A Reflection for Remembrance Day – Three Poets – Owen, Crozier and Amichai

The Sacrifice of Issac by Caravaggio. Uffizi Gallery, Florence

The Parable of the Old Man and the Young

So Abram rose, and clave the wood and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isac the first born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When Lo! An angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not they hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in the thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son, –
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) from Poets.org

Some poetic medicine on a day when we remember the end of World War I and also all wars, their devastations. And why today more than ever we must remember – war is not the easy answer!

Owen’s poem! This poem sears me every time I read it. Its horrific last two lines. And it is gender specific. The men who call us to war. Often, old men. How Wilfred Owen takes the myth of Abram and Isaac and makes it a metaphor of the old men who sacrifice the young men in war. No sticks carrying jubilance, just grenades, carrying death.


How Owen takes an old story and turns it on its head and makes what he says even more devastating. Suddenly Abram becomes the statesmen of the First War, refusing clemency, refusing life and peace over war and death.

Then another contemporary take on the Sacrifice of Isaac by Canadian poet Lorna Crozier. How Isaac’s mother thwarts the sacrifice. The anger in this poem against violence.

The Sacrifice of Isaac

I bind my breasts with hide. Eat a jackal’s heart
and ride in dust to the mountains of Moriah.
Three nights I sit with what they cannot see
beyond their fires. Though I’m close enough
to touch his cheek. I will my hands to stillness.
Before dawn, our last day on the road, a caravan
stutters by, heavy with its load like something
from the past. I am too old for them to trouble me
though a boy rides up, tips his goatskin
and offers me a drink. He drops his eyes
when I unveil my mouth, the darkness there.
I swallow his breath with water from his father’s well,
mumble a blessing though I do not know
his gods, their indifference or their lust.
When the groan of the wheels fades, I hear
my child’s laugh ringing through the grass
like bells ties to the morning wind.
He is climbing. Bent double under wood,
he bears his fire upon his back.
I wait by a thicket, tufts of ram’s wool
on the brambles, knife cold against my thigh,
until the altar’s built, Isaac asking,
Father, where’s the lamb?
then I step into the open, fists on fire,
above my swinging arm
the bare throat of my husband’s
Lord opening in a flood of crimson light.

Lorna Crozier from The Blue Hour of the Day, McClelland  & Stewart, 2007


Flanders Fields – Photo Credit:Shutterstock

Yehuda Amichai, the great Israeli poet cuts to the heart of where, for me, wars begin. When we stand by our rightness. Something we see happening more and more again around the world. The one place that leads! Violence and conflict. Oh for doubts and love as Amachai says. A way to bring us all together! And avoid war.

The Place Where We Are Right

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

Yehuda Amichai

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