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Poetry CritiqueThe Kind Ghosts

From sneering at his non-combatant cousin Leslie Gunston to attacking 'all the stinking Leeds & Bradford War-profiteers,' Wilfred Owen made no attempt to disguise his contempt for the Nation at Home as he put it.

Specifically in THE KIND GHOSTS (in which he reverted to writing in the Decadent tradition) the women.

An unusual verse form of 4 X 3-line stanzas, an uncommon rhyme scheme (aba) and a succession of long vowels augment a sensuous picture of a woman dedicated to self-indulgence while shielded from and oblivious to life's harsh realities.

In MINERS Owen contrasts the men who 'worked dark pits of war, and died……' with those who 'will sit soft-chaired, in rooms of amber', and in THE KIND GHOSTS he does the same in the case of 'she' (and for 'she' we read womenfolk at home) who 'sleeps on soft' set against the 'walls of boys' who have died that the soft sleep shall continue. 'Once more into the breach…..or close the wall up with our English dead' was HenryV's rallying cry, and closed up her palace wall is with the bodies of those who have defended her life and privilege. Here too men have rallied to the cause of - what? That their women may 'sleep soft'? Unfair to the female sex in general in World War One no doubt, but that is how Owen was seeing it.

In stanza 2 she 'Dreams of golden gardens and sweet glooms'. How different from the Owen of ANTHEM FOR DOOMED YOUTH in which the dusks of grieving loved-ones are not 'sweet' but sad beyond measure.

'Not marvelling why her roses never fade'

Untouched by reality, this example of womankind has no connection with such ambiguous symbols as roses. Her eternal blooms, typifying a life of a studied negligence and insensibility, are hardly the roses that bloomed in Picardy, as the popular song of the day had it, or the flowers in THE SEND-OFF the women give to the departing troops, ironic forshadowings of death.

Stanza 3. 'The shades keep down…..' Shades as in souls in death whom she might well find troubling but to her shame does not.

'Quiet their blood lies in her crimson room,'

the ghosts so unobtrusive in their thoughts for a woman's peace, a woman so indifferent of them and the selflessness of their votive offering.

Roses, mouths, rooms, an all-consuming redness: redness the blood of sacrifice on the one hand, and the redness of guilt, if only by default and then unacknowledged. Of course she is 'not afraid of their footfall', being altogether insensible of their presence, as ignorant of the truth of things as her counterpart in S.I.W., the mother who perhaps

'…whimpered how she'd fret,

Until he got a nice safe wound to nurse,'

Stanza 4

In ANTHEM FOR DOOMED YOUTH, for their pall the dead have 'the pallor of girl's brows.' Now they have the 'tapestries' and by implication whatever material belongings are precious to women 'immune to pity and whatever moans in man' (INSENSIBILITY). Once they mourned, now they dream of golden gardens, insulated against living ghosts who have power to 'roam her hall', 'move from' her tapestries and 'pace her terraces' yet will not,

'Lest aught she be disturbed, or grieved at all.'

'…………These men are worth

Your tears. You are not worth their merriment'

Owen wrote in APOLOGIA PRO POEMATE MEO. He could be devastatingly unflattering when he chose.

Copyright Ken Simcox 2005

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