Archives par mot-clé : Poetry

Poems: “Wilfred Owen at Ors”


Dear Friends

'Once more unto the trench, dear friends, once more:'
And so they did, and so they did again;
And so they died, so many of them, for
Their country, and these friends, their countrymen.

Eight hundred thousand poppies flower
Below the walls of London's Tower;
Each heavy, cold, ceramic head
Commemorates one of the dead.

Owen among them, at the last. And he
Had understood the wounded things we are;
Transcending visions of futility
For that strange meeting, like a pietà.                   

The war to end wars never will be won.
Antagonism grinds its agonies.
But when, dear friends, the hurly-burly's done,
We should do something to atone for these.

The band of brothers marches from the play
To keep the bleak apocalypse at bay.
For Peter Owen 

died 31 July 2018

How often have I stood beside you not
ten yards from Wilfred's gravestone, as you read
'Futility' or 'Spring Offensive' to
those gathered in the cemetery; then
interpreted as best I could the words
you found to say to them: your uncle would
have been amazed to see us there for him,
and grateful still to France. Now you have gone
(though peacefully) down the same deepening slope
to infinite space; for what renewal,
who knows. What we do know is that you have
lived out a life for him; not his life, but
a kind of echoing, a giving again
of what he gave and gave himself for: words
you savoured and re-said for us, for us
the better to remember both of you.
Pour Peter Owen

Traduction de Madeleine Descargues-Grant

Que de fois je me suis trouvé à tes côtés, tout près
de la tombe de Wilfred, alors que tu lisais
'Futilité' ou 'Offensive de printemps' pour
les amis rassemblés au cimetière... Puis
j'interprétais de mon mieux les mots
que tu trouvais à leur dire: ton oncle aurait
été stupéfait de nous voir réunis là, pour lui,
et reconnaissant à la France, toujours. A présent tu es parti
(paisiblement, sans doute) toi aussi sur les pentes qui se creusent
à l'infini; est-ce pour renaître, et sous quelle forme,
nul ne le sait. Mais nous savons que
tu as vécu ta vie intensément pour lui; ce n'était pas sa vie,
c'en était comme un écho, tu redonnais
ce qu'il avait donné, faisant don de lui-même: les mots
que tu savourais et redisais pour nous, pour que nous
nous souvenions mieux encore et de lui et de toi.
The Forester's House

Thanks to you, Wilfred, we have all been there,
to 'The Smoky Cellar of the Forester's House.'
We can hear someone snoring on the bench,
and smell the damp wood struggling to take
under the saucepan of potatoes: peeled
to splash your hand—this letter—with what might
well be the tears your mother weeps on it
in ten days' time. We can attempt to peer
through the thick air at Kellett, Keyes the cook,
and nameless others jostling for space
with nudges, pokes and jolts; we can make out
the merry corporal, by candlelight
'a gleam of white teeth and a wheeze of jokes.'
We cannot see you, pressing on your pad
the last words you will ever write. 'It is
a great life;' huddled with your band of friends,
impervious somehow to the glimmering
of guns outside, the crashing down of shells.
'There is no danger here.' But you are ready
to go with them, tomorrow and tomorrow,
into the deepening chasm of the canal.
Wilfred Owen at Ors

We have our own poet, Wilfred Owen,
here in the village of Ors in northern France.
The village lives along the slow canal
tucked under Bois l'Evêque; the railway
(steel scorning water) goes for higher ground.
The nearby military camp has closed.
There is a bare, unbeautiful brick church,
a sober Mairie and a Salle des Fêtes;
one café, a new médiatheque, a school.

And of course the leafless cemetery.
Because our poet is a dead poet,
enlisted in that pale battalion
of young men buried with their mystery.
Owen delivered up his mastery
at the eventual, exhausted end
of a seemingly unstoppable war
that devastated like a lava flow,
travelling unnaturally over the flat land.

He was also an English poet, who
mused a long hour by Shrewsbury clock;
bred to the seamed, compacted language
of Keats and Shakespeare. But he had travelled
in other realms of gold; it was at first
the carefree troubadours took him to France;
then teaching; then the deep trench of the war.
In January nineteen seventeen
he suffered the extremes of fire and ice.

