ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

A Poet of the Great War: Wilfred Owen

Updated on August 20, 2012

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)


Wilfred Edward Salter Owen (1893-1918) was an English poet and soldier. He is regarded by many as the leading poet of "the Great War". His work is shocking and realistic with its focus upon the horrors of trench warfare and gas attacks. He was heavily influenced by his friend Siegried Sassoon. His poems had nothing to do with the public perception of war at the time or the patriotic verse written by earlier "war poets". Most of his best-known work was published posthumously (Dulce Et Decorum Est, Insensibility, Anthem for Doomed Youth, Futility, Strange Meeting...). It was stated that Owen was homosexual, and homoeroticism indeed is a central element in much of Owen's poetry. He was killed in action on 4 November at the Battle of the Sambre, just a week before the war ended. The news of his death reached home as the town's church bells declared peace...

Owen started the war as a cheerful man, but traumatic experiences soon changed him forever. Leading his platoon into battle, for instance, he got trapped for three days in a shell-hole. Owen suffered from shell shock and was sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh. There he met his fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon.

The poetry of Wilfred Owen underwent significant changes in 1917. As a part of his therapy at Craiglockhart, his doctor encouraged him to translate his experiences into poetry, and specifically the events he relived in his dreams. Siegried Sassoon, influenced by Freudian psychoanalysis, showed him through example what poetry could do. His use of satire fascinated Owen, who tried writing in Sassoon's style. Sassoon became one of Owen's first editors.

In the summer of 1918, Owen returned to active service in France, although he might have stayed on home-duty indefinitely. But his friend Sassoon, who had been shot in the head, was put on sick-leave for the remaining duration of the war and Owen saw it as his duty to take the place of his friend at the front, so that the horrific realities of the war might continue to be told. Sassoon was opposed to the idea of Owen returning to the trenches, threatening to stab him in the leg. So Owen did not inform him until he was once again in France.

In October 1918, after returning to the front, second lieutenant Wilfred Owen led units of the Second Manchesters to storm some enemy strong points near the village of Joncourt. For his courage and leadership, he was posthumously awarded the Military Cross. Wilfred Owen is buried at Ors Communal Cemetery. There are memorials to him at Gailly, Ors, Oswestry and Shrewsbury and there is a small museum dedicated to Owen and his friend Sassoon at the Craiglockhart War Hospital, that is now a Napier University building.

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?

Only the monstrous anger of the guns.

Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle

Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;

Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,

The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;

And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?

Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes

Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.

The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,

And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Wilfred Owen's life and works commemorated after Remembrance Day (Armistice / Veterans Day)

Strange Meeting

Written in 1918. Version presented here is that found in the 1920 edition of "Poems" by Wilfred Owen.

It seemed that out of the 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;

With a thousand fears 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 the 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 has 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 . . ."

(This poem was found among the author's papers. It ends on this strange note)

Another Version

Earth's wheels run oiled with blood. Forget we that.

Let us lie down and dig ourselves in thought.

Beauty is yours and you have mastery,

Wisdom is mine and I have mystery.

We two will stay behind and keep our troth.

Let us forego men's minds that are brute's natures,

Be we not swift with swiftness of the tigrees.

Let us break ranks from those who trek from progress.

Miss we the march of this retreating world

Into old citadels that are not walled.

Let us lie out and hold the open truth.

Then when their blood hath clogged the chariot wheels

We will go up and wash them from deep wells.

What though we sink from men as pitchers falling

Many shall raise us up to be their filling

Even from wells we sunk too deep for war

And filled by brows that bled where no wounds were.

Alternative Line--

Even as One who bled where no wounds were.

Futility - music: Virginia Astley


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?


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image

      hana' khalief ghani 

      7 years ago

      i am writing a paper about Owen's poetry from a psychoanalytic approach, please if you have suggestions as to how tackle this theme, let me know

    • Jane Bovary profile image

      Jane Bovary 

      9 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Thanks for this interesting hub...I came across Wilfred Owen last year while I was researching for an assignment. His poetry is a very powerful voice against war I think.


    • profile image

      C. Jordan 

      10 years ago

      An excellent article about one of my favourite poets.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)