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LETTER: Remembering Wilfred Owen’s powerful poem

Soldiers could be in trenches for months during the Great War.
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I dutifully bought my poppy the other day but unlike prior years, perhaps because the world seems in the grip of tectonic frictions seemingly similar to those that resulted in the wars we commemorate, and many we don’t, I sat down to think about what I was doing by buying this symbol.

Was I acknowledging sacrifice in pursuit of freedom? Yes, to some extent. Was I wanting to be seen as caring by demonstrating my commitment through a public un-missable display of solidarity? Yes, that too.

As I thought this through I delved into my memory to unearth some of the other war poems that have been perhaps buried under the poppies of John McRae’s “In Flanders Field.”

McRae urges the living to fight on, taking the torch from the dead in a grisly relay. Wilfred Owen, on the other hand speaks to us as follows:

“If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood/come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs ... My friend, you would not tell with such high zest/ To children ardent for some desperate glory/ The old lie: Dulce et decorum est/ Pro patria mori.”

Let us acknowledge the sacrifice of our forebears.

Let us also be sure to remember the message, even if it is in contemplative reading of a poem, that war is hell and there is no sweetness in dying and that the only glory for the men who went to their deaths in the mud is now played out in lapel pins they cannot see.

William Radford

St John’s

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