Wilfred Owen Disabled
Written by Wilfred Owen in 1917, Disabled is a war poem expressing the tormented thoughts, recollections, and ruminations of a teenaged soldier wounded in the World War I. The poem is one of contrasts, that of what the soldier considers a living death, the life he now faces being limbless, with that of the pleasures and frivolity of the youthful past he recalls. The soldier also explains his reasons for joining the military even in a time of war, noting the frivolous circumstances with which he signed up; a great departure from the more sober and less enthusiastic greeting he received when he was brought home injured versus the cheers he received when joining. The soldier speaks of the young women who flirted with him as the strapping young soldier, and who now no longer look upon the limbless man he has come home as. The sentiment is strengthened by the poems jibe at “the strong men who were whole.”
He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark,
And shivered in his ghastly suit of grey,
Legless, sewn short at elbow. Through the park
Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn,
Voices of play and pleasure after day,
Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him.
About this time Town used to swing so gay
When glow-lamps budded in the light blue trees,
And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim,-
In the old times, before he threw away his knees.
Now he will never feel again how slim
Girls’ waists are, or how warm their subtle hands.
All of them touch him like some queer disease.
There was an artist silly for his face,
For it was younger than his youth, last year.
Now, he is old; his back will never brace;
He’s lost his colour very far from here,
Poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry,
And half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race
And leap of purple spurted from his thigh.
One time he liked a blood-smear down his leg,
After the matches, carried shoulder-high.
It was after football, when he’d drunk a peg,
He thought he’d better join.-He wonders why.
Someone had said he’d look a god in kilts,
That’s why; and maybe, too, to please his Meg,
Aye, that was it, to please the giddy jilts
He asked to join. He didn’t have to beg;
Smiling they wrote his lie: aged nineteen years.
Germans he scarcely thought of; all their guilt,
And Austria’s, did not move him. And no fears
Of Fear came yet. He thought of jewelled hilts
For daggers in plaid socks; of smart salutes;
And care of arms; and leave; and pay arrears;
Esprit de corps; and hints for young recruits.
And soon, he was drafted out with drums and cheers.
Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal.
Only a solemn man who brought him fruits
Thanked him; and then inquired about his soul.
Now, he will spend a few sick years in institutes,
And do what things the rules consider wise,
And take whatever pity they may dole.
Tonight he noticed how the women’s eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
How cold and late it is! Why don’t they come?
And put him into bed? Why don’t they come?
Owen is regarded by historians and literary experts as one of the leading poets of the WWI. Most of his best known works were publish posthumously, though his poetic beginnings date back well into his childhood. Owen himself admits that he had been writing poetry even at the tender age of ten years old. The Romantic poets Keats and P.B. Shelley influenced much of Owen’s early writings, though his great friend and fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon later had a profound effect on Owen’s poetic voice. Owen’s most famous poems, including Dulce et Decorum Est and Anthem for Doomed Youth, show the direct results of Sassoon’s influence. [Via Disabled and Wilfred Owen]