Apologia Pro Poemate Meo – Wilfred Owen
It is believed that Apologia Pro Poemate Meo meaning ‘an apology for my poetry’ was written after reading a letter written by Robert Graves to Owen exhorting him to cheer up a little. This letter also contained praise for some of Owen’s work. Some critics view this poem as a rebuttal of Graves’s criticism but others opine that Owen was changing his tone in keeping with Graves’s request. Whichever way, the tone of this poem is at variance with the rest of Owen’s poetry.
In this poem, Owen speaks of the desensitization to death that war brings. The horror that early deaths caused in soldiers wears off gradually and they are able to encounter deaths with equanimity. The people at home who are not fighting may have very different notions of war, but war is gory business, is what Owen seems to say. There is also the bonding that facing danger together brings about among soldiers during war. Those at home have no right to pass judgment on soldiers.
Owen is moved when he sees the soldiers smile even though their faces are caked with mud and blood. In the middle of all the killing, his mates are able to laugh like children perhaps because death and violence has desensitized them. Even when they kill, they feel no remorse. The poet himself feels no fear because much of his platoon is already dead and his spirit now floats high above. The friendships that are made in the battlefield are different from that of normal world. Here they are forged of a stronger material like the wires that bind a broken arm to a rifle case. Instead of judging them harshly, the people who live in the safety of their home must understand what they are going through. The soldiers deserve their tears but they don’t deserve the soldiers’ laughter.
Owen writes moving of the soldiers in the front. He sees God in their faces that are caked with mud and blood. Even through the horror of war, they laugh like children. May be this laughter helps to make them forget a little or maybe they are no longer moved by death.
Here he elaborates on the theme of desensitization. In war, death and life are absurd – life is even more absurd. One does not know the man one kills, personally they have no enmity. Exposure to the horrors of war has robbed them of the capacity to feel remorse. With equanimity, they kill.
The poet too has lost his fears; they are as dead as his platoon. His spirit now soars up and escapes the tangled hopes that lie strewn about. The metaphor here suggests tangled hopes that can never be free flowing. The soldiers had had hopes for their lives but now they lie tangled.
He witnesses exultation there. The soldiers who used to disagree with him earlier now appear angelic as they go through tough times together.
He has made friendships – not the kind that is spoken about in songs because the love that can be found in a battlefield has nothing to do with beauty and longing.
This love is like the hard wire that in war binds a broken arm to a rifle’s butt. To find true friendship, a battlefield is the right place. Here amidst the blood and gore, men need each other to survive.
In the unlikeliest of places he has found beauty, music and peace. The coarse oaths uttered by the soldiers which kept their courage from flagging carried with them an element of beauty and when all was quiet in the front, he perceived music. There was peace even when shells howled their banshee cry before exploding.
All this is possible only when you are in the trench facing death side by side. Exploding flares can bring death any moment and the trenches are veritable killing fields. A bursting shell shall set you on a highway to heaven.
The last stanza is addressed to those who are living a life of safety in their homes. Nothing Owen says will make them understand the feelings of the soldiers. But they are worth every drop of tear they may shed. But the soldiers are not going to waste their time thinking of them.
This poem is full of contradictions. The soldiers are referred to as “seraphic”, yet they feel no remorse when they kill; they had scowled at the poet at one time but now their eyes gaze at him with passion; they are dirty but the poet sees God in their faces.