Among all of the Great War poets Britain produced, Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) stands as the greatest. Like a poet he greatly admired, John Keats, he was dead at the age of 25 but in his short life he managed to find his own distinctive poetic voice and used it to write poems of great emotive power and technical skill. ‘Greater Love’ is a fine example of what makes Wilfred Owen England’s pre-eminent poet of the First World War. For Remembrance Day and the centenary of the Armistice, here is one of Owen’s most moving poems.
‘Greater Love’ by Wilfred 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.
If you liked ‘Greater Love’ by Wilfred Owen, we recommend this selection of poems by his fellow WWI poet, Siegfried Sassoon.