Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Remembrance Day 2014: The Poetry of Wilfred Owen

Wilfred Owen: 1893 - 1918

IF YOU'VE A SPARE HOUR, watch this excellent 2007 docudrama from the BBC, A Remembrance Tale, about Wilfred Owen, is hosted by the veteran broadcaster and author, Jeremy Paxman. The most famous of the English-speaking war poets, Wilfred Owen, spoke of "the pity of war"; and of poetry being found within that pity. It is surely no accident that World War I is remembered principally through lines of poetry. It is also fitting, for if the horrors of war - especially those of the First World War - are to be translated into words at all, then poetry is surely the only form of language equal to the task.

Video courtesy of YouTube.

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

Funny - you rarely hear of David Jones, Isaac Rosenberg,May Cannan or Vera Brittain, maybe their poetry was inferior - but one was a private, one was working class, and the others were women. It's always Owen and Sassoon. Ah...'nuff said.

Jigsaw said...

Strange how there was almost no poetry(well known poetry anyway) from WW2. Something about the shock and the sheer awful nature of the war in trenches I think.

AB said...

"Strange how there was almost no poetry(well known poetry anyway) from WW2"
Try Keith Douglas

Victor said...


You may be right about the class bias behind the current comparative fame of Wilfred Owen, as compared to Jones or Rosenberg.

But, apart from the quality of his verse, Owen was also uniquely emblematic amongst the great UK anti-war poets of 1914-18 in not surviving the conflict. This made him into a sort of "Counter Rupert Brooke".

As to Vera Brittain, she was the subject of a full-blown BBC mini-series in the 1970s, though this may have had something to do with Shirley Williams being her daughter.

May I add that I was a pimply sixth form English student in the UK in the early 1960s, when the Great War poets enjoyed a long -delayed rush of fame (partly in connection with the 50th anniversary of the conflict's outbreak).

It was a time of broadly left-wing, class-conscious sensibilities amongst literary, creative and intellectual types (think "Kitchen Sink Drama"). And so, by and large, proletarian origins were, at that time, likely to increase rather than decrease a dead writer's emblematic allure.

Victor said...


You might find the following lines familiar:

"Deep with the first dead lies London's daughter,
Robed in the long friends,
The grains beyond age, the dark veins of her mother,
Secret by the unmourning water
Of the riding Thames.
After the first death, there is no other."

You might argue that Dylan Thomas, unlike the 1914-18 War Poets, was a civilian. But, in World War Two, the UK's "Home Front" was a place of death and danger, which (pace: the occasional Zeppelin raid) it wasn't during the earlier conflict.

In contrast, the UK lost considerably fewer men and women on active service between 1939 and 1945 than between 1914 and 1918. So the context is different.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

There is some poetry from World War II, but I did a Google search, and it doesn't approach the sheer amount and – according to those that should know – quality of the stuff from World War I. I think that before World War I they had been a much more romantic vision of what war was like – only very slightly dented by the Anglo - Boer war. As jigsaw said it must've been a shock.