Wilfred Owen

(1893—1918) poet

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British poet, whose best-known poems were inspired by his experiences during World War I.

Owen was born at Oswestry, Shropshire, and educated at the Birkenhead Institute, Liverpool, before going on to London University (1910). From his early teens Owen had been fascinated by poetry and by this time he was writing competent but not strikingly original verse, much under the influence of Keats. In 1913 he was sent to France to convalesce from a serious illness; here his rapidly maturing talent was encouraged by the French poet Laurent Tailhade (1854–1919).

In 1915 Owen enlisted in the Artists' Rifles. His letters home show how deeply the horrors of trench warfare – the gas, the cold, the ugliness – oppressed him and altered his perceptions. In 1917 he was invalided back to Britain from the Somme, and while he was in the Craiglockhart War Hospital near Edinburgh he became friendly with Siegfried Sassoon. This friendship boosted Owen's self-confidence as a poet and during the remaining months of his life he wrote most of the poems for which he became famous. In August 1918 he went back to France and in November was killed trying to lead his men across the Sambre Canal. He left incomplete the draft of a preface for his proposed book of poems (‘My subject is War, and the pity of War’) and the poem ‘Strange Meeting’. His poems were collected and edited by Sassoon (1920).

Subjects: Literature.

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