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It listened for a tale of leaves And smothered ferns, Frond-forests, and the low sly lives Before the fauns.
Soon, though, the coals whispering and shifting in the grate lead the poet elsewhere: But the coals were murmuring of their mine, And moans down there Of boys that slept wry sleep, and men Writhing for air.
The centuries will burn rich loads With which we groaned, Whose warmth shall lull their dreaming lids, While songs are crooned; But they will not dream of us poor lads, Left in the ground.
This poem was written in Scarborough in January 1918, only weeks after Owen had been discharged from Craiglockhart Hospital with orders to rejoin his unit.
New York's Central Park was modelled on Birkenhead's, and the first cinema outside London was established here.
Walking around its run-down backstreets, I found the three houses the family had lived in; the site of Birkenhead Institute, where Owen was a star pupil; and Christ Church, an all-important focal point in those early years.
His writing after that first, terrible exposure in France can't help being "mixed up with the War".
Days before, a pit explosion at Halmerend had killed more than a hundred men and boys.
Owen quickly responded by writing a poem on the colliery disaster (it was headline news), describing later how "I get mixed up with the War at the end".
(But I would trust them to advance under fire and to hold their trench.)" And, just over year before, Owen had been writing poems like his sonnet "Purple": "Purest, it is the diamond dawn of spring;/ And yet the veil of Venus, whose rose skin,/ Mauve-marbled, purples Eros' mouth for sacred sin." What had changed?
Most obviously, Owen had been to the front line, in the early spring of 1917, and had seen first-hand what modern industrial warfare did to the natural landscape, the human body and the mind. He'd also met a few people who had utterly recalibrated him.