Wilfred Owen (Wilfred Edward Salter Owen) Biography
(1893–1918), (Wilfred Edward Salter Owen), The Hydra, The Hydra, The Bookman, The Nation
British poet, born at Plas Wilmot, Oswestry, Shropshire, the son of a railway official; he was educated at Shrewsbury Technical School. Having failed to win a scholarship to London University, in 1911 he became a lay assistant to the vicar of Dunsden, near Reading, and subsequently taught English in Bordeaux. He volunteered for active service in 1915 and was eventually commissioned into the Manchester Regiment. After sustaining shell-shock in the Battle of the Somme, he was sent to Craiglockhart Hospital near Edinburgh in 1917, where he edited The Hydra, the hospital's magazine, and became friendly with Siegfried Sassoon, who later introduced him to Robert Graves. In August 1918 he returned to France and was awarded the Military Cross in the following month for gallantry under fire; he was killed one week before the Armistice in November 1918. Although Owen saw only four of his poems in print, in The Hydra, The Bookman, and The Nation, he had written much accomplished poetry, frequently reflecting his devoted admiration for Keats, before he joined the army. He worked intensely on his poetry of the war at Craiglockhart Hospital, where Sassoon assisted him in developing his harrowing realism. Certain poems, among them ‘Inspection’ and ‘The Chances’, adopt the dramatically straightforward manner Sassoon devised to shock the complacent into awareness of conditions in the trenches. The emotional and imaginative range of his finest work is, however, much greater than Sassoon's. ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, ‘Futility’, ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’, and ‘Strange Meeting’ are among the best-known of his richly elegiac evocations of the horror, futility, and pity of the war, their understated moral outrage inseparable from a compassionate depth of appeal to the humane instincts of the reader. His poetry is also remarkable for the power of its imagery and the great virtuosity of its metrical and musical effects. The editions of his poems prepared by Sassoon in 1920 and Blunden in 1931 established him as a major poet. The Complete Poems and Fragments (two volumes, 1983) was edited by Jon Stallworthy, whose biography of Owen appeared in 1974; the Collected Letters (1967) was edited by John Bell and Harold Owen, the poet's brother, whose Journey from Obscurity (1963–5) is a threevolume memoir of his family. See also war poetry.