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Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Wilfred Owen Award

Harold 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

'Strange Meeting':

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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