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“The Parable of the Old Man and the Young” by Wilfred Owen begins as the biblical story of Abraham and his son, Isaac. In the biblical story, Abraham readies a pyre and knife, as he prepares Isaac to be the sacrificial lamb. At the last minute, an angel arrives telling Abraham to save his son and to use a ram as the sacrifice, which Abraham does.
The changes Owen makes to the parable are indicative of his disgust with the elected officials whom he believes to be responsible for the loss of lives in the First World War. In his poem, he modifies the biblical story to a war story when he writes that “Abram bound the youth with belts and straps, And builded parapets and trenches there.” Owen speaks of “the Ram of Pride” meaning the pride of the European rulers who were engaging in the War. Still the angel comes to rescue Isaac but to no avail. Instead of sacrificing a ram, the young man, symbolic of many, was killed. The poet’s words “half the seed of Europe” refer to all of the young men who were killed in the war as they sacrificed their lives in the fight.
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