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This article is taken from PN Review 213, Volume 40 Number 1, September - October 2013.

An exhibition of text-works by Stephen Raw, at St John's Priory Church, London, June-July 2013

Was It For This Clay Grew Tall?
Stephen Raw
The poems of Wilfred Owen are now widely known and much quoted, so it is perhaps surprising that they were not on any syllabus when I was at school. Indeed, it was only by listening to the War Requiem as a young man that I first encountered his powerful poetry. So I feel a debt of gratitude to Benjamin Britten for choosing Owen's words to be the major voice of his masterpiece. Somewhat later in life -  ten years ago -  I constructed and painted a sarcophagus/altar in response to Owen's haunting poem 'The Parable of the Old Men and the Young'. This is a retelling of the ancient story of Abraham and Isaac which, for me, poses contemporary questions about the nature of sacrifice. I subsequently became increasingly curious to see what would happen if I took the remaining text of War Requiem -  including the Latin Missal -  and put it together in one place. Britten's approaching centenary was the final impetus I needed to get started. In the works shown here, I have explored Britten's juxtaposition of the nine poems expressing Owen's brutal experiences in the trenches alongside the centuries-old Latin of the 'Missa pro Defunctis': pity and anger engaging reverential and commemmorative language.
stephen raw

image of text-work by Stephen Raw
image of text-work by Stephen Raw
image of text-work by Stephen Raw

image of text-work by Stephen Raw

All images © Stephen Raw

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