This poem, by Wilfred Owen is, in my opinion one of the most powerful pieces of anti-war writing I have ever seen. It’s cold, uncompromising, brutal.
The boy, (and Owen clearly states that he is a boy, underage) has thrown his future away for vanity, excitement, glory, all the lies, with no thought for the consequences – and he has been allowed, even encouraged, to do so by a government which counts the human cost of war as carelessly as the boy did.
There is no glorious death here, no award for gallantry, no sad remembrance – but the boy who went to war was is no less dead than his fallen comrades, all that is left is a cripple who has to continue to exist reduced to an object of pity.
For a more modern treatment of this theme, see Eric Bogle's song The Band Played Waltzing Matilda.
He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark,
And shivered in his ghastly
suit of grey,
Legless, sewn short at elbow. Through the park
Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn
Voices of play and pleasure
Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him.
About this time Town
used to swing
When glow-lamps budded in the light-blue trees
And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim
-- In the old times, before he threw away his knees.
Now he will never feel again how slim
Girls' waists are, or how warm their subtle
All of them touch him like some queer
There was an artist
silly for his face,
For it was younger than his youth
, last year.
Now he is old; his back will never brace
He's lost his colour very far from here
Poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry,
And half his lifetime
lapsed in the hot race,
And leap of purple
spurted from his thigh.
One time he liked a bloodsmear down his leg,
After the matches carried shoulder-high.
It was after football, when he'd drunk a peg
He thought he'd better join. He wonders why . . .
Someone had said he'd look a god in kilts
That's why; and maybe, too, to please his Meg
Aye, that was it, to please the giddy jilts
He asked to join. He didn't have to beg
Smiling they wrote his lie; aged nineteen years.
Germans he scarcely thought of; and no fears
came yet. He thought of jewelled
For daggers in plaid
socks; of smart salutes;
And care of arms; and leave; and pay arrears;
Esprit de corps
; and hints for young recruits.
And soon, he was drafted out with drums
Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal
Only a solemn
man who brought him fruits
Thanked him; and then inquired about his soul
Now, he will spend a few sick years in Institutes,
And do what things the rules consider wise,
And take whatever pity they may dole
To-night he noticed how the women's eyes
Passed from him to the strong
men that were whole.
How cold and late it is! Why don't they come
And put him into bed? Why don't they come?