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Wilfred Owen In Shadwell

November 12, 2018
by the gentle author

Wilfred Owen was killed in November 1918 but wrote this poem earlier that year

Shadwell Stair
I am the ghost of Shadwell Stair.
Along the wharves by the water-house,
And through the cavernous slaughter-house,
I am the shadow that walks there.
Yet I have flesh both firm and cool,
And eyes tumultuous as the gems
Of moons and lamps in the full Thames
When dusk sails wavering down the pool.
Shuddering the purple street-arc burns
Where I watch always; from the banks
Dolorously the shipping clanks
And after me a strange tide turns.
I walk till the stars of London wane
And dawn creeps up the Shadwell Stair.
But when the crowing syrens blare
I with another ghost am lain.

Wilfred Owen (1893 -1918)

Shadwell Stair in 1937

Shadwell Church

The Prospect of Whitby

Shadwell Church seen from the entrance to Shadwell Basin

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6 Responses leave one →
  1. Alex Knisely permalink
    November 12, 2018

    “I with another ghost am lain” — was Owen homosexual, was Shadwell Stair a site known as one where homosexuals might rendezvous? Thank you for your postings. I learn much through them.

  2. November 12, 2018

    Good poem. I fell into the water from those stairs as a kid and nearly drowned, so I am rather wary of them! Valerie

  3. November 12, 2018

    What a great and fitting tribute today after the commemorations of yesterday. Thank you Gentle Author.

  4. November 12, 2018

    Not read this poem before. Thanks for publishing it. In reply to Alex Knisely, Wilfred Owen was gay according to his biographer Domonic Hibberd. His close friend Siegfried Sassoon was also gay. Shadwell Basin and the docks in general were known places for men to meet other men. I suspect Owen’s interest in Shadwell basin went beyond observing shipping on the Thames.

  5. pauline taylor permalink
    November 12, 2018

    Thank you GA, after all the memories of yesterday this is another one for me as my great grandmother’s brother, John McGrath, was born in Shadwell and I believe that my great grandmother, Jane McGrath must have been born there too although I have not discovered her baptism. The history of this area, beside the Thames, fascinates me and I am, at the moment, listening to Irish music to keep in touch with my roots in Ireland. To think that my great grandmother may have run up and down Shadwell stairs is sometimes hard to come to grips with for someone born and brought up in the depths of the Essex countryside.

  6. Helen Breen permalink
    November 12, 2018

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, fine piece and I love that evocative photo of the Shadwell stairs descending down into the Thames. Adding another favorite Owen poem for our reflection…

    Anthem for Doomed Youth


    What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
    — Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
    Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
    Can patter out their hasty orisons.
    No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
    Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
    The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
    And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

    What candles may be held to speed them all?
    Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
    Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
    The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
    Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
    And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

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