The text is exerpted from Pat Utermohlen's 2006 essay on Bill's work.

 

William was commissioned by Nova et Vetera (Paris) to illustrate a poem of his choice with  suitable illustrations. William chose the poetry of Wilfred Owens, a First World War poet who perished in that war. He used lithography for the illustrations, most on the subject of death. Here the fragmentation and distortion of the figures are unsettling, but correctly echoing the sentiments of the poetry. 

 

To view the images along with poems scroll down this page. To see the images in a slideshow click here.

 

utermohlen-apologia poemate meo-lithographie 500

 Apologia Pro Poemate Meo

William Utermohlen, 1994

lithograph, quarto

 

Apologia Pro Poemate Meo

I, too, saw God through mud— 
The mud that cracked on cheeks when wretches smiled. 
War brought more glory to their eyes than blood, 
And gave their laughs more glee than shakes a child. 

Merry it was to laugh there— 
Where death becomes absurd and life absurder. 
For power was on us as we slashed bones bare 
Not to feel sickness or remorse of murder. 

I, too, have dropped off fear— 
Behind the barrage, dead as my platoon, 
And sailed my spirit surging, light and clear, 
Past the entanglement where hopes lie strewn; 

And witnessed exhultation— 
Faces that used to curse me, scowl for scowl, 
Shine and lift up with passion of oblation, 
Seraphic for an hour, though they were foul. 

I have made fellowships— 
Untold of happy lovers in old song. 
For love is not the binding of fair lips 
With the soft silk of eyes that look and long. 

By joy, whose ribbon slips,— 
But wound with war's hard wire whose stakes are strong; 
Bound with the bandage of the arm that drips; 
Knit in the welding of the rifle-thong. 

I have perceived much beauty 
In the hoarse oaths that kept our courage straight; 
Heard music in the silentness of duty; 
Found peace where shell-storms spouted reddest spate. 

Nevertheless, except you share 
With them in hell the sorrowful dark of hell, 
Whose world is but a trembling of a flare 
And heaven but a highway for a shell, 

You shall not hear their mirth: 
You shall not come to think them well content 
By any jest of mine. These men are worth 
Your tears: You are not worth their merriment. 

 --- Wilfred Owen

utermohlen-arms and the boy-lithographie 500

Arms and The Boy

William Utermohlen, 1994

lithograph, quarto

Arms and the Boy

BY WILFRED OWEN

Let the boy try along this bayonet-blade
How cold steel is, and keen with hunger of blood;
Blue with all malice, like a madman's flash;
And thinly drawn with famishing for flesh.

Lend him to stroke these blind, blunt bullet-leads
Which long to nuzzle in the hearts of lads.
Or give him cartridges of fine zinc teeth,
Sharp with the sharpness of grief and death.

For his teeth seem for laughing round an apple.
There lurk no claws behind his fingers supple;
And God will grow no talons at his heels,
Nor antlers through the thickness of his curls.

 

 

 

utermohlen-asleep-lithographie 500   

Asleep

William Utermohlen, 1994

lithograph, quarto

Asleep

Under his helmet, up against his pack,
After so many days of work and waking,
Sleep took him by the brow and laid him back.

There, in the happy no-time of his sleeping,
Death took him by the heart. There heaved a quaking
Of the aborted life within him leaping,
Then chest and sleepy arms once more fell slack.

And soon the slow, stray blood came creeping
From the intruding lead, like ants on track.

Whether his deeper sleep lie shaded by the shaking
Of great wings, and the thoughts that hung the stars,
High-pillowed on calm pillows of God's making,
Above these clouds, these rains, these sleets of lead,
And these winds' scimitars,
-Or whether yet his thin and sodden head
Confuses more and more with the low mould,
His hair being one with the grey grass
Of finished fields, and wire-scrags rusty-old,
Who knows? Who hopes? Who troubles? Let it pass!
He sleeps. He sleeps less tremulous, less cold,
Than we who wake, and waking say Alas! 

Wilfred Owen

utermohlen-creater love-lithographie 500

 Greater Love

William Utermohlen, 1994

lithograph, quarto

Greater Love

  by Wilfred Owen

Red lips are not so red
As the stained stones kissed by the English dead.
Kindness of wooed and wooer
Seems shame to their love pure.
O Love, your eyes lose lure
When I behold eyes blinded in my stead!

Your slender attitude
Trembles not exquisite like limbs knife-skewed,
Rolling and rolling there
Where God seems not to care;
Till the fierce love they bear
Cramps them in death's extreme decrepitude.

Your voice sings not so soft,—
Though even as wind murmuring through raftered loft,—
Your dear voice is not dear,
Gentle, and evening clear,
As theirs whom none now hear,
Now earth has stopped their piteous mouths that coughed.

Heart, you were never hot
Nor large, nor full like hearts made great with shot;
And though your hand be pale,
Paler are all which trail
Your cross through flame and hail:
Weep, you may weep, for you may touch them not.

 

 

utermohlen-insensibility-lithographie 500

 Insensibility

William Utermohlen, 1994

lithograph, quarto

 

Insensibility

I

Happy are men who yet before they are killed

Can let their veins run cold.

Whom no compassion fleers

Or makes their feet

Sore on the alleys cobbled with their brothers.

The front line withers,

But they are troops who fade, not flowers

For poets’ tearful fooling:

Men, gaps for filling:

Losses, who might have fought

Longer; but no one bothers.

II

And some cease feeling

Even themselves or for themselves.

