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The Parable Of The Old Men And The Young

Wilfred Owen

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i have a question!!!!
2002-01-02
Added by: Jiji Valiaveettil
okay in the parable ot he old men and the young. is owen saying that abram killed his son or what? i dont get it. i researched on owen and learned that he is not stong with the beliefs of his church, that he thinks his church is corrupt, right? or is it the opposite? im confused!!!!!
2002-02-22
Added by: Jean Right
I have seen this poem with an additional line at the very bottom. I think it makes all the difference in reading it. The poem is about the horrors of war. It is less about religion and more about politics and war.

"and half the seed of Europe, one by one"
Updated/Corrected
2002-02-22
Added by: Jough (Editor)
I didn't realize that there was another version extant, but I checked my copy of "The Poems of Wilfred Owen" (edited by Jon Stallworthy, and which is now often considered the definitive version) and sure enough, the last four lines were indeed different.

So, I made an editorial choice and because I thought that the other version was better, I updated the poem.

You're right, that last line really does change the whole nature of the poem.

-- Jough
2002-04-28
Added by: George Middleton
You have the title wrong, it is "...the old Man..." singular.

It is about the fact pointed out in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five that old men send their children to fight and die for them in wars, and that this is because of stupid pride, often disguised as patriotism or xenophobia.
Owen takes the story of Jacob and Isaac and modifies it to reflect the realities of World War One. Notice the references to parapets and iron and the straps of the soldier.
It is widely believed that WW1 was a meaningless war that resulted in terrible carnage.

It is often said that the soldiers made the supreme sacrifice but this is not true It is the politicians, generals and those good folk back home that made the sacrifice. The soldiers _were_ the sacrifice.
Pride ideas
2002-06-02
Added by: Lisa Johnson
Not to nit-pick, but...
The wording in a previous entry by Mr. George Middleton suggests that Owen was using Vonnegut's idea about war starting and continueing to preserve the pride of nations, etc. Not so.
As Mr. Middleton is probably aware, Slaughterhouse five was written some fifty years after this excellent poem, and Vonnegut was reflecting on the SECOND World War. Perhaps he was also thinking of Owen...
2002-06-17
Added by: George Middleton
Owen, Vonnegut and I (I love that grouping) were not talking about the pride of nations but about the pride of old men who would rather send their sons to war than consider alternatives.

It would have been OK though to nit pick my error in writing "Jacob" when I meant "Abraham"
title of the poem/parable
2002-11-03
Added by: Kimmy Coulombe
The title of the poem/parable is in fact "The Parable of the Old Men and the Young." We recently read this in my English class, along with the Biblical story, "Abraham: A Promise, a Test." One might think that the title should be man, not men, since Abram is only one man. Abram is symbolic of the generals of WWI and/or the fathers who sent their sons to fight & die in the war, which is why it is the old men, not man.
2002-12-10
Added by: J Barr
The Great War, as they call it, blighted the souls of nearly nine million worldwide. When the fog of nationalism lifts, and the self proclaimed victors grow weary of touting their glory, we see the true nature of war. The First World War would be as unmentionable as the Boer War of 1899 if it had not been for the alliances that drew together the greatest nations of the world. The carefully orchestrated coalitions were so multifaceted in nature that when a relatively negligible Archduke was murdered it threw the entire world INTO an irreversible schism. A lesser known poem by the great English war poet Wilfred Owen, The Parable of the Old Men and the Young, chronicles the futility of war and even expresses a certain disgust with the Big Brother figure that dashes men off to their demise. This theme is not new for those who are familiar with the aforementioned, however the vehicle by which he conveys such a message is profound in nature.

I would be very hesitant to label this poem as satirical out of respect for its dark and grim nature, however it does carry several attributes there of. Owen fervently professes his lack of belief in war on basis of principle and even goes as far as expressing distrust and disillusionment with the self-proclaimed sovereignty of Great Britain as well as other governments. A reader would begin working their way through this passage as if they were reading FROM the bible, becoming transfixed with a well known story, certainly not quoted, but nevertheless, the same story. Reading on, something turns appallingly amiss and the poem is completely redefined, requiring the reader to begin again with this new mindset, not as an Old Testament story glorifying God and teaching submissiveness, but of a horrific parable noting the true nature of war. Readers might even find themselves feeling guilty for thinking of a war as being won. To consider oneself a triumphant victor would be outright blasphemy according to Owen. The first of Owen’s muddled remarks is that of building parapets and trenches in line eight of the poem. In actuality, he is not far off base, as generally speaking something of the sort would have been built around an alter. The use of the words parapets and trenches is the first of several indications that this story would not be found in the book of Genesis, and its references to God almighty quickly fade. Regardless of the possibility of a sacrilegious implication that will be discussed further on, Owen uses a very simple, and well known biblical story to preach a fire and brimstone message on horrors of war and the pawns that are sent to their death without even a remorseful thought. In a letter that Wilfred Owen wrote to his mother FROM the front in 1917 he states that, “On all the officers' faces there is a harassed look that I have never seen before, and which in England, never will be seen – out of jails” (Groves, 4 Jan.) It is not unusual to hear a hardened soldier speak of the less than desirable effects of war on the heart and mind, but the catchall is his use of jail as a metaphor. There are two major inferences that can be drawn FROM this jail remark, the most obvious being the poems reference to “binding the youth” in line seven of the poem. The second is a subliminal reference to being bound by law and duty, both being statutes set by a ruling class of society. Owen is giving reference to being imprisoned as a member of the proletariat and no longer HAVING any control over his future. A sense of helplessness often follows the realization that one is merely another nameless face at the mercy of a less than benevolent leadership.

