Sunday Night Journal, November 11, 2018
Sunday Night Journal, November 18, 2018

52 Poems, Week 46: The Parable of the Old Man and the Young (Wilfred Owen)


So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in the thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.


That last line has been reverberating in my mind over the past week or two as discussions of the armistice that temporarily ended the Great War have taken place. Wilfred Owen, as I suppose everybody knows, died in that war, leaving behind a handful of poems about it that have become classics. This is not the best known, but like I said: that last line.

Owen was killed in action on November 4, 1918. His mother received the news of his death on Armistice Day.

That war does not cast as dark a shadow over the U.S. as it does over Europe. I don't think I fully grasped the extent of the catastrophe that it was until sometime in adulthood when I saw a Masterpiece Theater adaptation of Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth. She lost her brother and her fiance and several friends in the war. My maternal grandmother served in the Red Cross in France. And I recall a picture of my paternal grandfather in an Army uniform, and I think that also was during the war. But very little in the way of family stories about their experiences came down to my generation, and now there is no one to ask.

Leonard Cohen's song "Story of Isaac" makes similar use of Abraham and Isaac.

I've always thought the song would be better without that last verse, and ended on " of the word." I don't know exactly what the peacock means, though, and perhaps I would like that verse better if I did. But it's a great song anyway.

I also have a bit of a theological quarrel with this:

A scheme is not a vision,
And you never have been tempted
By a demon or a god.

That suggests that there would be something grand about the demon's approach. But nasty little schemes are very much in the demonic line.

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.


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I like that poem a lot. I recently bought a collection of WWI poetry but haven't dipped into it yet.

"That war does not cast as dark a shadow over the U.S. as it does over Europe."

True. This becomes very apparent as one reads the history and the literature. The effect on Europe of WWI was not unlike that of the Civil War on the South, even apart from the fact that Britain "won" and the South lost.

This makes me think about Fear and Trembling.


And way off-topic.

I see Netfix is combining the Coen Bros., Tom Waits, and Gillian Welch.



I haven't read Fear and Trembling.

Re the South and Civil War vs WWI and Europe: I was about to say that the former was not nearly as severe, but I guess there is more similarity than I thought at first. I think the sheer number of casualties in proportion to population was greater in WWI, though I'm not certain about that. England was a little different from the continent and from the southern U.S. in that the war was not fought on its soil.


I guess you know that Fear and Trembling is Kierkegaard's take on Abraham and Isaac?

We read it in a group I'm in, but I didn't finish it--and it's very short--and missed the discussion because I was out of town. The discussion might have helped me to proceed with the reading, but, oh well.

Tonight we are discussing The 12 Rules, so we will see. The chapter on discussions is really, really good. It's rule 9.


Oh, I see--I had seen ads for that movie but didn't know Waits and Welch were involved.

No, I didn't know that about F&T, or had forgotten it. I still have not read any Kierkegaard. A few years ago I had a post here called "Getting Started with Kierkegaard" and it still gets regular hits from Google, like maybe one a day. (As does one about Ruth Pitter's poetry.) There are some good recommendations in that post but I haven't followed up on them.

Well, looky here:

"The new service will be wholly owned and controlled by the Criterion Collection. We hope to be available in U.S. and Canada at launch, rolling out additional territories over time."

Sigh. And I'm not holding my breath that New Zealand will ever be one of those additional territories.

Yes, I got an email today, and signed up to be a charter member because it will be cheaper.


There was a good 'should we have fought' debate in the Telegraph. Timothy Stanley against and some historian whose name I forget in favour. The forgotten historian had the better of it, in my judgement: he said if you look at the utter devastation Germany wrought upon Belgium, you can see we had to fight to prevent their coming for us next. To me that was a stronger point that Stanley's 'Kipling's son's school uniform was left hanging in the closet for eternity.'

To me, that specific little debate raised the question - now I cannot remember the Latin. One is justice for war (?) something Bellum and the other is justice during Bellum. It looks like we had to fight to prevent Germany from coming for us, but the way in which we fought - leaving soldiers in their trenches up to their knees in mud for months on end - was quite evil.

