by Wilfred Owen
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?
Arms and The Boy
by Wilfred Owen
Let the boy try along this bayonet-blade
How cold steel is, and keen with hunger of blood;
Blue with all malice, like a madman’s flash;
And thinly drawn with famishing for flesh.
Lend him to stroke these blind, blunt bullet-leads,
Which long to nuzzle in the hearts of lads,
Or give him cartridges of fine zinc teeth
Sharp with the sharpness of grief and death.
For his teeth seem for laughing round an apple.
There lurk no claws behind his fingers supple;
And God will grow no talons at his heels,
Nor antlers through the thickness of his curls.
It wasn’t until I was doing some research to prepare for honoring the 100 year anniversary of the end of World War I, reading a wide array of poets, that I realized the context behind Millay’s sonnet below. I have read it many times and incorrectly assumed it referred to spurned lovers. It was not until now I understood it as a homage to the men of her generation that went off to war to never return.
This deeper understanding totally changes the way I look at this sonnet. It had never been one of my favorite sonnets of hers, seeming more callous than sentimental, but now I look at it with whole new eyes, appreciating the sadness and fitting callousness that war brings to the generation caught within its fury.
Do you have a poem that you suddenly have experienced a change in contextual awareness that increased your appreciation for how it spoke to you? I welcome your feedback and insights in the comments section below.
What Lips My Lips Have Kissed
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.