Wilfred Owen

Wilfred Owen : 1893-1918
Wilfred Owen : 1893-1918

Brief Biography

Wilfred Edward Salter Owen was born on March 18, 1893. Owen was regarded by many as the leading poet of the first world war and was mostly known for his war poetry based on the horrors of trench warfare.Wilfred Owen was influenced early on by such authors as John Keats and the writings of the Bible. Born the oldest of four children, Owen was raised as an Anglican of the evangelical school. After leaving the school, he briefly attended the university of London where he worked as a student-teacher at Wyle Cop School teaching to pay his way for tuition. He was on the Continent teaching until he visited a hospital for the wounded and then decided, in September, 1915, to return to England and enlist. “I came out in order to help these boys– directly by leading them as well as an officer can; indirectly, by watching their sufferings that I may speak of them as well as a pleader can. I have done the first” (October, 1918).
Owen was injured in March 1917 and sent home; he was fit for duty in August, 1918, and returned to the front. November 4, just seven days before the Armistice, he was caught in a German machine gun attack and killed. He was twenty-five when he died.
The bells were ringing on November 11, 1918, in Shrewsbury to celebrate the Armistice when the doorbell rang at his parent’s home, bringing them the telegram telling them their son was dead.

Wilfred Owen’s Grave

Owen’s Main Influences

While suffering from shellshock in a hospital near Edinburgh, Owen met a fellow poet named Siegfried Sasson who first wrote intense and realistic war poetry. Sasson’s use of satiric realism was a useful tone of voice with Owen often imitated in his poetry. Owen’s most famous poems such as Dulce et Decorum Est show direct results of Sassoon’s influence. Sassoon’s emphasis on realism and writing from first hand experience was not new to Owen, but it was not a style of which he had previously made use of. His earlier body of work consists primarily of light-hearted sonnets. Sassoon himself contributed to this growth in Owen by his strong promotion of Owen’s poetry, both before and after Owen’s death: Sassoon became one of Owen’s first editors.
Owen’s poetry was also influenced by the nightmares he suffered from having shell shock. The experiences that occurred while Owen was in battle was translated from his dreams and told in great detail in poems such as “Apologia Pro Poemate Meo”.

Poetry of War

Wilfred Owen’s poetry gives a clear depiction of his efforts in World War I. Owen was sent to the hospital during the war for shell shock, during this time he wrote many of his poems. In an attempt to enlighten the American public about the severity of war, Owen uses raw imagery of the realities on the battlefield. Owen also criticizes the loss of morality and emotion that is necessary to acquire during war. The poem “Apologia Pro Poemate Meo” is a good example of the style of Owen’s writing as well as the message he wishes to convey through his poetry.

Wilfred Owen’s “Apologia Pro Poemate Meo” vividly depicts the war in a negative light. Owen’s use of imagery throughout the poem to demonstrate the harsh reality of war.
Owen’s stance on war’s negative effect on society in apparent in the lines: “Merry was it to laugh there—/Where death becomes absurd and life absurder.” (lines 5-6)

Owen criticizes soldiers for their lack of morality when he states,
“For power was on us as we slashed bones bare/Not to feel sickness or remorse of murder.” (lines 7-8)

At the end of the poem “Apologia Pro Poemate Meo,” Owen sends a message to the public. Owen states,
“These men are worth/Your tears. You are not worth their merriment.” (lines 35-36)
Owen is suggesting that war should not be looked on as a form of entertainment to the public.
The soldiers are only worth tears; thus the public should pity soldiers.

Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” takes a look at a more specific tragic detail of World War I. In October 1917. Wilfred Owen wrote to his mother from Craig Lockhart, “Here is a gas poem, done yesterday……..the famous Latin tag (from Horace, Odes) means of course it is sweet and meet to die for one’s country. Sweet! and decorous!” The title is ironic. The intention was not so much to induce pity as to shock, especially civilians at home who believed war was noble and glorious.

Lastly, Wilfred Owen’s “Anthem For A Doomed Youth”, is an expression of grief for young soldiers that lost their lives during WW1. You will find in the first stanza that Owen compares the soliders to “cattle” who die on the battle field falling victim to the “anger of the guns” which could be equivalent to hunting. It a realization that war is hell, and the voices that are heard in war are ones of agony and grief.

In general, Owen describing the violence and cruelty of war. Owen does not condone the cold nature that soldiers must adapt to in order to block out the horrors of war. However, Owen does contrast the negative aspect of war with the positive friendships he has built.


1.Apologia Pro Poemate Meo

I, too, saw God through mud,—
The mud that cracked on cheeks when wretches smiled,
War brought more glory to their eyes than blood,
And gave their laughs more glee than shakes a child.

Merry it was to laugh there—
Where death becomes absurd and life absurder.
For power was on us as we slashed bones bare
Not to feel sickness or remorse of murder.

I, too, have dropped off Fear—
Behind the barrage, dead as my platoon,
And sailed my spirit surging light and clear
Past the entanglement where hopes lay strewn;

And witnessed exultation—
Faces that used to curse me, scowl for scowl,
Shine and lift up with passion of oblation,
Seraphic for an hour; though they were foul.

I have made fellowships
Untold of happy lovers in old song.
For love is not the binding of fair lips
With the soft silk of eyes that look and long,

By Joy, whose ribbon slips,—
But wound with war’s hard wire whose stakes are strong
Knit in the webbing of the rifle-thong.

I have perceived much beauty
In the hoarse oaths that kept our courage straight;
Heard music in the silentness of duty;
Found peace where shell-storms spouted reddest spate.

Nevertheless, except you share
With them in hell the sorrowful dark of hell,
Whose world is but the trembling of a flare
And heaven but as the highway for a shell,

You shall not hear their mirth:
You shall not come to think them well content
By any jest of mine. These men are worth
Your tears. You are not worth their merriment.

Dulce Et Decorum Est
Anthem For Doomed Youth
(links to other Wiki page)


1. Owen, Wilfred. “Apologia Pro Poemate Meo.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature Volume 2. Eighth Edition (2006) : 1972-1973.
2. “Wilfred Owen – Poet Seers.” Poet Seers. No Date. SriChinmoy.org. 04 December 2007. <http://www.poetseers.org/the_great_poets/british_poets/wilfred_owen/>
3. Simcox, Kenneth. “Dulce Et Decorum Est.” World War One Poets on the Battlefield. 2000. Wilfred Owen Association. 04 December 2007.
4. “Wilfred Owen (Poet).” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 6 Dec. 2007
5. Wilfred Owen picture <https://sites.udel.edu/britlitwiki/files//2018/06/wilfred-owen.jpg>
6. Wilfred Owen’s Grave picture <https://sites.udel.edu/britlitwiki/files//2018/06/ors_002.jpg>