Tag Archives: war poets

“Disabled” By Wilfred Owen

Yesterday (20 July) I came across “Disabled” by Wilfred Owen, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/57285/disabled. As someone who is himself disabled (I am registered blind), I was interested to see how one of the great poets of World War I portrays disability.

In “Disabled, Owen describes a young man who enlists in the army while underage, is terribly wounded (he loses both legs and its implied his arms also). Returning to the UK he is institutionilised and (the poem implies) his former joys, including any prospect of a woman’s love are at an end:

“Now he will never feel again how slim
Girls’ waists are, or how warm their subtle hands,
All of them touch him like some queer disease”.

In the above lines, Owen falls into the trap of assuming that disabled people are sexless, an idea which still persists to this day amongst some people (including the so-called educated sections of the population). Throughout history disabled people have (to state the obvious) had sexual relations both within marriage and outside of that institution. Here Owen is projecting his own view of disability onto an unnamed and depersonalised individual who has been horribly injured in war.

Having said the above, it remains as true today (as it did in Owen’s time) that many people will not entertain the idea of entering into a relationship with a person who has a disability. However it is by no means unusual for someone who is disabled to have a non-disabled partner (as a visually impaired man most of my relationships have been with sighted women).

The poem ends on the same sad note, that of a man who has lost all joy in living, including the possibility of finding love:

“Tonight he noticed how the women’s eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
How cold and late it is! Why don’t they come
And put him into bed? Why don’t they come?”.

(For an interesting article on the poem please see this piece on Disability Arts Online, http://disabilityarts.online/magazine/opinion/war-poem-disabled-wilfred-owen/).