Dullness best solves

The tease and doubt of shelling,

And Chance’s strange arithmetic

Comes simpler than the reckoning of their shilling.

They keep no check on armies’ decimation.

III

Happy are these who lose imagination:

They have enough to carry with ammunition.

Their spirit drags no pack.

Their old wounds, save with cold, can not more ache.

Having seen all things red,

Their eyes are rid

Of the hurt of the colour of blood forever.

And terror’s first constriction over,

Their hearts remain small-drawn.

Their senses in some scorching cautery of battle

Now long since ironed,

Can laugh among the dying, unconcerned.

IV

Happy the soldier home, with not a notion

How somewhere, every dawn, some men attack,

And many sighs are drained.

Happy the lad whose mind was never trained:

His days are worth forgetting more than not.

He sings along the march

Which we march taciturn, because of dusk,

The long, forlorn, relentless trend

From larger day to huger night.

V

We wise, who with a thought besmirch

Blood over all our soul,

How should we see our task

But through his blunt and lashless eyes?

Alive, he is not vital overmuch;

Dying, not mortal overmuch;

Nor sad, nor proud,

Nor curious at all.

He cannot tell

Old men’s placidity from his.

VI

But cursed are dullards whom no cannon stuns,

That they should be as stones;

Wretched are they, and mean

With paucity that never was simplicity.

By choice they made themselves immune

To pity and whatever moans in man

Before the last sea and the hapless stars;

Whatever mourns when many leave these shores;

Whatever shares

The eternal reciprocity of tears.

Wilfred Owen

 

utermohlen-next war-lithographie 500

The Next War

William Utermohlen, 1994

lithographe, quarto

The Next War

War's a joke for me and you,
Wile we know such dreams are true.
- Siegfried Sassoon

Out there, we've walked quite friendly up to Death,-
Sat down and eaten with him, cool and bland,-
Pardoned his spilling mess-tins in our hand.
We've sniffed the green thick odour of his breath,-
Our eyes wept, but our courage didn't writhe.
He's spat at us with bullets and he's coughed
Shrapnel. We chorussed when he sang aloft,
We whistled while he shaved us with his scythe.

Oh, Death was never enemy of ours!
We laughed at him, we leagued with him, old chum.
No soldier's paid to kick against His powers.
We laughed, -knowing that better men would come,
And greater wars: when each proud fighter brags
He wars on Death, for lives; not men, for flags. 

Wilfred Owen 

utermohlen-smile smile smile-lithographie 500

Smile, Smile, Smile

William Utermohlen, 1994

lithographe, quarto

 


Head to limp head, the sunk-eyed wounded scanned
Yesterday's Mail; the casualties (typed small)
And (large) Vast Booty from our Latest Haul.
Also, they read of Cheap Homes, not yet planned,
'For', said the paper, 'when this war is done (5)
The men's first instincts will be making homes.
Meanwhile their foremost need is aerodromes,
It being certain war has but begun.
Peace would do wrong to our undying dead, -
The sons we offered might regret they died (10)
If we got nothing lasting in their stead.
We must be solidly indemnified.
Though all be worthy Victory which all bought,
We rulers sitting in this ancient spot
Would wrong our very selves if we forgot (15)
The greatest glory will be theirs who fought,
Who kept this nation in integrity.'
Nation? - The half-limbed readers did not chafe
But smiled at one another curiously
Like secret men who know their secret safe. (20)
(This is the thing they know and never speak,
That England one by one had fled to France,
Not many elsewhere now, save under France.)
Pictures of these broad smiles appear each week,
And people in whose voice real feeling rings (25)
Say: How they smile! They're happy now, poor things.

 

 

utermohlen-strange meeting-lithographie 500  

Strange Meeting

William Utermohlen, 1994

lithographe, quarto

Strange Meeting

BY WILFRED OWEN

It seemed that out of the battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which Titanic wars had groined.
Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall;
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.
With a thousand fears that vision's face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
"Strange friend," I said, "Here is no cause to mourn."
"None," said the other, "Save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something has been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled.
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress,
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery;
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery;
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.
I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark; for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now. . . ."
 

 

utermohlen-the show-lithographie 500

The Show

William Utermohlen, 1994

lithographe, quarto

 

The Show

My soul looked down from a vague height with Death,
As unremembering how I rose or why,
And saw a sad land, weak with sweats of dearth,
Gray, cratered like the moon with hollow woe,
And fitted with great pocks and scabs of plaques. 

Across its beard, that horror of harsh wire,
There moved thin caterpillars, slowly uncoiled.
It seemed they pushed themselves to be as plugs
Of ditches, where they writhed and shrivelled, killed. 

By them had slimy paths been trailed and scraped
Round myriad warts that might be little hills. 

From gloom's last dregs these long-strung creatures crept,
And vanished out of dawn down hidden holes.

(And smell came up from those foul openings
As out of mouths, or deep wounds deepening.) 

On dithering feet upgathered, more and more,
Brown strings towards strings of gray, with bristling spines,
All migrants from green fields, intent on mire. 

Those that were gray, of more abundant spawns,
Ramped on the rest and ate them and were eaten. 

I saw their bitten backs curve, loop, and straighten,
I watched those agonies curl, lift, and flatten. 

Whereat, in terror what that sight might mean,
I reeled and shivered earthward like a feather. 

And Death fell with me, like a deepening moan.
And He, picking a manner of worm, which half had hid
Its bruises in the earth, but crawled no further,
Showed me its feet, the feet of many men,
And the fresh-severed head of it, my head. 

Wilfred Owen