Ripon was an awful camp – huts – dirty blankets – in fact, he knew it, WAR once more. Farewell Books, Sonnets, Letters, friends, fires, oysters, antique-shops.
And here he was, twenty-five this very day, and older than he had ever been, or ever felt.
Yet there was the river, for swimming, and hills to walk, and gingerbread sent from home. And – oh joy – he’d found a cottage to rent, a place to escape to from the officers’ hut that had held him and thirteen others, a place where he could make use of his big spectacles during the long, empty evenings, where he could have tea and contemplate the inwardness of war, and behave in an owlish manner generally, a place an interesting five minute walk from camp, especially now, in the spring, when the buds all made a special spurt between dawn and noon, and all the Lesser Celandines opened out together.
And yet, all this while, the Great War rumbled, the Winter of the world, its jaws open, eating the youth, eating his youth. Spitting it out, bitter as the cud of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues.
Twenty-five years old.
There were times in the past three years he’d thought he’d never get this far. He thought death had taken him by the heart in Savy Wood, as he lay beside the remains of a fellow officer But they’d brought him back and patched his body and stitched his soul and, while recuperating in Craiglockhart, he’d met Sassoon, and now his pen was, despite outer inconveniences, unstoppable.
And here he was, in the great Cathedral, founded by and dedicated to his namesake, Wilfrid of Haarlem, light streaming in through stained glass, patterning stone floor, dedications to babies lost, to worthy women of the parish, to all the lost in wars and battles stretching back to the darkest Saxon days.
And here he was, twenty-five. A young man with all his life in front of him.
Sitting silently, contemplating the old lie.
A young man with all his life in front of him.
On his last birthday.
Move him into the sun —
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.
Think how it wakes the seeds —
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved, — still warm, — too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
— O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?
Wilfred Owen, 1918, Ripon