Wilfred Owen, FROM a biographical perspective, was by no means a devout patron of the church, and by some accounts looked upon the Church of England and all Christianity with the cynical skepticism that is typified by many learned figures. It is therefore essential that the reader embody Owen’s view of the religious magisteria in ORDER to understand the underlying skepticism that he conveys in The Parable of the Old Men and the Young. The first and most obvious difference between the poem and the biblical passage that it mimics is that Abraham is back to being Abram throughout the poem. FROM a biblical perspective, in the 17th chapter of Genesis, God makes a covenant with Abram, stating in verse five that, “no longer will you be called Abram; you name will be Abraham, for I have made you A father of many nations” (Holy Bible, Genesis 17.5). Owen’s poem is derived FROM the 22nd chapter of Genesis, and thus the name used is Abraham, meaning a father of many nations. This was by no means an error on Owen’s behalf, for he wished to convey a very important message with this blatant alteration. The question that must be asked is this: How can “Abraham” be a father of many nations if they are all dead? Owen uses his wit and wisdom to play on the meanings of the words. Furthermore, seeing the significance that Owen drew FROM the etymology of Abraham, it is a DISTINCT possibility that he also intended for the meanings of Abram and Isaac to be of consequence. Abram means exalted father, implying that the fathers and leaders of the world elevated themselves to such a level that their pride would not let them prevent bloodshed. The apparentness of this “pride” theme will become more apparent thought continued reading. Isaac will be discussed in the next paragraph, as he pertains to the innocence of world’s youth. Wilfred Owen’s cynicism with regards to religion is apparent not by what he writes in one line or even two, but how he manipulates what was considered at the time to be the inerrant word of God. How better to criticize God than to play his words with a sobering and all to realistic conclusion. Owen is asking the pervasive question: Why would God let this happen? Noting the manner in which he ends this poem, it seems that he has answered the question with two distinctive conclusions. The first is to simply question the existence of God based on his apparent lack of intercession during the First World War. Secondly, Owen questions the power and wrath of God. Does God have a vengeful malice against the world or is he simply a bystander to the wrath of man as is demonstrated in line 15 of the poem? To continue with this mindset, Owen wishes to point out that Abram is willing to sacrifice his only son, or at least his only legitimate son, just because God made an executive decision on the matter. Mind you, this is the same Abram that has a personal relationship with God and that God has shown favor on, thus we can draw upon the source of Owen’s resentment. Owen is calling INTO question whether trusting God is loyalty or downright ignorance. Through all of Wilfred Owen’s underlying arguments it becomes exceedingly apparent that war, among the possibility of other things, has disillusioned his view of the spiritual and supernatural irreparably.

The least subliminal of the messages that Wilfred Owen attempts to convey is the role of the ruling class in causing the First World War. The war was by no means unavoidable, as a less than savvy historian would have you to believe. It was more likely a consequence of repeated inferior decision making causing a synergistic degradation of civility. If it was at all evident that Owen questioned the authority of the Almighty God, the voracity with which he attacks the bureaucratic authorities of the era is undeniable. By its most straightforward definition, Owen has written a political satire that is directed at the English ministers and generals as well as the rest of the world’s power elite. The poem as a whole exposes the stupidity and futility of such a war. Wilfred Owen eloquently attempts to convey how Abram’s refusal to slew the Ram of Pride in line fourteen is a direct correlation to the fathers of each nation refusing to lay down their pride in exchange for the lives of their nation’s sons. Nationalism is the fašade that was championed in the name of personal and territorial pride. The ruling class manipulated the proletariat as pawns on a chessboard, guiltless and free to use the world as their deranged sociological experiment all the while touting ideas of love and duty to ones country. Isaac is every man that was sent to his death in the name of a false greater good during World War One. In Hebrew Isaac means “he laughs.” The name in itself is a poster child for the innocence that was thrown to the wolves on all sides of the conflict, just as Isaac was slain in vain. The machine christened “social progress” stops for no man, or even several million dead ones. The idea of the futility of war allows us to revisit the thought that Owen presents of loyalty or ignorance. Owen rightfully believes that all parties involved in the cataclysmic prelude to war were so blindly loyal to their nationalism, which we have already portrayed as an ambiguous fallacy invented by ambitious regimes, that they became ignorant of the consequences to humanity. Owen’s vote is on ignorance, as stated in the last line of the poem where he so poignantly draws together Abram’s refusal to humble himself and the world’s refusal to find alternative solutions to bloodshed, both ending with tragic results.

The Parable of the Old Men and the Young not only brings home the sheer waste of life that the First World War caused, but it brings it down to a very individualistic level. In several of Owen’s letters home he mentions HAVING to sensor the letters of his men, an officers duty (Groves, 4 Jan.). Through this censorship effort Owen no doubt gained closeness and a feel for the innocence of the men that served under him. Owen’s poem is a very stark and damning memorial to the soldiers that became the sacrifice. Consequently, he was slain by Abram’s knife, just as all those he championed.

2003-05-10
Added by: George Middleton
Strange, the title is "the parable of the Old Man and the Young" except in America where it becomes "Old Men".
At this moment, I would not dare to argue who is correct but a Google search is revealing.
2004-05-04
Added by: =JZ=
I dare to argue. I'm positive that it's "Man" not "Men", have a look at the manuscript --> http://www.hcu.ox.ac.uk/jtap/images/mss/bl/ms43720/20f15a.jpg

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