Poetically Speaking: Mental Cases by Wilfred Owen

Following my review of The Heroes’ Welcome it seemed appropriate to choose a poem from the first world war for this Poetically Speaking.  Flicking through a lovely anthology by Gaby Morgan, Poems from the First World War, I came upon this.  It isn’t a comfortable read, it depicts men in a mental hospital suffering from shell shock.  However having been so moved by a novel that told the story of the emotional consequences of the war it particularly resonated with me.

 

WW1 PoemsMental Cases

Who are these? Why sit they here in twilight?
Wherefore rock they, purgatorial shadows,
Drooping tongues from jays that slob their relish,
Baring teeth that leer like skulls’ teeth wicked?
Stroke on stroke of pain,- but what slow panic,
Gouged these chasms round their fretted sockets?
Ever from their hair and through their hands’ 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.
WBatter 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 blood-smear; 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.ading sloughs of flesh these helpless wander,
Treading blood from lungs that had loved laughter.
Always they must see these things and hear them,

You may be familiar with this by the famous war poet Wilfred Owen. If not I wonder what you think of it?

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