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War is, perhaps, the most horrifying experience any person might have, regardless of whether they take direct part in action or merely observing the course of events. War traumatizes people deeply, and many often find it hard to comprehend what is going on and then express those experience in any way. Artists and writers, however, manage to find words or imagery, yet not always those that would directly evoke those senses or experience. In this regard, Wilfred Owen is exactly the poet that could beat that challenge. Having first-hand experience in combat, Owen was able to show the true ugly face of the war and, at the same time, maintain the poetic beauty and agility of the word.
Just as it was with many great artists, poets, or writers, Wilfred Owen was not born into a bohemian family, with his parents raising him for a steady job and life perspectives. Owen was born in 1893 Oswestry, England, near the Welsh border. The future poet’s father was a former sailor and a railway station master, and his mother was a housekeeper who had intellectual and musical ambitions that she felt she could not realize. Owen also had three younger siblings and, thus, developed an extremely protective attitude that he would keep through his entire life and that was partly evident in his poems (“Wilfred Owen”). Hence, Owen’s early life would not exactly predispose him to poetry or writing whatsoever, however, it helped him develop character traits that he would later express in his works.
After graduating the Shrewsbury Technical school in 1911, Owen decided to try himself in the religious field. He became an unpaid assistant of a reverend in the Church of London in Oxfordshire, looking after the poor and sick in exchange for reverend’s future recommendations. While at service, Owen was largely displeased by the work of the church and started writing short poetry expressing his feelings. By 1913, he fell seriously ill and returned home, where he discussed poetry and art with his parents and actively wrote more pieces. His parents, however, were insistent that he finds a steady income. Between 1914 and 1915 Owen works as a tutor in France only to return to England in 1916 and enlist in the army after World War I broke out. It was the army where Owen began writing his most famous poets reflecting the military routine as well as the horror of combat during the WWI (Stallworthy 97-100). It is evident that Owen’s poetic style was formed a few years before the war, however, the war itself made a strong impression on the poet as he not only started writing more actively during his war years, but also wrote more consciously, polishing his style and manner to deliver the narrative.
Owen’s war poems are well-known and largely respected for their genuine delivery and great detail that reflects the WWI combat as well as suffering it inflicted upon soldiers and civilians. At the same time, the pointlessness of war was another central theme of Owen’s works. As such, his poem “Dulce et Decorum Est” provides that no sufferings soldiers must go through at war worth they fight for. Throughout the poem, Owen describes in detail the soldier’s “white eyes writhing in his face, / His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;” as well as “[…] the blood / Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs.” The author further points out that should anyone see such painful pictures at war, they would definitely agree that the saying “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” (“It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country”) is largely flawed and meaningless (Owen 19-22). The detailed descriptions of the battles and their consequences allow the reader to realize the complete horror of warfare and motivate to never want the war to happen ever again.
The pictures of war and combat painted by Owen in words with strong poetic style and high detail are considered some of the most effective until present day. Most of Wilfred Owen’s war poetry was published after his death in 1918, however, quickly became admired throughout the world. The horrifying imagery of combat scenes and their immediate consequences evoke strong feelings and thoughts about the subject and its darkness. At the same time, wars still occur even in the 21st century, only confirming the need in such authors as Wilfred Owen who can present the ugliness of war in a straightforward and unprecedented manner.
"Wilfred Owen". Poetry Foundation, 2022, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/wilfred-owen.
Owen, Wilfred. Poems. Wordsworth Editions, 1994, p. 60.
Stallworthy, Jon. Wilfred Owen. Random House, 2013
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