One of our sponsors, Linda Miller is a script writer for The BBC and has kindly written this commentary on one of her favourite poems, Futility by Wilfred Owen and an audio reading too which can be found on our The Burying Party Facebook Page.
`FUTILITY’ BY WILFRED OWEN
`Futility’ is a lament for a dead or dying man, written by a poet at the height of his powers. It is deftly constructed in two stanzas. A subtle, unobtrusive rhyme scheme serves to frame and contain heartfelt, searing emotion. The dramatist in me can visualize it being performed on stage at the climax of a play. A loyal lieutenant and comrades make one last desperate attempt to save the life of their lord or king. A playwright of Shakespeare’s calibre would not have been ashamed of these lines.
Of course, Lieutenant Wilfred Owen of the 2nd Battalion Manchester Regiment was a real soldier, who looked death in the face and killed people in the line of duty. In spite of this, as this poem so clearly illustrates, he never lost his respect for the sanctity of life - those limbs `so dear-achieved’.
The poem begins with an urgent command `Move him into the sun-‘. Owen often addresses the reader directly. Here, though, I feel I am part of the action and everything is taking place in the heat of a moment. I am helping to move the soldier’s body into the sunlight. Lieutenant Owen is telling me not to give up hope, urging me to believe that the `kind old sun’ `that wakes the seeds’ and once `the clays of a cold star’ can heal this man. Perhaps he wants to believe this because he knows the soldier? Perhaps it is because, against all the odds, he is `still warm’? Perhaps Owen , quite simply, believes in miracles? The truth is, most of us do when we are in a crisis situation. In fact, this poem travels beyond the battlefield and touches our hearts on a very personal, emotional level. If you have sat by the bed of a loved one, knowing they can’t recover, but still urging them to open their eyes and get better, you will understand how Owen felt.
However, the soldier is dead. The `fatuous’ sun has failed to bring him back. What is the point? Everything is futile. The final, two-line cry of anger and frustration is grief talking and we know that, too. For me, `Futility’ is a desperately sad poem, but one which contains a kernel of hope for humanity. In the midst of the utmost devastation and squalor, bodies scattered like garbage, someone urged a dying man to live and wrote a beautiful poem about it. That, in itself, is a miracle.
1 August 2017