Scotland - Relaunch of Edinburgh Napier University's War Poets Collection

A relaunch will take place this week of Edinburgh Napier University's War Poets Collection. Books and other items are housed within the university's Craiglockhart campus. A permanent exhibition gives visitors an opportunity to view the collection, and gain an insight into the personal and social experiences of war through the words, memories, voices and objects that the officers, medical staff and relatives left behind.

Craiglockhart originally opened as a centre for Hydrotherapy in 1880. It was used during the First World War as a hospital for the psychiatric treatment of shell-shocked officers. In 1917, poets Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) and Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) first met at the hospital, an encounter that was to transform Wilfred Owen's life. It was at Craiglockhart War Hospital that some of Wilfred Owen's and Siegfried Sassoon’s greatest war poetry was inspired and written. Both described the real horrors of war and was in stark contrast to the patriotic and jingoistic approach of those that sought to glorify the conflict. 

Actor Daniel Day-Lewis has now recited seven of Wilfred Owen's most famous works to help relaunch Edinburgh Napier University's War Poets Collection. He and others have recorded work for the poets collection. Daniel Day-Lewis's father, Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis, edited Wilfred Owen's poetry in the 1960s and his mother, Jill Balcon, was a vice-president of the Wilfred Owen Association. As part of the War Poets Collection relaunch, this week a light projection on the facade of the building will pay tribute to the building's history during the First World War. A new bronze sculpture of Wilfred Owen has also been put on display.

The First World War lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Over nine million combatants, seven million civilians and countless animals died as a result of the war. Remembrance Day is observed on 11 November to recall the end of hostilities which formally ended "at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month", in accordance with the armistice that was signed. Wilfred Owen returned to active service in France in July 1918 and was killed in action on 4 November 1918 one week before the signing of the Armistice which ended the war. 

The poem below, "Strange Meeting" by Wilfred Owen was written in 1918. It recounts a meeting between two dead soldiers who had fought on opposing sides: 


It seemed that out of battle I escaped 

Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped 

Through granites which titanic wars had groined. 


Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned, 

Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred. 

Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared 

With piteous recognition in fixed eyes, 

Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless. 

And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall,— 

By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell. 


With a thousand fears that vision's face was grained; 

Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground, 

And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan. 

“Strange friend,” I said, “here is no cause to mourn.” 

“None,” said that other, “save the undone years, 

The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours, 

Was my life also; I went hunting wild 

After the wildest beauty in the world, 

Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair, 

But mocks the steady running of the hour, 

And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here. 

For by my glee might many men have laughed, 

And of my weeping something had been left, 

Which must die now. I mean the truth untold, 

The pity of war, the pity war distilled. 

Now men will go content with what we spoiled. 

Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled. 

They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress. 

None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress. 

Courage was mine, and I had mystery; 

Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery: 

To miss the march of this retreating world 

Into vain citadels that are not walled. 

Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels, 

I would go up and wash them from sweet wells, 

Even with truths that lie too deep for taint. 

I would have poured my spirit without stint 

But not through wounds; not on the cess of war. 

Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were. 


“I am the enemy you killed, my friend. 

I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned 

Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed. 

I parried; but my hands were loath and cold. 

Let us sleep now. . . .”

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