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Parable of the Old Man and the Young
Transcript of Parable of the Old Man and the Young
Parable of the Old Man and the Young
Meaning and Context
Owen takes directly from the Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac in this poem, which talks about the sacrifice Abraham offers God and how an angel saved his son at the last minute.
However, in the poem, the man goes ahead and sacrifices his son anyway.
It is an attack on those in charge of the war.
The poem roughly follows the story as set out in Genesis 22 until the stanza break – why does the poet break the stanza here? – it is a changed ending and therefore provides a twist. It is a dramatic pause.
A shift occurs after line 6 – from the traditional Bible story to WW1.
Is there a rhyme scheme? No, which makes the poem quite disjointed and loose – reflecting how destructive the war is and how things are falling apart.
- Wilfred Owen
Owen uses Biblical language like “clave” (cut) and “sojourned” (rested) to mimic the original story and give the poem authority.
When the poem shifts to WW1 (line 6 onwards), “the youth” suddenly becomes all the young men of Europe – like “the Young” of the title. They are bound with “belts and straps” (soldiers’ uniform) and “parapets and trenches” are built (reference to the structures in the war).
At the last minute, the “youth” are saved by an angel – God provides an alternative: “the Ram of Pride”. Pride is, Owen suggests, the reason for the war (perhaps patriotism, a desperation not to be seen as cowardly) – and God suggests that the ram is killed instead of the youth.
We then get a pause: “But the old man would not” – the old man is representative of those in charge of the war, sacrificing “his son” – all the men who have gone to their deaths who are, of course, somebody’s son. The scale of the deaths is emphasised through the phrase “half the seed of Europe” – with seed representing both their own youth and the children they would have had – their lost futures, Europe’s lost generations. “one by one” suggests that the death and the war just goes on and on with no end.
By mimicking a parable from the Bible, Owen suggests that the war is going against the teachings of God as the old man in the parable goes directly against what God advises.
The poem is an allegory - an extended metaphor where a story is used to discuss complex ideas.
Uses a bible story - deviation against a powerful, well known story shows we have not learnt from it.
Final couplet changes the tone and the original story.
War equated with sacrifice for the gain of the world leaders.
The world leaders (the old) and their pride are responsible for the war.
Owen is stating with this
poem that we haven't learnt
anything from the Bible,
which is the context of this poem.
The context behind this poem
is the story of Abraham and Isaac.
Notice that it doesn't say 'Abraham'.
Abram's name was changed to
Abraham when he became a father to
Owen is stating that the world
leaders have not earned the name
Abraham because they are not
fathering or protecting their nations.
Deviation from the Bible, which says 'fire and
wood' - for fire. Owen changes this to 'fire and
iron' which are the materials for weapons.
Preparing for war.
Another deviation. Owens version represents what is used to hold weaponry, and alludes a sense of being tied down.
The young can't escape war.
Another deviation. In the Bible, it says
'altar', which is where animals
War is built to sacrifice the youth.
The ram is trapped by it's horns.
World leaders are not willing to back down from this war.
The Ram is locking horns and
won't back down. Owen is suggesting
that they (world leaders) should sacrifice
their pride instead of the youth.
In the Bible, this is where Abraham
sacrifices the ram instead.
Owen uses this break to show the
deviation from God's wishes.
The idea of "seed" relates back to
'Futility', where the sun (leaders) should
rouse the seeds.
The seeds are slayed, so there is no growth.
The world leaders will not back
down, and would rather lose their
youth than their pride.