0

I don't understand the meaning of one sentence in Wilfred Owen's sonnet titled On Seeing a Piece of our Heavy Artillery Brought into Action:

Be slowly lifted up, thou long black arm,
Great Gun towering towards Heaven, about to curse;
Sway steep against them, and for years rehearse
Huge imprecations like a blasting charm!
Reach at that Arrogance which needs thy harm,
And beat it down before its sins grow worse.
Spend our resentment, cannon,-yea, disburse
Our gold in shapes of flame, our breaths in storm.

Yet, for men's sakes whom thy vast malison
Must wither innocent of enmity,
Be not withdrawn, dark arm, the spoilure done,
Safe to the bosom of our prosperity.

But when thy spell be cast complete and whole,
May God curse thee, and cut thee from our soul!

I understand the first half of the sentence as:

Yet, for the sake of men whom you must subject to shelling ("wither") until they are "innocent of enmity" (cease to feel enmity?), do not withdraw, oh the piece of artillery ("dark arm").

But what is "safe to the bosom of our prosperity"? Do not withdraw in safe condition? What is "bosom of our prosperity"?

  • 1
    We bear no enmity toward the men you wither, only against the Arrogance; but when the war (spoilure) is over and prosperity succeeds, for the sake of those men, I hope you are not withdrawn safely into our hearts but cut by God out of our souls. – StoneyB Jan 14 '16 at 20:36
  • @StoneyB - Thank you! "The bosom of our prosperity" = "our hearts" and "safe" = "safely" (be not withdrawn safely into our hearts)? – CowperKettle Jan 14 '16 at 20:39
  • 1
    Well, it's not really very good poetry. More literally, "(I hope you are not) brought back safe to the bosom we will have when we are again prosperous". I think that in Owen's imagination "safe" really is an attribute of "us" rather than of the gun -- but that isn't what he says. – StoneyB Jan 14 '16 at 20:45
  • 1
    I don't think "wither innocent of enmity" means "wither them until they are innocent of enmity", I think it means "wither them without enmity" - that is, the gun destroys them without feeling any personal enmity towards them. – stangdon Jan 14 '16 at 20:50
  • @stangdon - yes, I understand that now. It would've been easier to understand with a comma before "innocent". – CowperKettle Jan 14 '16 at 20:51
2

Safe to the bosom of our prosperity means that the artillery must not, when its job is done, be kept (remembered, perhaps?) within the poets's social environment or home but expunged from his whole being/memory.

  • 1
    +1 -- but not, I think, just the poet's: it's our resentment, our gold, our breaths, our prosperity, our soul. Owen is troubled to think that the war and victory will create a Prussian militarism in Britain. – StoneyB Jan 14 '16 at 20:47
  • 1
    Of course. Terrible things done in war but once the war is over, we return to our earlier 'being'/virtue. – Great Crosby Jan 14 '16 at 20:52

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.