November 4, 2007

November 4 | Wilfred Owen

March 18, 1893 - November 4, 1918: Age 25

Though failing twice to win a scholarship to University College in Reading, Owen is now considered to be among the greatest of war poets.

Prior to enlisting in the British army in late 1915, to fight in what was then called The Great War, he had worked as a tutor for the Berlitz School of Languages. In January 1917, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant with the Manchester Regiment. He led his troops in several battles, but after a being trapped for three days in a fox hole with the remains of a good friend who had been blown apart, he was diagnosed with shell shock (now called PTS or post-traumatic syndrome) and sent to recuperate at Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh. There he met poet Siegfried Sassoon who was to have a profound influence on his work. Through Sassoon, Owen was introduced to a sophisticated, and largely gay, literary circle including Oscar Wilde's friend Robbie Ross, poet Osbert Sitwell, and C. K. Scott-Moncrieff, the translator of Proust.

Owen returned to the front in October 1, 1918. Five weeks later, at 5:40am, on November 4, while trying to bridge a river near the village of Joncourt, Owen was shot dead. He died just seven days before the war ended. For his courage and leadership in the Joncourt action, he was posthumously awarded the Military Cross.

Only five of his poems were published prior to his death. His brother, Harold, arranged for many of his poems and letters to be published posthumously, removing what he considered discreditable passages in Owen's letters and diaries referring to Owen's homosexuality. After a modest critical reception, Owen's poems faded into obscurity until the 1960's when they spoke eloquently about the horrors of war to a generation of young Americans struggling with the War in Vietnam.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Sources: Wikipedia, Fyne Times

This entry was composed by my husband Tim Hurson. Thanks Tim!

If you're interested in Owen, you will enjoy Pat Barker's trilogy Regeneration, The Eye in the Door, and The Ghost Road. I strongly recommend them. They are novels but based on actual people, including Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and William Rivers.

1 comment:

Ulla said...

Vietnam war protests started in a big scale after few gory photographs were published to americans to see. If the same could happen with the current "conflicts", maybe the public opinion would sway enough to make a difference. As it stands now, media
is not allowed to show war as it really is, in its full horror, it is shown from a "distance", we are not allowed to see the real agony, the wounds, the despair... the truth of the experience of these poor young men and women, whom are so gingerly to sent out there to "protect" us...