How did men so young write such brilliant and monumental poetry? Having outlived them several decades, I am still awed by the achievement, and grieved by the death, of either young man, though rejoicing in the posthumous legacy.
Wilfred Owen’s poems are generally considered the greatest of the war (and a large number of good poems were written by his generation); by many of any war—at least if you restrict yourself to poetry in English.
His “Parable of the Old Man and the Young” impressed me when I was very young—though it’s hard to guess where I first stumbled upon it. Like Keats, he left a handful of true masterpieces. Keats is known for his “one living year”; Owen for poems forged under the pressure cooker of battle.
The Parable of the Old Man and the Young
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.