In honour of the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, here is a poem by Wilfred Owen, based on a real-life incident he saw in France, and the first he wrote after meeting his mentor Siegfried Sassoon.
In this poem he relies heavily on speech and straight-forward description to show us both the pity and horror of war.
The Dead Beat
He dropped, – more sullenly than wearily,
Lay stupid like a cod, heavy like meat,
And none of us could kick him to his feet;
-just blinked at my revolver, blearily;
– Didn’t appear to know a war was on,
Or see the blasted trench at which he stared.
‘I’ll do ’em in,’ he whined. ‘If this hand’s spared,
I’ll murder them, I will.’
A low voice said,
‘It’s Blighty, p’raps, he sees; his pluck’s all gone,
Dreaming of all the valiant, that aren’t dead:
Bold uncles, smiling ministerially;
Maybe his brave young wife, getting her fun
In some new home, improved materially.
It’s not these stiffs have crazed him; nor the Hun.’
We sent him down at last, out of the way.
Unwounded; – stout lad, too, before that strafe.
Malingering? Stretcher-bearers winked, ‘Not half!’
Next day I heard the Doc’s well-whiskied laugh:
‘That scum you sent last night soon died. Hooray!’