The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen by Wilfred OwenReposted November 4th, 2018 - in memory of November 4th, 1918, the poets last battle!
I have been circling around World War I for a while now, reading novels that were published around 1915, such as The Voyage Out or Of Human Bondage, and poetry that referred back to that breaking point in history, for example Duffys Last Post.
As Dulce Et Decorum Est is one of my all time favourite poems (if you can say that about something as sad and scary as those lines), I have been meaning to dig deeper into Owens reflections for a long time.
I find it hard to describe my feelings towards this collection, as there are so many strands that join together to weave the pattern of this reading experience. There is the brilliant young poet, writing beautiful verse, and the witness of the literal break down of a whole value system, and the truthful chronicler of historical events, and the sad prophet, and the voice of millions of soldiers fighting a war that did not really regard them.
There is modernity in art breaking through the lines of the trenches, beauty for beautys sake dying with the idealism that could not be kept in the face of bitter reality...
I keep thinking of Rudyard Kiplings world, an intact ethical system with the honour of the British Empire as a guiding star, and how this world was brutally destroyed when he pressured the system to let his myopic son Jack enrol in the war, only to lose him forever shortly afterwards. I wonder if it was worse for Kipling not to know exactly what happened, so that he had to keep asking, full of sorrow, after 1915, about news of his boy Jack:
“Have you news of my boy Jack? ”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.
Would it have been easier for the devastated father if he had received all the harsh details Owen describes in his poems? The hard, sad, tormenting details of trench warfare and its effects, speaking of the countless young men lost...
The ones who die, thinking:
Id love to be a sweep now, black as Town,
Yes, or a muckman. Must I be his load?
The ones who are mutilated forever, at age nineteen:
He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark,
And shivered in his ghastly suit of grey,
Legless, sewn short at elbow...
The ones who have lost their sanity in the face of terror:
But poor Jim, es livin an es not;
E reckoned ed five chances, an e ad;
Es wounded, killed an prisner, all the lot,
The bloody lot all rolled in one. Jims mad.
The ones who survived to be haunted forever by their memories.
That of course was something Wilfred Owen could not write about, himself falling during the last week of the war in November 1918. But we have plenty of testimony of the traumatised survivors, as Doris Lessing recalls in her autobiography for example, describing her parents fate. Remarque wrote down his nightmare in his All Quiet on the Western Front, describing an experience where the death, mutilation and trauma of young men was so common that newspapers could report Nothing New On The Western Front on the day the hero of the novel dies.
I could read, and reread Wilfred Owen over and over. First of all, he gives the war a voice that is honest and direct, without any of those old lies of decorous and honorable patriotic fights and deaths. He shows the reality of that time, but he also creates art. Where others write reports, he sings a desperate song of pity for a generation taught to die for a nation that does not care for them at all. When they discover that, it is too late.
He tells the story of those soldiers, and thus makes history come alive again, to remind and warn that there is no glory in killing.
But somehow, he also manages to give me hope. For he wrote beautiful, thoughtful, and wise poetry under horrendous pressure, thus showing the human ability to create a space for kindness and pity in any situation. Who writes like Owen has not given up on humanity as a whole. Who wants to reach out and teach the coming generations to be careful with their lives can not be entirely lost.
I am the enemy you killed, my friend, - that line goes deep under my skin!
So I close his poetry collection deeply thankful that his poetry was saved for me to read, forever curious what he would have done with his incredible talent, had he lived beyond 25!
List of poems by Wilfred Owen
He never wrote his poems as so many war-poets did to make the effect of a personal gesture. He pitied others; he did not pity himself. In the last year of his life he attained a clear vision of what he needed to say, and these poems survive him as his true and splendid testament. In writing an introduction such as this it is good to be brief. The poems printed in this book need no preliminary commendations from me or anyone else. The author has left us his own fragmentary but impressive Foreword; this, and his Poems, can speak for him, backed by the authority of his experience as an infantry soldier, and sustained by nobility and originality of style.
He was one of the leading poets of the First World War. His war poetry on the horrors of trenches and gas warfare was heavily influenced by his mentor Siegfried Sassoon , and stood in stark contrast both to the public perception of war at the time and to the confidently patriotic verse written by earlier war poets such as Rupert Brooke. When Wilfred was born, his parents lived in a comfortable house owned by his grandfather, Edward Shaw. After Edward's death in January , and the house's sale in March,  the family lodged in the back streets of Birkenhead. There Thomas Owen temporarily worked in the town employed by a railway company.
on this page
War Poetry. The English File
Upon leaving school at 18 Owen spent a period of months working as a pupil-teacher at Wyle Cop School. In the autumn he passed the matriculation examination for the University of London but without the first class honours needed to gain a scholarship. Unable to afford to study, he worked as lay assistant to the Vicar of Dunsden near Reading. In his spare time he also attended University College, Reading, and is known to have studied the diverse subjects of botany and poetry. He was actually tutoring in the Pyrenees when war was declared. His training was completed in Hare Hall Camp in Essex, but this allowed him time to make trips to London, notably to the Poetry Bookshop run by Harold Monro who he met. On 4th June Owen was commissioned as a second lieutenant with the Manchester Regiment.
Mr Hovey provides an Historical Introduction to the western front and relates Owen's poetry to the Australian troops in the trenches and to the factors that motivated them to enlist. The Study Guide has a full list of books and other resources relevant to the study of the Australian experience of World War One and a selection of assignments and activities for student use. Wilfred Owen. He volunteered on 21st October He saw a good deal of front-line action: he was blown up, concussed and suffered shell-shock. At Craiglockhart, the psychiatric hospital in Edinburgh, he met Siegfried Sassoon who inspired him to develop his war poetry.
Wilfred Owen, who wrote some of the best British poetry on World War I, composed nearly all of his poems in slightly over a year, from August to September In November he was killed in action at the age of 25, one week before the Armistice. Only five poems were published in his lifetime—three in the Nation and two that appeared anonymously in the Hydra , a journal he edited in when he was a patient at Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh. Shortly after his death, seven more of his poems appeared in the volume of Edith Sitwell 's annual anthology, Wheels : a volume dedicated to his memory, and in and seven other poems appeared in periodicals. Owen wrote vivid and terrifying poems about modern warfare, depicting graphic scenes with honest emotions; in doing so, young Owen helped to advance poetry into the Modernist era. Wilfred Edward Salter Owen was born on March 18, , in Oswestry, on the Welsh border of Shropshire, in the beautiful and spacious home of his maternal grandfather. As the oldest of four children born in rapid succession, Wilfred developed a protective attitude toward the others and an especially close relationship with his mother.