“… it is the preface, by Wilfred Owen, to a volume of his poems which was to show, to England, and the intolerant world, the foolishness, unnaturalness, horror, inhumanity, and insupportability of war, and to expose, so that all could suffer and see, the heroic lies, the willingness of the old to sacrifice the young, indifference, grief, the soul of soldiers … he is a poet of all times, all places, and all wars. There is only one war: that of men against men.”
Wilfred Owen – the great English war poet and a namesake of my son, Fred – has been very much in my thoughts as I’ve been writing the music for Field Punishment No.1. Though he fought in Europe, was honoured with the Military Cross for gallantry and died in action (during the act of encouraging his men onwards as they went into battle) in November 1918, he was deeply conflicted about the nature of war and his participation in it. In a letter to his mother, he described himself as “a conscientious objector… with a very seared conscience.”
I suspect Archibald Baxter would not have been an immediate friend of Wilfred Owen’s. Owen took a dim view of Pacifists and, in many ways, sought to earn his right to object to the war using the exact opposite of Baxter’s means of protest – active participation. However, I like to imagine the things these two artists might have found in common, and the mutual respect that could have developed between them, had they met and spent time in each others company. Reading Baxter’s biography and noting his clear language, his quietly fierce conviction, and his utter lack of self-pity and self-indulgence, I think that there are parallels to Owen’s work, his own perspective on the war, and his deeply convicted nature.
The preface by Owen, to which Dylan Thomas was referring in the quote at the top of this post, is as follows:
“This book is not about heroes. English poetry is not yet fit to speak of them.
Nor is it about deeds, or lands, nor anything about glory, honour, might, majesty, dominion, or power, except War.
Above all I am not concerned with Poetry.
My subject is War, and the pity of War.
The Poetry is in the pity.
Yet these elegies are to this generation in no sense consolatory. They may be to the next. All a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true Poets must be truthful.”
(The following websites have a lot of thoughtfully presented information about War Poetry and about the work of Wilfred Owen (and his contemporaries): The First World War Poetry Digital Archive, The Wilfred Owen Association, The War Poetry Website. All of the images and quotations in this post were found on these sites.)
We begin recording live instruments for Field Punishment No.1 on Tuesday and finish on Saturday. It will be a very quick turnaround after that and I’ll look forward to posting some of the finished music after the film has been broadcast.