While being treated for shellshock at Craiglockhart War Hospital, Wilfred Owen edited six issues of the hospital’s magazine, The Hydra, beginning with the 21 July 1917 issue. Shown here is ‘The Next War’, one of just five poems published in Owen’s lifetime. It appears anonymously in the 29 September 1917 issue.
In ‘The Next War’ Owen subverts the conventional sonnet form with his choice of subject: death. Audaciously, death is addressed as an ever-present ‘old chum’. On the battlefields, Death is accepted, even laughed at. The poem is full of laughter and Owen portrays optimism and solidarity among soldiers, moral tools that enabled men to handle the horrors of war. Further on, the second stanza declares that, ‘Death was never enemy of ours!’ – leading us to ask, who is the enemy? The answer lies in the poem’s final lines, which warn that men are duped into believing that they nobly fight ‘Death – for Life’ when, actually, they kill ‘men – for flags’ – ‘flags’ standing for national interests.
‘The Next War’ opens with an epigraph quoting ‘A Letter Home’ by Siegfried Sassoon, whom Owen had met at Craiglockhart in August.