Wilfred Owen lived for just 25 years. Much of his work was not published in his lifetime. And yet, in such a short life, he stands as one of the most important poets in the English language. He was heavily influenced by his mentor, Siegfried Sassoon, perhaps the only war poet to compete with Owen for fame. His unflinching descriptions of the horrors of trench warfare stood in stark contrast to the confident, patriotic poetry of Rupert Brooke, or the war propaganda of the day. Owen died just a week (almost to the hour) before the end of the war. His mother learned of his death as the church bells in Shrewsbury were ringing out in celebration of victory, and the end of World War One.
World War One
On 4 June 1916, Wilfred Owen was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Manchester Regiment, and went to fight in France. There, he saw most of his closest friends die amidst the mud, disease and the gas of the Western Front. Owen presents an almost entirely negative view of war, with young men dying “as cattle”. But, like his mentor, Sassoon, Owen was a highly courageous soldier.
The ‘bad’ war looming over Remembrance Day
Is it justifiable to argue that the first world war was ‘bad’ where the second world war was ‘good’? This weekend is Remembrance Sunday, a tradition which harks back to the day WW1 ended.
Wartime poems distort impressions of WWI horrors
Our knowledge of WWI has been formed, in large part, by the Great War poets. But a modern writer has suggested that their work could distort our understanding of the conflict. Is he right?
Huge crowds flock to WW1 Remembrance artwork
The field of ceramic poppies at the Tower of London has caught the public imagination. But does such a beautiful memorial to those killed blind us to the horror of the First World War?
Owen could be described as an individualist. His poetry prioritises the individual’s well-being (or merely the end of their suffering) over whatever the collective good might be. Drawing his readers through the ghastly reality of life in a battle zone, Owen turns patriotic fervour into a kind of disease. Everyone, it seems, is lost in war, leading to the sacrifice of a whole generation of Britons.
Corbyn: ‘Make Saints’ Days public holidays’
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has proposed four new bank holidays for Britain —one for each UK patron saint. Would these occasions strengthen patriotism and unity, or perhaps the opposite?
Pacifists bid for place in war commemorations
The government’s plans for commemorating World War One are under attack on two fronts: to some they seem jingoistic, to others too meek. Was the war necessary, or simply evil?
Prime Minister picks Jerusalem for English anthem
England does not have its own national anthem. Today, there is talk of that changing – and David Cameron has put forward Jerusalem as his favourite for England’s official song.
Many of Owen’s poems describe the deep bonds of friendship and understanding that develop between soldiers. Without their families, these young men had only one another to rely on. Owen suggests that these bonds are even more powerful than romantic love, as their desperate circumstances forge deeper connections. Friendship is one of the few things these soldiers have to live for.
New law says platonic friends can be parents
This Sunday is Mother’s Day in the UK. Now two Canadian women have become “co-parents” to a disabled boy, despite not being in a relationship. Could friends make better parents than lovers?
‘Do we really need friends?’ asks US novelist
Studies say friends make us healthier, happier, and less stressed. But in a recent article, author Richard Ford said he was “suspicious” of people with lots of friends. Are they overrated?
Owen was raised as an evangelical Anglican by his devout mother, and his poems are filled with Biblical allusions. However, his works express profound disillusionment with organised religion, which advocated for Britain to join the war. In Anthem for Doomed Youth, Owen describes the rituals of the church as being cold comfort to the men on the battlefield, or for the people who loved them back at home.
‘No resurrection’, say one in four Christians
As Easter weekend arrives, a survey has found that a quarter of British Christians do not believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Does this matter? Or is religion all symbolic anyway?
Cameron declares UK is a Christian country
David Cameron insists on Christianity’s value in public life, but many say he is excluding those of other faiths and those of none. Is religion a helpful guide to running a modern country?
Philip Pullman: ‘human nature demands meaning’
Is it possible to be spiritual but not religious? Philip Pullman thinks so. After a 17 year wait, yesterday he finally published the prequel to the celebrated His Dark Materials trilogy.
Although Anthem for Doomed Youth does not explicitly mention death after the first line, the whole poem – along with most of Owen’s other works – is obsessed with the issue. The poem moves between the sounds of incoming death, such as rifle and artillery fire, and images of mourning (coffin covers, candles, the passing-bells), and finally ends up at dusk: the dying of the day.
The athlete who wants to end her own life
She is a brilliant competitor with three Paralympic medals to her name. Yet Marieke Vervoort is set on assisted suicide. Is this inspirational, or a dangerous precedent for others?
US man walks free after lifetime on death row
An innocent 64-year-old has been released from prison, after spending over a quarter of a century behind bars. Will his long-overdue release renew calls to abolish the death penalty?
The brave French policeman who ‘died a hero’
Should you give your own life to save someone else? The world is mourning Arnaud Beltrame, a French policeman who died after saving a complete stranger during a terrorist attack on Friday.