Wilfred Owen : A British War Poet

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      Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) was the greatest of the war poets. He was born at Oswestry and educated at Birkenhead and London University, and, after spending some time as a tutor in France, he served as an infantry officer from 1915 until his death. He was awarded the Military Cross.

As early as 1910 Owen was writing verse in the romantic tradition of Keats and Tennyson, and the influence of French poetry, the product of his stay in France, was never completely shaken off.
Wilfred Owen

      As early as 1910 Owen was writing verse in the romantic tradition of Keats and Tennyson, and the influence of French poetry, the product of his stay in France, was never completely shaken off. But the work by which he lives was all produced after his meeting in 1917 with Sassoon. His experience of the trenches had brought him rapidly to maturity, and Sassoon set his feet on the path which he himself had already taken. With a frank realism, free from the violent bitterness of so much of Sassoon's poetry, Owen set out to present the whole reality of war - the boredom, the hopelessness, the futility, the horror, occasionally the courage and self-sacrifice, but, above all, the pity of it. He himself wrote: "I am not concerned with Poetry. My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity." And never has the pity of war been more deeply felt or more powerfully shown. Though his satire is often sharp, he never loses his artistic poise, and his most bitter work has a dignity which is truly great.

      A gifted artist with a fine feeling for words and a subtle rhythmic sense, Owen was a ceaseless experimenter in verse techniques. Probably the most influential part of his technique was the para-rhyme, which was so enthusiastically adopted by later poets. Indeed, Owen's influence on these writers was very great in spite of the slimness of the volume of his poems, which were collected and published by Siegfried Sassoon in 1920. In both technique and mood the post-War generation found in him a congenial spirit, and it is tempting, though profitless, to speculate on what he might have become had he not, by a cruel blow of fate, been killed in action just seven days before the Armistice.

      The Poems of Wilfred Owen (1931) is a much more complete collection of his works and contains an excellent memoir by Edmund Blunden.

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