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> Wilfred Owen, First World War Poet
post Sep 16 03, 15:01
Post #1



Ever since studying Wilfred Owen as a student, I have been astounded by his war poetry. Owen wrote in the style of Keats early in life. However, World War One changed him into the towering poet we know of today. In many people's opinion (mine included) Wilfred Owen is the greatest war poet in the English language. Ironically, he was killed within a week of the end of the War.

For those interested in a somewhat less potted biography than the one below - and for some comments on Owen's poems and his development of the poetic style of half-rhyme, there is an excellent article by Harvey Thompson, located on the World Socialist Web Site. Article on Wilfred Owen and his poetry

Potted Biography...

1893 18th March - Wilfred Owen was born in Oswestry, Shropshire.
1915 October - Joined the British Army
1917 January - Arrived in France. Owen took charge of a company. He took half of his platoon and occupied a former German bunker in No Man's Land and posted a sentry who is blinded. (See The Sentry).
1917 May - Evacuated because of shell shock.
1917 June - Hospital, Hampshire. Thence Craiglockhart War Hospital, Edinburgh. where he met both Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves.
1917 October - Wrote Anthem for Doomed Youth and Dulce et Decorum Est.
1918 June - Owen re-joined the Army
1918 August - Returned to France.
1918 October - Part of the attack at Joncourt. Owen was recommended for the Military Cross (MC).
1918 4th November - Wilfred Owen was Killed in action on the banks of the Sambre-Oise canal. Seven days later the war ended.

We start with Owen's most direct poem which, for me, is the biggest anti-war message one can have...

Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen

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.


N.B. "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" roughly translates as "It is a good and honourable thing to die for one's country" (A motto from Latin).

Gas attacks were a feature of WW1. They produced horrible effects - they attacked all moist areas, including lungs with chemical burns and produced the drowning effect referred to above. Both the British and Germans used them. Today many countries, including Germany, Britain and the USA have renounced such weapons.

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post Sep 16 03, 17:00
Post #2


A gentler - and some say more effective - offfering. This seems to sum-up the total despair of war.

Futility by Wilfred Owen

Move him into the sun-
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds-
Woke once the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved, still warm, too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
-O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth's sleep at all?
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post Sep 16 03, 17:03
Post #3


A surreal and highly effective poem...

Strange Meeting by Wilfred Owen

It seemed that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.

Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall,-
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.

With a thousand pains that vision's face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
'Strange friend,' I said, 'here is no cause to mourn.'
'None,' said that other, 'save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something had been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled,
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress.
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery,
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery:
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels,
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.

'I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now....'

Poets - notice Owen's somewhat unusual use of rhyme - almost half-rhyme.
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post Sep 16 03, 19:48
Post #4

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Strong images and a strong writer!

Thanks so much! I have much to learn and famous poets is another area that I am still learning....

I had not read these works so I thank you for adding them here!

Lori  :pharoah:


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post Oct 18 03, 15:17
Post #5



thank you for pointing the way here.  these are truly fantastic poems, even though they are written about such a horrible thing as war.  

i, also, had not heard of Wilfred Owen.  thanx for posting his poetry here.

deb :)
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post Oct 20 03, 18:23
Post #6


He was a wonderful poet James. Here is one of his contemporaries in the Great War. Prior to the war,Rupert Brooke was described as the most handsome man in England. He wrote many sonnets at the beginning of that war. The poetry was so grand and evocative, but as the war dragged on, the public became sickened of this glorification and this form of self expression. Rupert Brook died in the Aegean from a neglected wound in 1915. Prophetically, this was one of his poems.

The Soldier

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

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post Jan 29 04, 08:25
Post #7


Wonderful expressive poetry of totally unnecessary slaughter.

I remember having to read these at school, during ww2.

Thanks for posting them. sun.gif  sun.gif

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