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Short poem

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

Spring Offensive

              1Halted against the shade of a last hill,
              2They fed, and, lying easy, were at ease
              3And, finding comfortable chests and knees
              4Carelessly slept. But many there stood still
              5To face the stark, blank sky beyond the ridge,
              6Knowing their feet had come to the end of the world.

              7Marvelling they stood, and watched the long grass swirled
              8By the May breeze, murmurous with wasp and midge,
              9For though the summer oozed into their veins
            10Like the injected drug for their bones' pains,
            11Sharp on their souls hung the imminent line of grass,
            12Fearfully flashed the sky's mysterious glass.

            13Hour after hour they ponder the warm field--
            14And the far valley behind, where the buttercups
            15Had blessed with gold their slow boots coming up,
            16Where even the little brambles would not yield,
            17But clutched and clung to them like sorrowing hands;
            18They breathe like trees unstirred.

            19Till like a cold gust thrilled the little word
            20At which each body and its soul begird
            21And tighten them for battle. No alarms
            22Of bugles, no high flags, no clamorous haste--
            23Only a lift and flare of eyes that faced
            24The sun, like a friend with whom their love is done.
            25O larger shone that smile against the sun,--
            26Mightier than his whose bounty these have spurned.

            27So, soon they topped the hill, and raced together
            28Over an open stretch of herb and heather
            29Exposed. And instantly the whole sky burned
            30With fury against them; and soft sudden cups
            31Opened in thousands for their blood; and the green slopes
            32Chasmed and steepened sheer to infinite space.

            33Of them who running on that last high place
            34Leapt to swift unseen bullets, or went up
            35On the hot blast and fury of hell's upsurge,
            36Or plunged and fell away past this world's verge,
            37Some say God caught them even before they fell.

            38But what say such as from existence' brink
            39Ventured but drave too swift to sink.
            40The few who rushed in the body to enter hell,
            41And there out-fiending all its fiends and flames
            42With superhuman inhumanities,
            43Long-famous glories, immemorial shames--
            44And crawling slowly back, have by degrees
            45Regained cool peaceful air in wonder--
            46Why speak they not of comrades that went under?

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): 20-21. PR 6029 W4P6 Robarts Library
First publication date: 1921
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1996-2000.
Recent editing: 2:2001/12/6

Composition date: 1918
Form: irregular

Other poems by Wilfred Owen