Monday, 3 June 2019

"Futility" - poems by Wilfred Owen and Cecil Roberts

Both Wilfred Owen and Cecil Roberts wrote a poem entitled “Futility" during the First World War.  I think it is worth comparing the poems:

"Futility" by Cecil Roberts (1892 - 1976)

They send me, Charles, long letters on your death,
Full of fair phrases culled from poetry
That do not blind me – let them save their breath;
The nectared lies of immortality,
The sounding rhetoric, the pompous phrase,
The talk of ‘supreme sacrifice’, the ‘great
Reward’ – what are these ‘gainst your withered days,
Your dear lost face, the squalor of your fate?
That you were brave, I know, but still you clung
To life that meant so much;  they say you cried
In that last hour, feeling you were so young,
And desperately fought for life, and died.
These letters, Charles, they mock me with their lies,
Their borrowes phrases that blittle life
And love and laughter – I can see your eyes
As once they glowed, your body like a knife
Tempered and flashing in a summer sea,
Or hear your voice enraptured over books.
Or in the bathroom singing merrily
At early morn, and days in river nooks
And tennis sets – these memories all seem
Like ghosts that haunt your room now you are gone,
And make me think your end is but a dream,
How can it be the end – at twenty-one?
But when I read these letters then I know
You will not come again, nor does their praise
Lighten the heaviness of this great blow:
I cannot kiss your brow, nor see the place
Where they have left you;   as they write of ‘fame’,
Your ‘splendid gift’, my only thought is this –
What will they care ten years hence for your n ame,
Who cares a damn who died at Salamis?

The Battle of Salamis was a naval battle fought by the Greeks and Persians in 480 BC.

“The Years of Promise 1908  - 1919” by Cecil Roberts (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1968)

"Futility" by Wilfred Owen (1893 - 1918)

Move him into the sun—
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields half-sown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds—
Woke once the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved, still warm, too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth's sleep at all?

"Futility" Statue, Hamilton Square, Birkenhead, Wirral, UK Photo: P..Breeze

A statue entitled "Futility" commemorating the 88 pupils of the Birkenhead Institute school who lost their lives in the First World War was unveiled recently in Hamilton Square, Birkenhead, Wirral, UK.  Cast in bronze at a Liverpool Foundry by sculptor, Jim Whelan, the statue represents an exhausted World War One solider after a gas attack.  It was produced using a sketch drawn by a former pupil of the Birkenhead Institute who went on to become an art master at the school.  His name was Dave (D.S.W.) Jones and he drew the soldier to illustrate Wilfred Owen’s poem “Futlity” specially for Jeff Walsh’s book “A Tribute to Wilfred Owen”. Wilfred was a pupil at the B.I. from 1900 – 1907. 

The statue was unveiled on the 100th anniversary of the death of Wilfred Owen on Sunday, 4th November 2018.   The Duke and Duchess of Sussex (Prince Harry and his lovely wife Meghan) unveiled a plaque beside the statue on 14th January 2019.