We hear a lot about Siegfried Sassoon's influence on Wilfred Owen, but what about the part played by that other famous poet, Robert Graves?
14th October 1917. Wilfred to his mother
On Sat. I met Robert Graves…… showed him my longish war-piece "Disabled"…. ..
it seems Graves was mightily impressed and considers me a kind of Find!! No thanks, Captain Graves! I'll find myself in due time.
18th October 1917. Again to Susan Owen.
I think I described to you my meeting with Robert Graves……
He carried away a Poem, or was carried away with it, without my knowledge. It was only in a Draft state. I was perfectly aware of all the solecisms.
On the 17th Graves had written to Wilfred,
Do you know, Owen, that's a damn fine poem of yours, that "Disabled". Really damn fine…..you have seen things; you are a poet; but you are a very careless one at present…. But I have no doubt at all that if you turned seriously to writing, you could obtain Parnassus while I'm still struggling on the knees of that stubborn peak.
Graves criticised Owen for not abiding by the rules of metre, and it is true that DISABLED seems loosely organised with its apparently arbitrary irregularities of stanza, metre and rhyme. Perhaps Owen felt, not unreasonably, that a poet was entitled to break the rules as long as he knew them first.
Drafted in October 1917 and revised at Scarborough in July the following year, DISABLED presents a poignant picture of a young soldier "legless, sewn short at elbow" ( a nice combination of brutal frankness and tactful circumlocution) which sets what he had been before against what he has left him with.
Supremely, he once had youth, energy, virility. Impelled to enlist under-age (line 29 "Smiling they wrote the lie: aged nineteen years"), with a fine figure of which "Someone had once said he'd look a god in kilts" (25), with girls glancing "lovelier", this young man would certainly have looked forward to a normal relationship with women.
That was then. Now, he is old; (16)
Now he will never feel again how slim
Girls' waists are, or how warm their subtle hands. (11-12)
Now there are only nurses who "touch him like some queer disease." (13)
While as for the rest
….he noticed how the women's eyes