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Editor's Selection of Poems
Mental Cases

by Wilfred Owen

Who are these? Why sit they here in twilight? 
Wherefore rock they, purgatorial shadows, 
Drooping tongues from jays that slob their relish, 
Baring teeth that leer like skulls' teeth wicked? 
Stroke on stroke of pain,- but what slow panic, 
Gouged these chasms round their fretted sockets? 
Ever from their hair and through their hands' palms 
Misery swelters. Surely we have perished 
Sleeping, and walk hell; but who these hellish? 
-These are men whose minds the Dead have ravished. 
Memory fingers in their hair of murders, 
Multitudinous murders they once witnessed. 
Wading sloughs of flesh these helpless wander, 
Treading blood from lungs that had loved laughter. 
Always they must see these things and hear them, 
Batter of guns and shatter of flying muscles, 
Carnage incomparable, and human squander 
Rucked too thick for these men's extrication. 

Therefore still their eyeballs shrink tormented 
Back into their brains, because on their sense 
Sunlight seems a blood-smear; night comes blood-black; 
Dawn breaks open like a wound that bleeds afresh. 
-Thus their heads wear this hilarious, hideous, 
Awful falseness of set-smiling corpses. 
-Thus their hands are plucking at each other; 
Picking at the rope-knouts of their scourging; 
Snatching after us who smote them, brother, 
Pawing us who dealt them war and madness. 
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