Apologia Pro Poemate Meo
"Apologia Pro Poemate Meo" is a poem by Wilfred Owen. It deals with the atrocities of World War I. The title means "in defence of my poetry" and is often viewed as a rebuttal to a remark in Robert Graves' letter "for God's sake cheer up and write more optimistically - the war's not ended yet but a poet should have a spirit above wars."
Alternatively, the poem is seen as a possible response to "Apologia Pro Vita Sua".
The poem describes some of the horrors of war and how this leads to a lack of emotion and a desensitisation to death. However the key message of the poem is revealed in the final two stanzas criticizing "you" at home (contemporary readers) for using war propaganda and images as a form of entertainment "These men are worth/ Your tears. You are not worth their merriment".
The full poem is as follows:
I, too, saw God through mud -
- The mud that cracked on cheeks when wretches smiled.
- War brought more glory to their eyes than blood,
- And gave their laughs more glee than shakes a child.
Merry it was to laugh there -
- Where death becomes absurd and life absurder.
- For power was on us as we slashed bones bare
- Not to feel sickness or remorse of murder.
I, too, have dropped off fear -
- Behind the barrage, dead as my platoon,
- And sailed my spirit surging, light and clear
- Past the entanglement where hopes lay strewn;
And witnessed exultation -
- Faces that used to curse me, scowl for scowl,
- Shine and lift up with passion of oblation,
- Seraphic for an hour; though they were foul.
I have made fellowships -
- Untold of happy lovers in old song.
- For love is not the binding of fair lips
- With the soft silk of eyes that look and long,
By Joy, whose ribbon slips, -
- But wound with war's hard wire whose stakes are strong;
- Bound with the bandage of the arm that drips;
- Knit in the webbing of the rifle-thong.
I have perceived much beauty
- In the hoarse oaths that kept our courage straight;
- Heard music in the silentness of duty;
- Found peace where shell-storms spouted reddest spate.
Nevertheless, except you share
- With them in hell the sorrowful dark of hell,
- Whose world is but the trembling of a flare,
- And heaven but as the highway for a shell,
You shall not hear their mirth:
- You shall not come to think them well content
- By any jest of mine. These men are worth
- Your tears: You are not worth their merriment.
- Wilfred Owen, Collected Letters, edited by Harold Owen and John Bell - London, 1967.
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