The war might end, but no-one speaks of this.
The Manchesters hunker down in Bois l'Evêque.
Lieutenant Owen writes a letter to
his mother Susan (it will be the last
of some six hundred that he wrote to her).
'There is no danger here;' nor was there, in
the cellar of the red-brick Forester's House—
now kept for him, and for those gathered there.
The danger waited at the cold canal.

He died in water but now lies in earth,
here with the men who fell with him, at Ors.
He hated war but gave himself to it
in the unswerving sleepwalk of the time.
November twenty eighteen signifies
a hundred-years-long lamentation for
an English soldier who went out into
the morning mist for his strange meeting with
the poet who sleeps now as one of us.

We have remade the Forester's House
in ghostly, moonlit white (as if it grew
out of his gravestone), and furnished it
with Owen's words; those words that understand
the wounded things we are. Whoever drives
down the straight, narrow road from Landrecies
through Bois l'Evêque to Pommereuil today
will ask who lives there. Tell them it is where
our own dead poet lives his afterlife.

Damian Grant’s poetry and poetry reviews have been published in the London Review of Books, Critical Quarterly, and PN Review. He edited the Critical Quarterly Poetry Supplement 11, Poetry 1970 (Manchester University Press), and his other published works include: D.H. Lawrence: State of the Art (1989), and Realism: The Critical Idiom (2017). He has furthered scholarship on War Poetry with numerous articles published in both English and French.

Migrant from green fields: Wilfred Owen in France


England one by one had fled to France, 
Not many elsewhere now, save under France 
“Smile, Smile, Smile”, ll. 21-3

Wilfred Owen could not anticipate that he too would be among the many who, having “fled” their country to go to war, would find their last resting place under France. Thus he lies in the cemetery at Ors (French commune graced by the construction of the Maison Forestière Owen in 2011), eternally exiled in “some corner of a foreign field”. The 2018 conference “Wilfred Owen and/in France”, organized at the university of Valenciennes with Brigitte Friant-Kessler and in conjunction with the Oxford Center for Life-Writing, wished to celebrate Owen’s French trajectory by offering both a centennial commemoration of his life and a reconsideration of the role France had on his growth as a man and as a poet. 

Already familiar with Brittany through childhood trips with his father, Owen arrived in Bordeaux with “good schoolroom French” (Kerr, 258) in 1913 to teach English at the Berlitz school. From there, he explored the south of France and stayed notably in Bagnères-de-Bigorre in the Pyrenees, only to return in January 1917, this time to northern France and the Somme battlefields. Owen had thus first-hand emotional, linguistic and artistic knowledge of France, something most of his fellow war poets lacked, Sassoon and Graves included. Owen’s undeniable French connections have however never been studied extensively before, outside of punctual references to symbolist and decadent literary influences in his canonical scholarship. This anniversary issue aims to highlight whatever “Frenchness” animated “Monsieur Owen” and if and how this influenced his career as a poet. It also attempts to compensate the relative dearth of French scholarship on Wilfred Owen who, despite being officially memorialized and inscribed in France’s national “Chemins de la mémoire”, has garnered rather scant academic scrutiny and  public recognition over the years to the point where one could say he has not yet been properly received in France. 

This issue of The War and Peace Review thus aims to reconsider the links between Wilfred Owen and France and, conversely, between France and Wilfred Owen. What did France represent to a young Georgian poet who ― unlike his modernist counterparts  quick to adopt France as their literary homeland ― was not enamored with French literature and fought, above all, “to perpetuate the language in which Keats and the rest of them wrote” (CL, 300)? What recognition and posterity does he have in France? Can one speak of a French Owen as there is a French Joyce and even a French Eliot and if not, why? 

