In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

Insensibility

Posted by seumasach on March 18, 2009

One of the greatest poems in the English language, written during World War One, on the last day of which Owen was killed. Ostensibly a war poem, it nonetheless has remarkable resonance with those of us who have never known war directly, suggesting that we are more marked than we know by the bloody turmoil of an epoch from which, hopefully, we are now , at last, emerging.

Wilfred Owen

Happy are men who yet before they are killed
Can let their veins run cold.
Whom no compassion fleers
Or makes their feet
Sore on the alleys cobbled with their brothers.
The front line withers,
But they are troops who fade, not flowers
For poets’ tearful fooling:
Men, gaps for filling
Losses who might have fought
Longer; but no one bothers.

II

    And some cease feeling
    Even themselves or for themselves.
    Dullness best solves
    The tease and doubt of shelling,
    And Chance’s strange arithmetic
    Comes simpler than the reckoning of their shilling.
    They keep no check on Armies’ decimation.

III

    Happy are these who lose imagination:
    They have enough to carry with ammunition.
    Their spirit drags no pack.
    Their old wounds save with cold can not more ache.
    Having seen all things red,
    Their eyes are rid
    Of the hurt of the colour of blood for ever.
    And terror’s first constriction over,
    Their hearts remain small drawn.
    Their senses in some scorching cautery of battle
    Now long since ironed,
    Can laugh among the dying, unconcerned.

IV

    Happy the soldier home, with not a notion
    How somewhere, every dawn, some men attack,
    And many sighs are drained.
    Happy the lad whose mind was never trained:
    His days are worth forgetting more than not.
    He sings along the march
    Which we march taciturn, because of dusk,
    The long, forlorn, relentless trend
    From larger day to huger night.

V

    We wise, who with a thought besmirch
    Blood over all our soul,
    How should we see our task
    But through his blunt and lashless eyes?
    Alive, he is not vital overmuch;
    Dying, not mortal overmuch;
    Nor sad, nor proud,
    Nor curious at all.
    He cannot tell
    Old men’s placidity from his.

VI

    But cursed are dullards whom no cannon stuns,
    That they should be as stones.
    Wretched are they, and mean
    With paucity that never was simplicity.
    By choice they made themselves immune
    To pity and whatever mourns in man
    Before the last sea and the hapless stars;
    Whatever mourns when many leave these shores;
    Whatever shares
    The eternal reciprocity of tears.

One Response to “Insensibility”

  1. smeddum said

    Daniel Patrick Welch’s moving recital of Pearse’s “The Rebel”
    [audio src="http://www.redress.cc/cms-files/rebel.wav" /]

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