Wilfed Owen


Red lips are not so red
As the stained stones kissed by the English dead.
Kindness of wooed and wooer
Seems shame to their love pure.
O Love, your eyes lose lure
When I behold eyes blinded in my stead!

Your slender attitude
Trembles not exquisite like limbs knife-skewed,
Rolling and rolling there
Where God seems not to care;
Till the fierce love they bear
Cramps them in death's extreme decrepitude.

Your voice sings not so soft,--
Though even as wind murmuring through raftered loft,--
Your dear voice is not dear,
Gentle, and evening clear,
As theirs whom none now hear,
Now earth has stopped their piteous mouths that coughed.

Heart, you were never hot
Nor large, nor full like hearts made great with shot;
And though your hand be pale,
Paler are all which trail
Your cross through flame and hail:
Weep, you may weep, for you may touch them not.

These notes are from Jon Stallworthy, The Poems of Wilfred Owen, pp. 143-4.

The poem is a response to Swinburne's poem "Before the Mirror / (Verses Written under a Picture) / Inscribed to J. A. Whistler," ll. 1-7:

White rose in red rose-garden
Is not so white;
Snowdrops that plead for pardon
And pine for fright
Because the hard East blows
Over their maiden rows
Grow not as this face grows from pale to bright.

WO may also have been aware of Salomé's words to Jokanaan in Wilde's Salomé: "The roses in the garden of the Queen of Arabia are not so white as thy body." WO had written: "Christ is literally in no man's land. There men often hear His voice: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life-for a friend."

TITLE: John 15:13: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." See also "At a Calvary near the Ancre": "But they who love the greater love / Lay down their life; they do not hate."

Line 20. See Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh, Second Book, ll. 718-20:

As my blood recoiled
From that imputed ignominy, I made
My heart great with it.

Line 22. trail: Used in the military sense of "trail arms," carry a rifle with butt end near the ground and muzzle pointing forwards.

Line 24. See John 21:l5-l7: "Jesus saith unto [MaryMagdalene], Woman,why weepest thou? . . . Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father."