The first section of this issue attempts to map the contours of France’s influence over Owen’s poetic trajectory and the maturation of his form and style. Jennifer Kilgore-Caradec’s paper ventures into overlooked sources in her study of Laurent Tailhade’s influence on Owen’s budding poetic vocation, as well as the young poet’s exposure to Francophone novelists and poets such as Barbusse, Duhamel, Péguy, Verhaeren, Flaubert, Mallarmé, Apollinaire and Hugo. Through an extensive analysis of “Spring Offensive”, Laure-Hélène Anthony Gerroldt studies Owen’s representations of the French landscape, perpetually caught in a dialogue with the poet’s British heritage. This paper is completed by Thomas Vuong’s own analysis of Owen’s ambivalent Franco-British imaginary, qualifying the importance of French influence in his work through a study of his landscapes, his use of French words and his sonnet rhyming schemes. Finally, Jérome Hennebert’s paper examines how Wilfred Owen’s lyricism became “objective” partly under Keats’s aegis and that of the 19th century symbolist poets Stéphane Mallarmé and Paul Verlaine, decentering the lyric subject in a manner which announces the modernist movement. 

 A second section focuses on Owen’s reception in France. What exactly is Owen’s critical and popular posterity in France, and by whom is he read? Sarah Montin’s paper explores the ambiguities of the poet’s reception in France, from the 1920’s to 2020, through the lens of academic and intellectual criticism, creative appropriation and translation. The following papers act as companion pieces, giving a voice to two important “passeurs” of Wilfred Owen in France; poet, translator and publisher Emmanuel Malherbet and Belgian novelist and translator Xavier Hanotte

The third section covers biographical questions, allowing for fresh insights into Owen’s formative years in France. Gilles Couderc’s in-depth exploration of his time in Bordeaux and the Pyrenees between 1913 and 1915 sheds new light on understudied parts of Owen’s poems, language, life and correspondence while Roland Bouyssou’s paper offers a broader overview of the poet’s trajectory in France. Paul Elsam’s aural-accentual study opens new lines of inquiry such as the manner in which speaking French shaped not only Owen’s personality but also the manner in which he spoke. Finally, Neil McLennan’s paper discusses Owenian aspects of the “Auld Alliance”, offering an analysis of Owen’s Franco-Scottish influences and Owen’s little-discussed meetings with Albertina Marie Dauthieu, a Frenchwoman living in Scotland, whose interactions with Owen provide new glimpses into his life.              

To conclude, the fourth section of this issue is meant to be read as a tribute, an artistic homage to Wilfred Owen with poems by Damian Grant and the first pages of Paul Elsam’s screenplay Wilfred in Love (2018). This is completed by an assortment of translations by Emmanuel Malherbet, Roland Bouyssou and Sarah Montin, from variations on classics such as “Anthem for Doomed Youth” to other less famous poems, as yet untranslated into French. 

Edited by Elise Brault-Dreux & Sarah Montin



Jennifer Kilgore-Caradec
The French Poetry of Wilfred Owen’s Modernism

Laure-Hélène Anthony-Gerroldt
Over “the last hill” : Wilfred Owen’s “Spring Offensive

Thomas Vuong
“England one by one had fled to France”: French and British imaginaries in Wilfred Owen’s poems

Jérôme Hennebert
Dire la compassion: le lyrisme de Wilfred Owen


Sarah Montin
“Journey from obscurity?”: Wilfred Owen’s reception and posterity in France

Emmanuel Malherbet, poet and translator of Owen
« Donner un sens aux brimborions » (propos recueillis par Sarah Montin)

Xavier Hanotte, poet and translator of Owen
Wilfred Owen ou la parole survivante


Gilles Couderc
Monsieur Owen en Aquitaine

Roland Bouyssou
Wilfred Owen: A War Poet’s Progress in France

Paul Elsam
“Mending my Speech”: How France helped Owen Reinvent Himself

Neil McLennan
“La Fleur et le chardon”: Wilfred Owen’s Franco-Scottish influences


Damian Grant
Poems: “Wilfred Owen at Ors

Paul Elsam
From the screenplay Wilfred in Love (2018)

Emmanuel Malherbet
« À la jeunesse sacrifiée, une prière », « Conscience », « Inspection », « Les Appels » (poèmes traduits)

Roland Bouyssou
« Hymne pour une jeunesse au funeste destin », « Étrange rencontre », « Fête des adieux » (poèmes traduits)

Sarah Montin
« Les Aliénés » (poème traduit)