The Parable of the Old Man and the Young Tuesday, 11 May 2010 7:40 AM Owen uses the story from Genesis. It starts in the middle of the story of Abram Killing his son, Isaac He is preparing the wood and this shows that there is cold-blooded planning behind his actions. We emphasise with the son, who is about to be killed Biblical language is used such as ‘clave’ and ‘spake’ to help set the appropriate tone, this helps Owen stress what those who promote and wage war are doing to young men sent to fight it on their behalf.
The father prepares to kill his son by preparing ‘fire and iron’ while son asks ‘lamb, for this burnt offering’. Abram’s methodical preparation represents the uncaring British High Command who sent their youth to fight. Our anger and fear is realised as Isaac is tied up ‘with belts and straps’. The story emphasises his innocence and that he is dying at the decision of others. His bindings are a metaphor of the uniform that condemns men to fight and die, tying him to a new existence from which he cannot escape.
His father is betraying basic kinship (family) rules. The war front setting is quickly depicted by the ‘parapets and trenches’. The imminent slaying of the son with the sacrificial ‘knife’ is stopped only by the hand of ‘an Angel’. ‘Lay not they hand upon the lad,/Neither do anything to him, thy son. ‘ Only heaven stops Abraham killing his son, Abram wanted to kill his son but only higher authority saved him. The Angel asks Abram to realise the young need not die.
This is Owen suggesting that countries should not go to war but instead sacrifice national pride rather then a generation of youth. In Owens version the final 2 lines offer a shocking reversal of the Old Testament version. The ‘Ram of Pride’ is representative of the older generation of politicians and generals who chose to ignore the cries of the Angel. ‘But the old man would not so, but slew his son,/And half the seed of Europe, one by one’ This represents the moral crime that has been committed. The resultant sacrifice represented by the slaughter of a generation is monstrous