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Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

Exposure


I
              1Our brains ache, in the merciless iced east winds that knife us ...
              2Wearied we keep awake because the night is silent ...
              3Low drooping flares confuse our memory of the salient ...
              4Worried by silence, sentries whisper, curious, nervous,
              5  But nothing happens.

              6Watching, we hear the mad gusts tugging on the wire.
              7Like twitching agonies of men among its brambles.
              8Northward incessantly, the flickering gunnery rumbles,
              9Far off, like a dull rumour of some other war.
            10  What are we doing here?

            11The poignant misery of dawn begins to grow ...
            12We only know war lasts, rain soaks, and clouds sag stormy.
            13Dawn massing in the east her melancholy army
            14Attacks once more in ranks on shivering ranks of gray,
            15  But nothing happens.

            16Sudden successive flights of bullets streak the silence.
            17Less deadly than the air that shudders black with snow,
            18With sidelong flowing flakes that flock, pause and renew,
            19We watch them wandering up and down the wind's nonchalance,
            20  But nothing happens.

II
            21Pale flakes with lingering stealth come feeling for our faces--
            22We cringe in holes, back on forgotten dreams, and stare, snow-dazed,
            23Deep into grassier ditches. So we drowse, sun-dozed,
            24Littered with blossoms trickling where the blackbird fusses.
            25  Is it that we are dying?

            26Slowly our ghosts drag home: glimpsing the sunk fires glozed
            27With crusted dark-red jewels; crickets jingle there;
            28For hours the innocent mice rejoice: the house is theirs;
            29Shutters and doors all closed: on us the doors are closed--
            30  We turn back to our dying.

            31Since we believe not otherwise can kind fires burn;
            32Now ever suns smile true on child, or field, or fruit.
            33For God's invincible spring our love is made afraid;
            34Therefore, not loath, we lie out here; therefore were born,
            35  For love of God seems dying.

            36To-night, His frost will fasten on this mud and us,
            37Shrivelling many hands and puckering foreheads crisp.
            38The burying-party, picks and shovels in their shaking grasp,
            39Pause over half-known faces. All their eyes are ice,
            40  But nothing happens.


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Wilfred Owen, Poems By Wilfred Owen with an Introduction by Siegfried Sassoon (London: Chatto and Windus, 1921): 18-19. PR 6029 W4P6 Robarts Library
First publication date: 1918
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1996-2000.
Recent editing: 2:2001/12/6

Composition date: 1918
Rhyme: abbac
Form note: the c rhyme often repeats from stanza to stanza


Other poems by Wilfred Owen