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WILFRED OWEN

1893-1918
English

"When I begin to eliminate from the list all those professions which are impossible from a financial point of view and then those which I feel disinclined to - it leaves nothing. "

Wilfred Edward Salter Owen was born on 18th March 1893 in Shropshire. He was educated at the Birkenhead Institute and at Shrewsbury Technical School, and discovered his vocation in 1903 or 1904 during a holiday spent in Cheshire. Owen was raised as an Anglican of the evangelical school, and in his youth was a devout believer, in part due to his strong relationship with his mother, which was to last throughout his life.

His early influences included the 'big six' of romantic poetry, particularly John Keats, and, as with many other writers of the time, the Bible. Shortly after leaving school in 1911, Owen passed the matriculation exam for the University of London, but not with the first-class honours needed for a scholarship, which in his family's circumstances were the only way he could afford to attend.

Prior to the outbreak of World War I, he worked as a private tutor teaching English and French at the Berlitz School of Languages in Bordeaux, France. There he met the older French poet Laurent Tailhade, with whom he later corresponded in French. On 21 October 1915, he enlisted in the Artists' Rifles Officers' Training Corps and on 4th June 1916 he was commissioned as second lieutenant in The Manchester Regiment.

Owen is regarded by historians as the leading poet of the First World War, known for his war poetry on the horrors of trench and gas warfare. He had been writing poetry for some years before the war, himself dating his poetic beginnings to a stay at Broxton by the Hill, when he was ten years old. In July 1918, Owen returned to active service in France, although he might have stayed on home-duty indefinitely. His decision was almost wholly the result of Sassoon's being sent back to England. Sassoon, who had been shot in the head in a so-called friendly fire incident, was put on sick-leave for the remaining duration of the war. Owen saw it as his patriotic duty to take Sassoon's place at the front. Sassoon was violently opposed to the idea of Owen returning to the trenches, threatening to "stab [him] in the leg" if he tried it. Aware of his attitude, Owen did not inform him of his action until he was once again in France.

Owen was killed in action on 4 November 1918 during the crossing of the Sambre–Oise Canal, exactly one week (almost to the hour) before the signing of the Armistice and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant the day after his death.

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