Exposure
Wilfred Owen, (1893-1918)
  • He was encouraged in his poetry by Siegfried Sassoon
  • while both convalesced at Craiglockhart War Hospital near Edinburgh.
  • Completed in 1918

  • Our brains ache, in the merciless iced east winds that knive
  • Wearied we keep awake because the night is silent...
  • Low, drooping flares confuse our memory of the salient
  • Worried by silence, sentries whisper, curious, nervous,
  • But nothing happens.
  • Watching, we hear the mad gusts tugging on the wire,
  • Like twitching agonies of men among its brambles.
  • Northward, incessantly, the flickering gunnery rumbles,
  • Far off, like a dull rumour of some other war.
  • What are we doing here?
  • The poignant misery of dawn begins to grow ...
  • We only know war lasts, rain soaks, and clouds sag stormy.
  • Dawn massing in the east her melancholy army
  • Attacks once more in ranks on shivering ranks of gray,
  • But nothing happens.
  • Sudden successive flights of bullets streak the silence
  • Less deathly than the air that shudders black with snow,
  • With sidelong flowing flakes that flock, pause and renew;
  • We watch them wandering up and down the wind's nonchalance,
  • But nothing happens.
  • Pale flakes with fingering stealth come feeling for our faces -
  • We cringe in holes, back on forgotten dreams, and stare, snow
  • Deep into grassier ditches. So we drowse, sun-dozed,
  • Littered with blossoms trickling where the blackbird fusses.
  • Is it that we are dying?
  • Slowly our ghosts drag home: glimpsing the sunk fires, glozed
  • With crusted dark-red jewels; crickets jingle there;
  • For hours the innocent mice rejoice: the house is theirs;
  • Shutters and doors, all closed: on us the doors are closed, -
  • We turn back to our dying.
  • Since we believe not otherwise can kind fires burn;
  • Nor ever suns smile true on child, or field, or fruit.
  • For God's invincible spring our love is made afraid;
  • Therefore, not loath, we lie out here; therefore were born,
  • For love of God seems dying.
  • Tonight, this frost will fasten on this mud and us,
  • Shrivelling many hands, puckering foreheads crisp.
  • The burying-party, picks and shovels in their shaking grasp,
  • Pause over half-known faces. All their eyes are ice,
  • But nothing happens.
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