Tuesday poem: Mental cases by Wilfred Owen

April 23, 2012

Mental cases

Who are these? Why sit they here in twilight?
Wherefore rock they, purgatorial shadows,
Drooping tongues from jaws that slob their relish,
Baring teeth that leer like skulls’ tongues wicked?
Stroke on stroke of pain, – but what slow panic,
Gouged these chasms round their fretted sockets?
Ever from their hair and through their hand palms
Misery swelters. Surely we have perished
Sleeping, and walk hell; but who these hellish?

– These are men whose minds the Dead have ravished.
Memory fingers in their hair of murders,
Multitudinous murders they once witnessed.
Wading sloughs of flesh these helpless wander,
Treading blood from lungs that had loved laughter.
Always they must see these things and hear them,
Batter of guns and shatter of flying muscles,
Carnage incomparable and human squander
Rucked too thick for these men’s extrication.

Therefore still their eyeballs shrink tormented
Back into their brains, because on their sense
Sunlight seems a bloodsmear; night comes blood-black;
Dawn breaks open like a wound that bleeds afresh
– Thus their heads wear this hilarious, hideous,
Awful falseness of set-smiling corpses.
– Thus their hands are plucking at each other;
Picking at the rope-knouts of their scourging;
Snatching after us who smote them, brother,
Pawing us who dealt them war and madness.

Wilfred Owen

the building in the back fills the one in the front

And on ANZAC day, 25th April, let’s not forget that we still send young men (and women now, too) over to do the dirty work for us all; or at least in our countries’ names. I would like to see Australia’s troops only here for the defence of Australia, and fuck the geopolitics. But it’s usually old men (and the occasional middle aged woman) who make the decisions that cost young men their lives or sanity.

Not to mention the civilians, who have no special day of remembrance. It’s appropriate to remember the dead, but it would make more sense if we didn’t take actions that guarantee that we are making more of them.

Click the black feather to go to the Tuesday poetry hub in the country that contributed the rest of the ANZACs.

Tuesday Poem

6 Responses to “Tuesday poem: Mental cases by Wilfred Owen”

  1. That’s an excellent choice of poem for this week, Penelope. The media in NZ treats Anzac Day as a day for mawkish, unreflective veneration of the military, and politicians treat it as a day to mouth sanctimonious phrases. It sticks in my craw.

    I was thinking of Eric Bogle’s song “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” a couple of days ago. This poem makes a fine companion piece to it.

    • pscottier said

      And the unreflective nature of much of what is often referred to now as Anzac ‘celebrations’ is an insult to the loss of the young men who are allegedly the focus of events. For the occasional voice of a young poet like Owen, there are the men who are utterly gone, remembered only in the aggregate. We keep doing it, as you know, largely for reasons of sucking up to the Americans, where once it was the British. The numbers are smaller, but the pain is the same.

      There may be wars worth fighting, but I don’t see much of that at the moment.

  2. You are so right! All those young lives ruined by PTSS

  3. pscottier said

    I hope poems like Owen’s are remembered during the 100th anniversary of the First World War coming up soon, Kathleen. ‘Anniversary’ sounds like a marriage, and it seems that we are married to the idea of throwing ourselves into wars, at least here in Australia.

  4. Thanks Penelope. It’s vital that we remember the suffering and the wasted lives,

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