Move him into the sun –
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.
Think how it wakes the seeds, –
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides,
Full-nerved, – still warm, – too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
– O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?
Wilfred Owen dramatically expressed the relentless, inhumane horrors of the First World War in poems such as Anthem for Doomed Youth and Dulce et Decorum est, where his pool of words serve to convey the intense revulsion he felt at the futile suffering of the soldiers at the front. These poems convey the nightmare of mustard gas and the wholesale, indiscriminate slaughter of ordinary soldiers for what amounted to be little more than mud.
Carol Ann Duffy’s recent revisitation of ‘war poetry’ Last Post, sensitively re-imagines a different outcome for the millions dead: she gently resurrects their stolen lives through her reversal of time. A beautiful ‘what if’ for those (including Owen himself) who never got a chance at any ‘if’ of any future beyond the trenches.
Here in Futility, I find Wilfred Owen’s word pools softer, more intimate, reverential even. It is as if Owen is talking to you and me quietly, next to the newly dead comrade, through a prayer like pool of words which are both resigned and yet poignant and respectful.
‘Move him into the sun-‘
This sounds too tender to be an imperative, or God forbid, an order. The assembly of vowel sounds in the first line are followed by many more in the second and third lines,:
‘Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields half-sown.’
This reads like a lullaby, a caressing, reminiscence, reassuring the dead man perhaps of the resonance and endurance of his pastoral past. We hear the reassurance as a meditation or prayer. We trust to its pool of liquid vowels culminating in the last line of stanza one:
‘The kind old sun will know.’
Assonance and consonance are joined together in poignant humility -before the darkness of death with its challenge to faith.
Carol Ann Duffy 15 ideas!
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