1893 – Birth of British poet, Wilfred Owen.
120 years ago today,one of the best known war poets was born. Wilfred Owen is known today for his shocking and realistic war poetry of the First World War. He joined the war effort as a soldier, spending some time in hospital for shell shock. His meeting with Siegfried Sassoon had a profound impact upon him and his work. Writing poetry from an early age, some report as early as 10, he had determined on a poet as his career. He was deeply influenced by Keats and Shelley. Unfortunately, he never got to see his dream realised.
He was killed in November 1918, aged only 25, just one week before the Armistice. Only five of his poems were published during his lifetime, but he is remembered today due to others, including Siegfried Sassoon and Edith Sitwell, who edited his poems and published them posthumously in Poems (1920), The Poems of Wilfred Owen (1931), and The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen (1963).
He used his terrifying experiences in France, and used his conflicts in returning to the Western Front in his poems, which relieve the overwhelming affects the war had on him, telling his readers of the pity, devastation and the bleakness of war, rather than the might and majesty portrayed back home in propaganda. His poems provide a future generation with a warning against war.
In many of his poems he highlights a surreal quality to the experiences of war. His ‘characters’ dream and hallucinate in their extreme fatigue, dropping in and out of consciousness, through lack of sleep, food or loss of blood through injuries. Some have argued that this technique makes the true horror of war more realistic, more universal, because there seems to be no rational explanation for the events of war.
Among his best-known works – most of which were published posthumously – are “Dulce et Decorum Est”, “Insensibility”, “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, “Futility” and “Strange Meeting”.
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 good-byes.
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.
Dulce et Decorum Est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned out backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!–An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.–
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.