Wilfred Owen, born in 1893 and tragically killed in action just a week before the armistice of World War I in 1918, is one of the most renowned war poets in English literature. His poetry, born out of his personal experiences as a soldier, offers a stark, unflinching portrayal of the horrors of trench warfare and a poignant critique of the romanticization of war.
Wilfred Owen was one of the promising war-poets of England. He was born in 1893 in a Shropsire village and educated at Liverpool. He had a great love for John Keats and started writing poems. In spite of his delicate health, he enlisted when the first world war broke out. He was invalided home in 1917. Some of his poems appeared in magazines and recognizing his merits, people tried to get him a post in England. But before anything could be done, he was sent back to the front. He won the Military Cross for his gallantry, but was killed in action, just one week before the war ended.
Wilfred Owen is considered to be a new-style war poet, which, though hackneyed, is still useful. The war was considered a great non- literary event by his predecessors. It was the theme of war that forces Owen, as a poet and an honest man, to find another way of speaking. The second phase of the war line saw the early idealism turn into bitter disillusionment. The chief war poets of this period Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon found war a horrible thing. It is a thing of unredeemed evil a dirty and cruel game. War is unworthy of Civilization in which young men were sacrificed by the thousands like herds of cattle. Owen’s deep humanity combines with his remarkable imagination to bring out the pity and the futility of the war-mania of modern man. His lament at times appears like the wailing of the universal itself. The intense sadness of the dramatic vision in “Strange Meeting” where two soldiers, who veiled each other, meet in the land of shades, the grim tragic realism of “Spring offensive” and the deep pensive pathos of the little lyrics and sonnets he wrote in between spells of fighting, have conferred on this young poet the distinction of being the finest poet that the war produced.
The conjunction of poetry and pity can be noted in Owen’s most familiar piece. “Strange Meeting”, in which two dead soldiers (enemies) speak to each other. The waste of young life, and the tragicality of cheated youth struck down on the threshold of the “Undone-Years’. These are the themes that move the lips of the second speaker, to grant to the millions dead. ‘Let us sleep now…. In his preface Wilfred Owen wrote also. “All à poet can do today is to warn” The warning from him went unheeded but after the second world war it was to Owen that a new generation turned as the outstanding poet of his time.
While other poets like Rupert Brooke and Julian Grenfell picture war as a romantic adventure and a call to heroism. Owen represents it as a tragic and pitiful experience. His approach is realistic and he stresses the waste and devastation caused by war. The Poetry is in the pity he holds this view. In “Strange Meeting”. he imagines that he goes to the underworld and there meets the German soldier whom he killed in battle the previous day. The dead soldier is sad because he can not now tell the world the truth about war-namely the pity of war. Unless he tells them about it, they will go on glorifying war, and killing and getting killed.
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The scene is dramatic and poignant, and the bare (naked), unadorned style helps to emphasize the utter sincerity of the poet. The lines run in pairs but do not rhyme completely. The end syllables have the same consonants, but different sounds.
- Owen was born in Oswestry, Shropshire, England. His early life was marked by modest circumstances and a deep interest in literature.
- He enlisted in the British Army in 1915 during World War I and was eventually commissioned as a lieutenant. His firsthand experiences on the Western Front profoundly influenced his poetic voice.
Literary Career and Major Works:
- Owen’s poetry is characterized by its brutal realism and its compassionate portrayal of soldiers caught in the horrors of war. Unlike the patriotic and romantic war poetry of the early war years, Owen’s work depicted the grim realities of life on the front lines.
- Some of his most famous poems include “Dulce et Decorum Est,” “Anthem for Doomed Youth,” and “Strange Meeting.” These works capture the futility, terror, and senselessness of trench warfare.
- Although most of his poems were published posthumously, his work has since become synonymous with World War I literature and has significantly shaped the public’s perception of the war.
Themes and Style:
- Owen’s poetry is known for its intense imagery, technical skill, and use of pararhyme. His vivid depictions of the battlefield provide a stark contrast to the traditional glorification of war.
- Central themes in his poetry include the futility of war, the loss of youth, and the disillusionment with traditional notions of honor and glory associated with combat.
- His use of realistic description and his focus on the suffering of ordinary soldiers make his work a powerful testament to the tragedies of war.
Influence and Legacy:
- Owen’s work had a significant impact on the genre of war poetry and on the broader understanding of World War I. His honest and unromanticized portrayal of war changed the way subsequent generations viewed the conflict.
- His influence can be seen in the work of later poets and writers who have tackled the subject of war. Owen’s style and themes continue to resonate, particularly his emphasis on the human cost of conflict.
- At the time of his death, Owen was not widely known as a poet. However, posthumous publications of his work, particularly through the efforts of his friend and fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon, brought him critical acclaim.
- Today, he is celebrated as one of the foremost poets of the First World War, and his poems are widely studied in schools and universities as exemplary works of war literature.
Wilfred Owen’s poetry remains a profound and essential exploration of the realities of war. His poignant and harrowing depictions of life and death in the trenches continue to serve as a powerful reminder of the true costs of conflict and the universal need for peace and understanding.