Not this week nor this month dare I lie down
In languor under lime trees or smooth smile.
Love must not kiss my face pale that is brown.
My lips, panting, shall drink space, mile by mile;
Strong meats be all my hunger; my renown
Be the clean beauty of speed and pride of style.
Cold winds encountered on the racing Down
Shall thrill my heated bareness; but awhile
None else may meet me till I wear my crown. (1)
The author of his poem was a Second Lieutenant with the Manchester Regiment, in training since June of this year at Witley Camp in Surrey. (2) This poem was apparently written in July 1918, after a cross-country run.(3) To my mind it sounds like something Rupert Brooke might have written in 1914, all about clean strong youth anticipating battle and a victor’s crown. By July 1918, however, the poet had seen active service, had been hospitalized at Craiglockhart for shell shock, and had learned to express his experiences with such power that we now think of him as one of the greatest voices of the Great War. The subject of his poetry was “War, and the pity of War. The Poetry,” he wrote, “is in the pity.” (4)
In less than three weeks, Percy will arrive at Witley Camp, and the Manchester Regiment, their training completed by September 24, will leave, together with Second Lieutenant Wilfred Owen. (2)
(1) Owen, Wilfred. “Training.” Available from the First World War Poetry Digital Archive. I have silently corrected their error in the fifth line, where they have “by” instead of “be.”
(2) Bent, Chris. “Wilfred Owen at Witley Camp.” Article from Surreyinthegreat war.uk.org
(3) Simcox, Ken. “Training [Critique].” 2005. Wilfred Owen Association.
(4) Owen, Wilfred. “Preface.” Poems. London, 1920. vii.
The photograph of Owen and his fellow officers at Witley Camp can be found in the First World War Poetry Digital Archive. Owen is second from the right in the front row.