by Wilfred Owen
A poem first published in 1918 (footnotes in 2017).
A disabled World War I veteran ponders his present and his past, flashing back to why he enlisted, then forward to his current, disabled state.
He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark,
And shivered in his ghastly suit of grey,
Legless, sewn short at elbow. Through the park
Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn,
Voices of play and pleasure after day,
Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him.
About this time Town used to swing so gay
When glow-lamps budded in the light-blue trees,
And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim,—
In the old times, before he threw away his knees.
Now he will never feel again how slim
Girls' waists are, or how warm their subtle hands,
All of them touch him like some queer disease.
There was an artist silly for his face,
For it was younger than his youth, last year.
Now, he is old; his back will never brace;
He's lost his colour very far from here,
Poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry,
And half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race
And leap of purple spurted from his thigh.
One time he liked a blood-smear down his leg,
After the matches carried shoulder-high.
It was after football, when he'd drunk a peg1,
He thought he'd better join. He wonders why.
Someone had said he'd look a god in kilts2.
That's why; and maybe, too, to please his Meg,
Aye, that was it, to please the giddy jilts3,
He asked to join. He didn't have to beg;
Smiling they wrote his lie: aged nineteen years.
Germans he scarcely thought of, all their guilt,
And Austria's, did not move him. And no fears
Of Fear came yet. He thought of jewelled hilts
For daggers4 in plaid socks; of smart salutes;
And care of arms; and leave; and pay arrears;
Esprit de corps5; and hints for young recruits.
And soon, he was drafted out with drums and cheers.
Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal6.
Only a solemn man who brought him fruits
Thanked him; and then inquired about his soul.
Now, he will spend a few sick years in institutes,
And do what things the rules consider wise,
And take whatever pity they may dole.
Tonight he noticed how the women's eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
How cold and late it is! Why don't they come
And put him into bed? Why don't they come?
1a peg. Army slang for "brandy and soda water."
2kilts. See Image 2 (The irony: He joined for vanity, to show off his knees, which he's lost in the war.)
3jilts. Changeable, or fickle, women.
4daggers. WWI daggers used in trench warfare (see image below).
5Esprit de corps. High regard by a group member for the whole group.
6cheer Goal. Cheer scoring by kicking the ball over the crossbar in Rugby football.
IMAGES: 1. British recruitment poster, 1914. Imperial War Museums. 2. Military uniform, one of various, 1914-18. WWI postcard. 3. Dudley push dagger (British), used for close combat. Courtesy of Geni. CC License.
CITATION INFORMATION: "'Disabled' by Wilfred Owen." Gleeditions, 3 Oct. 2017,