Guest poem sent in by Suzanne Longmaid
(Poem #979) The Parable of the Old Man and the Young
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, Issac, the first-born spake and said, My Father, Behold the preparations, the 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 stretched forth the knife to slay his son. When lo! an angel called him out of heaven, Saying, Lay not a 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 do so, but slew his son, And half the seed of Europe, one by one.
Though I have read much WW1 poetry, I first came across this particular poem when it was quoted in the 1997 Film 'Regeneration' and was struck by its simplicity and, like all of Owen's work, its poignancy. By taking a very well known scripture passage as its basis, Owen has made a very stark and damning comment on the idiocy and futility of the war in which he was fighting and which, ultimately, claimed his life. As most people know, in the 'original' passage Abram kills the ram and saves his son. Yet here Abram, used as a metaphor for the generals and ministers in charge of the war, ignores the angel's bidding and instead slaughters his son and, by implication, everybody else's sons, husbands, fathers etc. This poem not only brings home the sheer waste of life which the First World War caused but brings it down to a very individual level. All the young men who died were somebody's sons. (In my case it was my great-grandfather who left behind a wife and three young children.) The language and phrases that Owen uses further draw the comparisons -- instead of laying his son on the altar, Abram binds him (them) with belts and straps and builds parapets and trenches. Instantly we get a picture of the horrors of the front line. The ram becomes the Ram of Pride, further damnation by Owen of those back in London who held so many lives in their hands. It is interesting that in the version I have it notes that when Sassoon came to edit his friend's work he omitted the final line. A shame because I feel that this is probably one of the most powerful lines in the whole poem, it pulls no punches and very simply brings into focus the reality of just what was happening to Owen and those around him. Suzanne Links: Biography of Owen: [broken link] http://info.ox.ac.uk/jtap/tutorials/intro/owen/ Owen poems on Minstrels: Poem #132, "Dulce Et Decorum Est" Poem #232, "Insensibility" Poem #288, "Futility" Poem #321, "Strange Meeting"