Arms and the Boy.
Children were much in Wilfred Owen's mind when he wrote to his mother from Ripon on Easter Sunday 31st March 1918.
Outside my cottage window (at Borage Lane) children play soldiers so piercingly that I've moved into the attic, with only a skylight.
It is a jolly Retreat. There I have tea and contemplate the inwardness of war, and behave in an owlish manner generally. One poem I have written there; and thought another
And in the same letter,
Johnny de la Touche (whom he had tutored in Bordeaux 1914-15) leaves school this term, I hear, and goes to prepare for the Indian Army. He must be a creature of killable age by now.
Cynically he added,
God so hated the world that He gave several millions of English-begotten sons, that whosoever believeth in them should not perish, but have a comfortable life.
A sentiment adjacent to, but at the same time removed from, the gist of ARMS AND THE BOY which was written around this time. Owen classified it in his draft list of contents under 'Protest - the unnaturalness of weapons'. Later he listed it among the poems intended for his first collection.
It consists of three regular quatrains exclusively in pararhymes that reflect the tone, so that in stanzas 1 and 2, they are full of menace, e.g. 'blade-blood' and 'teeth-death', but in the final stanza, when God comes in, they are redolent of less sinister matters ('apple-supple' and 'heels-curls').
Let the boy try along this bayonet-blade (1)
Command? Plea? Advice? Given by whom? Not Owen himself, we judge, but Owen on behalf…