The Poetry Of Wilfred Owen

The Great War inspired much creative output from all around the nation, especially in the literature and poetry worlds. In the midst of it all was Wilfred Owen, a 22-year old British Soldier-poet who enlisted in the army in 1915. His main focus for his works was extremely different from earlier romanticist and glorified portrayals of war in which he thought war was futile, his anti-patriotic and anti-war stance firm. His experiences in the front-line were all documented down in numerous drafts, all of which were released posthumously a few decades later with the exception of a small handful that he saw published.

Despite not being a prominent figure when he was still alive, he gained considerable recognition through his poetry later on. The debate going around since the decades after his passing though are, how accurate are his works?

Wilfred Owen’s purpose for writing poetry was not for propaganda, nor was it to be used as a historical source to understand the events that were occurring.

He never claimed to become the voice of a generation’ as many often think, or the accurate representation for the soldiers, so shouldn’t he not be held responsible for being an inaccurate portrayal of the entirety of the soldier’s perspectives? History teacher John Blake argues with this though, claiming that they were being sold as the authentic voice of the front-line soldier’. Although his point isn’t quite valid, his evidence does still support his claim an investigation conducted in the 1970s, involving the interviews of hundreds of WW1 veterans found that not one had a copy of the works of famous war poets, nor supported the views suggested by such.

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But again, Owen and other war-poets didn’t portray themselves this way in the first place. Furthermore Blake suggests that they could only represent a small minority of the soldiers’, and again, Owen’s purpose was to express his own views, not those of everyone else’s.

He summed his thoughts up in what he hoped would become the preface to a collection of his poems to be published later on, This book is not about heroes. English poetry is not yet fit to speak of them, Nor is it about deeds, or lands, nor anything about glory, honour, might, majesty, dominion or power, except War. Above all I am not concerned with Poetry. My subject is War, and the pity of War. The poetry is in the pity’. He ended the preface with All a poet can do today is warn, That is why the true Poets must be truthful.’, further explaining that all his works were/ would be a direct translation of what he was experiencing onto paper. Poetry was a way of documenting his experiences and own thoughts on war, using poetry as a way to communicate his feelings. He wanted to show the truth as he interpreted it from his experiences on the front-line, wanting to emphasize the sufferings of soldiers’, hoping the audience would understand the agony they went go through, both physically and psychologically, and additionally recognising the irony on the glorification of war – that it was not glorious at all.

Owen’s use of figurative language doesn’t stop his depictions of war as being inaccurate, instead seem to portray the scene around him more vividly. Two great examples of such are from Anthem for Doomed Youth. A description of one of the battles he was in shows the detonating bombs written as shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells’, and rapid gunfire as the monstrous anger of the guns’, all of which build on the quick-paced atmosphere of terror the soldier’s must have felt, and without the use of figurative language here, it would have been tough to describe it in any other way. The masterful use of words associated with strong emotions cause the verses to seem horrifying, as if the shells and guns themselves are terrified and angry, the horrors of the battlefield clearly shown throughout, all of which many other soldier’s would go through.

In The Sentry’, the literary technique portrays the distant and close sounds of mechanical weapons, and gave us hell, for shell on frantic shell’, the possibly frantic thoughts of the soldiers mirrored onto the shells. In another one of his poems, Dulce Et Decorum Est’, he describes the harsh conditions in which he and his fellow soldiers had to go through. The title is from the Roman poet, Horace, translating to it is sweet and proper to die for one’s country.’, although Owen uses this line ironically by writing a poem with the opposite meaning. Instead, he challenges the glorified views of war by saying it is everything other than sweet and proper to die for one’s country in a horrible war that saw the deaths of millions of people and injured millions of others.

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The Poetry Of Wilfred Owen. (2019, Nov 23). Retrieved from

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