“A Sonnet: To Wilfred Owen” (and “The Front”)

I wanted to share this little poem that was written to be from the perspective of a WWI soldier visiting what used to be a battle site. In the fall, UMW’s Chamber Choir (that includes me) performed this piece, and I fell in love with the text. The text is titled “A Sonnet: to Wilfred Owen”. Given that we’re meant to read Owen for next class, I figured it was at least a little appropriate. It appears it was written only for the piece, which is titled “The Front”, so I could only find it on the sheet music’s home page. The piece itself, along with the poem, was written and released in January 2020. I think it’s interesting to look at this poem, knowing that Matthew Taylor King, as far as I could find, was quite young, and thus was not a part of WWI in any way. The music piece itself is also incredibly moving. I’ll include a link to a video of it if you want to check that out. Anyways, I’ve been rambling. I just wanted to share ūüôā

A Sonnet to Wilfred Owen:
Have you seen the Front? It is not as it
Used to be. Larks sing. Shells rust. Fevers cool.
The Winter of the world is in tacit
Armistice with Spring. Living waters pool
In tired foxholes. Proud young forests shelter
No man’s land. Moss gilds sandbags, else they spill.
Mine-sunk craters yield to ponds where elder
Turtles sun themselves, warm amid Aisne’s chill.
Only the mud is as it was‚ÄĒpartout.
It clings to every sole. But certain fields
Block the charging sludge. In them, marble shields
‚ÄĒOr are they dragon’s teeth?‚ÄĒmark you, guard you
From the mire. You rest. Your dagger’s sheathed. And yet:
How swiftly Nature heals; how slowly men forget.
-Matthew Taylor King

Marisol’s Reading Questions for March 22nd

There were too many wonderful questions to limit them to three, so I went ahead and listed everything that I thought was applicable to ask. Feel free to pick your favorites to answer!

1. What do you make of the poem On the Belgian Expatriation? Is this poem about the shattering of innocence where songs of peace are silenced by the presence of war? What did you make of the rhyme suddenly ending when the soldiers were introduced as an end to the dancing tune? Did you notice it, whether consciously or subconsciously?

2. Why is the moon consistently considered as something that overlooks the war? It is constantly a negative signifier, whether as something judgemental like in I Looked Up From My Writing or as a symbol of a lover’s moon or a reminder of peacetimes that is then resented? Is the sun too cheery for that endeavor, or do humans focus on the moon since people typically sink into depression at night when they are getting ready to rest?

3. Was anyone surprised by Rudyard Kipling’s involvement in the war? Do you think if he had written the¬†Jungle Book,¬†not in 1894, but sometime during or after The Great War, that the content would somehow be different?¬†

4. After reading the poem¬†For All We Have and Are¬†and the previous books assigned for class, how do you feel about Kipling’s gung-ho attitude toward war, filled with patriotic propaganda? Could he be compared to someone like Kantorek from¬†All Quiet on the Western Front? The poem¬†My Boy Jack¬†complicates this question further; clearly, Kipling is glorifying sacrifice for one’s country. Why or why not? Let’s try to dig into the nuance of this attitude as well.¬†

5. In the poem Justice, he writes 

“For agony and spoil

Of nations beat to dust,

For poisoned air and tortured soil

And cold, commanded lust‚ÄĚ

Is he romanticizing the loss and agony of these men? He acknowledges their sacrifice but is this still dangerous like Kantorek’s rhetoric?

6. Binyon’s For the Fallen is evidently famous, especially his 4th stanza which reads: 

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning 

We will remember them.‚ÄĚ 

Why do you think this specific part of the poem gained fame? Would you consider this a respectful and beautiful inscription on a tomb, or would you consider this another piece of propaganda that aided in these deaths that may be deemed unnecessary and avoidable to others?

7. Charlotte Mew suffered a tragic life, yet in her poem May, 1915 she sprinkles in great optimism. Despite this, The Cenotaph is a little darker in this regard. Would you still argue that her poem The Cenotaph is a little more realistic in terms of loss in the war since her experiences with death made her more understanding and less eager to romanticize it? Or do you think she is still guilty, like other authors, of doing so?

8. Would you say Robert Service’s Tipperary Days reads like bitter satire? Does the tone of the poem change when you learn his brother Albert died in 1916 in the war? His poem Tri-color reads far more despairingly. Would you argue that that poem shows his true feelings more than Tipperary Days?

9. Wilfrid Gibson wrote¬†The Messages,¬†which uses repetition and periods to draw out the sense of a traumatized and shocked mind. He wanted “the War’s tragedies in a language freed from patriotic afflatus.” Do you think this uncomfortable honesty contributed to him falling out of fashion so quickly? How well does he cover PTSD in his writings?¬†

10. Between the Lines by Gibson creates a poignant story with ease, capturing the awful state of war. Do you think this is impressive, considering Gibson had to imagine much since he only served clerical duties in the war? What are your thoughts on how he captured anxiety in each of his poems? Also, stars are mentioned in this poem. Why do you think celestial bodies are a main piece in many of the stories we read? The moon as a taunter and stars as hope in the darkness?

11. The repetition of stanzas and lines can be seen in Gibson‚Äôs work and Cannan’s. Why do you think that tool is used? Does it build tension and anxiety, etc?¬†