In other news, Mac has often said that Huxley and not Orwell got it right about where our societies were heading. This article by Yuval Levin adds something about 'Brave New world' which I had forgotten

So did I. And then after I signed up I noticed somewhere on the site that Criterion's stuff will also be available on some new Time-Warner service. So I wonder if I made the wrong move. T-W might have some of those noir movies described in my book that I can't find. Oh well.

It is not like you are committed forever, and you get a free month.

I see Bishop Barron has a new book called Arguing Religion. He would have had to try really hard to find a title that made me less likely to read a book.



That's true in principle about the commitment, but the reality is that it would be very very hard for me to switch. What if I cancelled, and then the CC service shut down? It would be my fault.

"Re the South and Civil War vs WWI and Europe"

I was thinking primarily in terms of the loss of a great number of young men, many of whom would have been future leaders, and also in the way that the war had a profound effect culturally.

It certainly had a profound effect culturally and also economically. I don't know whether the loss of life was comparable--I mean as a percentage of the total population. My great-great-grandfather was one. It would probably be pretty easy to find that out on the net but I really need to go rake leaves.

Interesting BBC piece, "10 big myths about World War One debunked"; here's one of them:

4. The upper class got off lightly
Although the great majority of casualties in WW1 were from the working class, the social and political elite were hit disproportionately hard by WW1. Their sons provided the junior officers whose job it was to lead the way over the top and expose themselves to the greatest danger as an example to their men.

Some 12% of the British army's ordinary soldiers were killed during the war, compared with 17% of its officers. Eton alone lost more than 1,000 former pupils - 20% of those who served. UK wartime Prime Minister Herbert Asquith lost a son, while future Prime Minister Andrew Bonar Law lost two. Anthony Eden lost two brothers, another brother of his was terribly wounded, and an uncle was captured.

Hmm, that was not a myth I subscribed to. I never had the impression that the upper classes were spared. A result of that Vera Brittain thing I mentioned, maybe.

Yesterday morning I wrote a comment that has completely disappeared. Maybe its in the spam filter

It did indeed. That hasn't happened a long time. You have to scroll up to see it--5:03 AM yesterday.

I only have a moment right now, but one quick response: I had also read that Levin piece, and also noticed what he says about the role of the war in BNW. I had *totally* forgotten that aspect of the book. I assume he's correct. I'm skeptical that he's right about the applicability to our current BNW drift though.

Jus in bello determines just means during war/jus ad bellum--determines whether or not a war can justly be fought.


So it seems like there was ad bellum but not in bello, at least how I look at it

Those phrases always bother me because they just make me think of "au jus"--juice in war.

Something that really bugs me is restaurants using "au jus" as a noun, as in "steak sandwich with au jus".

Anyway...I don't have an informed opinion about whether there was good reason for the war to be fought or not. I get the impression that in recent years there's been more questioning of the idea that it was pointless. My sympathy with Owen's view is from a broader perspective--whatever the reasons, whoever was to blame, it was an abomination.

Re the upper classes not getting off lightly, the war diary of Lady Cynthia Asquith (who was married to HH Asquith's eldest son, who did survive the war) is interesting reading. She lost two of her three brothers, and countless friends. Her sketches of life in her social station during the war are studies in pathos: terrible telegrams coming daily, but also worry over her eldest son, who was autistic and trying to make an establishment for him, while she moved from house to house, sometimes with her younger son, sometimes not, while her own house was let. There's also a lot of gossip and intrigue and frivolity and trying-on of clothes and being photographed and appearing in plays, and at one point going for a screen test for a film -- but the telegrams keep coming.

That makes me think of the old Upstairs, Downstairs TV series, which handled the war pretty well.

Tolkien says in one of his letters that by the time he was [some rather young age] most (or was it all?) his close friends were dead, killed in the war. We are fortunate that Tolkien and Lewis survived. We get a glimpse in the works of some others of what was lost.

They survived and did not fall victim to despair or cynicism.


"I never had the impression that the upper classes were spared. A result of that Vera Brittain thing I mentioned, maybe."

No, me neither. My first real encounter with any WWI history/literature was Delderfield's To Serve Them All My Days, which I first read about 20 years ago. I don't recall getting the sense from that book that the upper classes got off easy.

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