June 3, 2011

Letters to Mother



Addressed as “Dearest” except when young,
at five, from Birkenhead, he wrote.
They were making huts,
“I have got a lantern,
and we are lighting them up tonight.
With love from your Wilfred,
I remain your loving son…”

Six years later he writes again.
“We went to lantern service…
I don’t think I told you Mr. Moore’s text…
It was Pilate’s sermon,
as he called it: `Behold the man,’
He told us a lot about Pontius Pilate,
& then about `The Man’.

The last day of nineteen-oh-eight,
“Dorothy Leslie the Cates & I
took the toboggan to
Peppard Common,”
and simply had,
“a splendidrippinggrandmajesticgloriousdelightfulscrumtiousexquiesitelyexcruciating time…”
Tea will be ready soon.
Dearest Mother.

“My dearest Mother,
Many, many thanks for your long letter.
Do please call upon the Canon
and ask about the fees…

…Very disagreeably as experience is forcing upon me the fact
that money must purchase
even such pleasures as good books…
[I] regard the life whose sole aim
is money-making to be the most pitiable.
Perhaps you think me still hopelessly undecided,
but I hope that the Canon’s advice may clear things up a bit.

Teaching in Bordeaux he writes,
“I must talk about myself
or you will not consider this a letter.”
Funny you asked about my hair,
just last week I noticed grey was cropping up again..
“It seems quite a long time
since I last heard from home…”

Too many wounded I have seen.
Early winter nineteen-fourteen.
“Dearest of Mothers,
Your loving letters never end without a prayer…
Indeed, though I look up and down the world,
I see no man whom I could serve
without a suffocated feeling of captivity.
This may turn out fortunate after all…”

At a woodshop,
trying to save the eight pounds it takes to get back home,
making luggage out of lumber
he talks about the war,
“The beginning of the End must be ended,
and the beginning of the middle of the end is now.”

After Typhoid shots,
“In the night the arm got pretty bad.
I still feel as if a horse had got my arm between its teeth.”
If not fit by Monday then light duty I receive,
“which I believe consist of standing still and staring…
Recruits are very numerous now—17 on Monday last.”

“The sun still shines…
large numbers of wounded were being rushed down the road…
I came, also to see the gentleman in charge…
He has just come in-,
an extraordinary hunch-backed Irishman…”
“This afternoon I went forth in search of adventure,
and took a joy ride in a tank…

Do not inform friends & relations that I pass my hours reading,
sleeping, conversing, & gathering roses from bewildered gardens.
But so it is,
and I’m getting fat on it.”

The last letter of his life.
“I will call the place…
`The Smoky Cellar of the Forrester’s House…’
My servant and I
ate the chocolate in the cold middle of last night,
crouched under a draughty Tamboo…
There is no danger down here,
or if any,
it will be well over before you read these lines.”

A week before the Armistice,
Wilfred Owen died,
crossing the Sambre Oise Canal,
shot at twenty-five.

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