Wednesday, August 04, 2004
Wilfred Owen AwardHarold Pinter back in the news with his winning of the controversial poetry award.
We learned Owen by heart at prep school - a bare 10 years after the troops had come home - so there were meaningful glances and furrowed brows from the teachers as we recited.
In the case of our venerable 70-year-old classics master, Howard Clough, he had actually served in the Great War, and rumour had it he had been a star athlete at Cambridge in the early 1900s.
He would listen to us read aloud in our squeaky high voices and sometimes a mist would form behind his spectacles. He had the habit of suddenly whispering a name - 'Norton' ... 'Wilkers' ... 'Bradshaw' - which we took to be some dead pal.
"Was that a friend of yours, sir?", we'd chirrup with the cruelty of the young.
Like ruins or part-standing battlements, I can only remember fragments:
From 'Anthem of Doomed Youth',
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns ...
From 'The Send-Off':
So secretly, like wrongs hushed-up, they went.
They were not ours:
We never heard to which front these were sent
I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark: for you so frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbbed and killed ...
Let us sleep now.
All those years ago ... 'monstrous anger of the guns', indeed.
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