Apologia Pro Poemate Meo

Wilfred Owen


Wilfred Owen

Nationality: English

Wilfred Owen is considered to be the greatest First World War poet.

He has been immortalized in several books and movies.

Like Wilfred Owen, poet to ‘Apologia Pro Poemate Meo,’ wrote in the preface to his first volume of poetry,

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.

Without a shadow of a doubt, Owen found the pity within the war, and ensconced in poetry that would survive history, and render him immortal. He did not just write about the war – the brutality, the immediacy, the ugliness of a battlefield – but about other, lesser-known facets of the war. Things like the camaraderie between his soldiers, and the despair he saw in Craiglockhart, took place in his poetry alongside the bloody brutality of the Somme, and the drenching rains of Southern France.

Apologia Pro Poemate Meo
Wilfred Owen

I, too, saw God through mud— The mud that cracked on cheeks when wretches smiled. War brought more glory to their eyes than blood, And gave their laughs more glee than shakes a child.

Merry it was to laugh there— Where death becomes absurd and life absurder. For power was on us as we slashed bones bare Not to feel sickness or remorse of murder.

I, too, have dropped off fear— Behind the barrage, dead as my platoon, And sailed my spirit surging, light and clear Past the entanglement where hopes lay strewn;

And witnessed exultation— Faces that used to curse me, scowl for scowl, Shine and lift up with passion of oblation, Seraphic for an hour; though they were foul.

I have made fellowships— Untold of happy lovers in old song. For love is not the binding of fair lips With the soft silk of eyes that look and long,

But Joy, whose ribbon slips,— But wound with war’s hard wire whose stakes are strong; Bound with the bandage of the arm that drips; Knit in the welding of the rifle-thong.

I have perceived much beauty In the hoarse oaths that kept our courage straight; Heard music in the silentness of duty; Found peace where shell-storms spouted reddest spate.

Nevertheless, except you share With them in hell the sorrowful dark of hell, Whose world is but the trembling of a flare, And heaven but as the highway for a shell,

You shall not hear their mirth: You shall not come to think them well content By any jest of mine. These men are worth Your tears: You are not worth their merriment.
Apologia Pro Poemate Meo by Wilfred Owen


‘Apologia Pro Poemate Meo’ is a poem about soldiers. Although the war is present, as in all other poetry by Wilfred Owen, it takes a back seat to the description and the liveliness of the soldiers; they are immortalized and made to live before the war brutalized them into insensible men. The Latin title translates to ‘an apology on behalf of my poetry’. Although Owen was popularized in later days, at the time he was not considered to be an especially brilliant poet, and being against the war made him a fair few enemies in the pro-war ranks. However, Owen was also a soldier, and his view of camaraderie is very much felt in the lines of ‘Apologia Pro Poemate Meo.’ In a letter, he wrote to his mother, stating that ‘you could not be visited by a band of friends half so fine as surround me here’.

Analysis of Apologia Pro Poemate Meo

A troubling set of contradictions and phrasing dominates ‘Apologia Pro Poemate Meo.’ Once again, Owen relies on the senses to show the horrifying experience of the war; he does not intend to allow the reader to forget that this experience is rooted in horror, despite the jaunty tone of words such as ‘merry’ and ‘smiled’. In fact, the use of words with such positive emotions draw the horror of the poem out further; ‘merry’ precedes:

Where death becomes absurd, and life absurder.

For power was on us as we slashed bones bare

In another stanza, Owen writes that

…sailed my spirit surging, light and clear,

Past the entanglement where hopes lie strewn:

Again, mixing the bright language with the misery of the war, elevating feelings above the presence of the battle. Though the beauty is couched and mixed in with language that Owen uses for ugliness, it is clear that it is almost two poems at play here, two sets of imagery meshing together in one poem. The poem appears to be split down the middle in terms of its imagery and its wordplay.

For Owen, camaraderie and brotherhood is far more important than any other form of love, and it is not surprising that the latter part of the poem seems to almost mimic a love sonnet near the end. Owen was famously homosexual, and this is not the first poem that he has written where his feelings for male soldiers seemed to have spilled over into his words, however in ‘Apologia Pro Poemate Meo,’ the feelings seemed to be nearly divine. Owen pushes the platoon of his soldiers into near divinity, speaking about them in terms that almost seem Biblical. His happiest moments, according to the latter part of the poem, are the quiet periods of the war where he was alone with his comrades and fellow soldiers.

Again, though, Owen cannot help but put a message into his poem. Once more, he attacks the people who are pro-war – the people who mourn the soldiers, and yet do nothing else to stop the war – and states that, while the men are deserving of pity, the people who have sent them there are not worthy of the men themselves.

Historical Background

It is famously suggested that this poem was written as a response to Robert Graves (read Grave’s poetry here), who had sent Owen a letter in 1917 that stated, ‘For God’s sake, cheer up and write more optimistically — The war’s not ended yet, but a poet should have a spirit above wars.’

The final copy of ‘Apologia Pro Poemate Meo’ is dated November 1917.

Elise Dalli Poetry Expert
Elise has been analysing poetry as part of the Poem Analysis team for neary 2 years, continually providing a great insight and understanding into poetry from the past and present.

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