).
.

Is it possible that that little word but beginning line 13 suggests a turning away
from the spirit of hopeful self-sacrifice?
Could an interpretation of blood for seed be a foresight of a very different, and as
yet unfashionable, attitude to the war?
Whatever the answer, we may feel that the poems rather high-flown self-conscious
tone differs markedly from those that have earned Owen his international repute; a
made poem perhaps, rather than felt; a period piece that allows for just a grain of
ambiguity in that final line,
Of sowings for new Spring, and blood for seed.


1
Percy Bysshe Shelley one of the major Romantic poets, and is regarded by critics as amongst the finest lyric poets
in the English language.
Similar, right?