Monday, January 30, 2012

Tuesday Poem--The Parable of the Old Man and the Young

This is the most perfect anti-war poem I know. Wilfred Owen
was killed on the last day of World War I, the day the armistice
was signed, November 11, 1918.

The Parable Of The Old Man And The Young
by Wilfred Owen, 1916 
So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
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, thy son.
Behold! Caught in a thicket by its horns,
A Ram. Offer the Ram of Pride instead.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.


  1. This speaks so quietly, so eloquently of the magnitude of loss, numbers which Owen could not have known. Can we even imagine 16 million deaths, combined military and civilian? xo

  2. Yes, Marylinn, in a war that was supposed to 'be over by Christmas." WWI saw some of the worst slaughters ever, the savagery the like of which none of the world could have imagined. Life was completely different after that war, except that the old men are still sending the young men to die.

  3. I agree, this is the best anti-war poem I know, Melissa - it seems to tremble and shudder until that devastating final two lines. Powerful stuff.

  4. i have been reading about WWI, and how influential it was for the wave of young British men who made the first attempts to conquer Everest. as you say so succinctly, that war changed everything...except the most basic lesson, that we still send people to do battle to the death. thanks, melissa.

  5. An amazing poem - thanks for posting - the last two lines are just so powerful.

  6. Susan, the brutality of the slaughter at Verdun and Passachandaele, etc., must have given those who survived an urgent propulsion toward life, away from No Man's Land, and maybe attempting to climb Everest was a way to assert life, assert being alive and taking the frail, vulnerable body as far away from overpowering war as possible by giving the body and soul a way to conquer.

  7. Dear AJ and Maggie May, the poem is beautiful and familiar up to the point of the last two lines, then it suddenly becomes the end of the world. Amazing, isn't it?