Owen went to fight in France in 1916. He was wounded March 19, 1917 and again on May 1. He was hospitalized until the summer of 1918 when he was judged fit to return to the Front. He was killed on November 4, 1918, one week before the signing of the Armistice. The story goes that his parents received the news of their son's death as the church bells were ringing out the victory.
reflective of his classical education grounded the Latin and the humanities
influenced by the English romantic poets especially Keats and Tennyson
a devotee of the aesthetic cult of Beauty
his early works were everything the Imagists were attempting to change
only published three poems during his lifetime
World War I
the horrors of war were transfigured in poems into a terrible beauty
his last known poem, Smile, Smile, Smile, starkly illustrates his mature style with the turning of
daydreams into nightmares
the disingenuous into the ironic
aestheticism into social protest
beauty and truth into a deeply-felt pity
this poetry is a product of personal pain, fear, and moral outrage
it describes the stupid, callous, mawkish sentiment and blindness of the Home Front
popular poetry regarded the war
as a sacred crusade
later as a knightly crusade
the third reaction was one of protest
other British poets protesting the war
his intended audience were civilians
the poems bitterly attack the patriotic myths of propaganda art
he considered his poems as manifestos more truthful and far deeper than anything the war correspondents could write
poems by Wilfred Owen
The poet meets an enemy he had killed. They meet in Hell, where he had fled to escape the terror of battle in a dream-vision. They must find fellowship in Hell itself, for Earth has become worse. The German is not a fiend, a killer who delights in atrocities and is devoted to crushing freedom and the British Empire, but a man who, like the poet, dreamed and hoped. Neither the dead nor the living indulges in self-pity. The "enemy" refers to the pity the war has distilled, but by "pity" the poet means not for self, but for his fellows, for humanity itself. Indeed, Owen develops finally a viewpoint which is largely characteristic of the poetry of World War II: a poetry not so much of protest but of a recognition of how, in the horror of battle, human fellowship is starkly, and of necessity, thrown into sharp relief. Enforced murder breeds, at last, a kind of gentleness.
Apologia pro Poemate Mea
The poem must be understood in the context of modern warfare. Death becomes a joke, and the men laugh in its face, not out of false bravado, but out of a sense of a new awareness of life, death, and fellowship. What seems bravado is, instead, an honest account of actual human response to a living, absurd hell. The death-bound comradeship, both pitiable and defiant of battle comrades, is a theme on which Owen probes the paroxysm of war more deeply and poignantly than any protest alone could. It is the core of his achievement, and his frequently quoted statement that he was not concerned with "Poetry" must be understood in terms of this attitude. Poetry, here, suggests the old illusions, the old "literary" aestheticism, poesy of birds and Greek goddesses and pastoral landscapes. To a large extent it refers to Owen's own youthful effusions and illusions. Now the poetry is in such matters as pity and protest.
Dulce et Decorum Est
This, his best known work, was written while in hospital, purposefully staying up late at night in an effort to avoid the nightmares of war that plagued him. It was his first attempt to write directly of the war's brutality.
The title comes from a work by the Roman poet Horace. The accepted translation for the complete line is "It is fitting and proper to dies for one's country." In Latin, "dulce" means sweet. Another reading of the title could be it is proper and sweet to die for one's country.
away from the vague, vaporous, and pseudo-Keatsian effusions of his youth
mature style is abrupt, chiseled, and colloquially dramatic
corresponds to a general drift in the poetry of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries
parallel developments occur in the poetry of Yeats and Pound had called for a more objective, "harder" or "classical" poetry
Owen's late style may be traced in Imagism and Yeats
until Owen met Sassoon in 1917, he had had no important contact with the literary world
his development of a terse, "hard" idiom must have been only a natural and necessary way of expressing, without illusions, lies, evasion, and the stark and monumentally un-"Poetic" reality of war.
Owen's experiments with slant and internal rhyme, with nonmetrical cadences and compressions like that of "blood-shod," are significant steps toward a poetry which moves away from the more regular and traditionally "poetic" work of the previous two centuries
his individual and searing exposure of both the horror and the pity of war provides him a lasting niche in the history of poetry
a world changed during his short lifetime. His ability to change with it, and to record the old world's dying anguish, is a unique and memorable achievement.