Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) is widely recognised as one of the greatest voices of the First World War. His self-appointed task was to speak for the men in his care, to show the ‘Pity of War’.
Owen’s enduring and influential poetry is evidence of his bleak realism, his energy and indignation, his compassion and his great technical skill.
Wilfred Owen was born on 18 March 1893 at Plas Wilmot, a house in Weston Lane, near Oswestry in Shropshire. He was of mixed English and Welsh ancestry and the eldest of Thomas and Harriet Susan (née Shaw)’s four children; his siblings were Harold, Colin, and Mary Millard Owen. When he was born, Wilfred’s parents lived in a comfortable house owned by Wildred’s grandfather, Edward Shaw, but after the latter’s death in January 1897, and the house’s sale in March, the family lodged in back streets of Birkenhead while Thomas temporarily worked in the town with the railway company employing him. In April, Thomas latter transferred to Shrewsbury, where the family lived with Thomas’ parents in Canon Street.
He discovered his poetic vocation in 1903 or 1904 during a holiday spent in Cheshire. Owen was raised as an Anglican of the evangelical school, and in his youth was a devout believer, in part due to his strong relationship with his mother, which lasted throughout his life. His early influences included the Bible and the “big six” of romantic poetry, particularly John Keats.
Owen’s’s last two years of formal education saw him as a pupil-teacher at the Wyle Cop school in Shrewsbury. In 1911, he passed the matriculation exam for the University of London, but not with the first-class honours needed for a scholarship, which in his family’s circumstances was the only way he could have afforded to attend.
In return for free lodging, and some tuition for the entrance exam (this has been questioned) Owen worked as lay assistant to the Vicar of Dunsden near Reading. During this time he attended classes at University College, Reading (now the University of Reading), in botany and later, at the urging of the head of the English Department, took free lessons in Old English. His time spent at Dunsden parish led him to disillusionment with the Church, both in its ceremony and its failure to provide aid for those in need.
For more information on Wilfred Owen please go to: http://www.wilfredowen.org.uk/Biography
Here is one of his poems
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 our 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 tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped 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,
Obscene as cancer, 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.
Wilfred Owen: Thought to have been written between 8 October 1917 and March, 1918