Having featured Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon in my last two blogs, I felt compelled to include in this post Wilfred Owen, who for me, like many when a school boy in England, was the first war poet encountered.
In Good-bye To All That Graves described Owen as “a quiet, round-faced little man, writing war-poems.” Though there’s nothing quiet about his astonishing war poems such as Dulce et Decorum Est, Strange Meeting and, of course, his most famous poem, Anthem For Doomed Youth.
I was always intrigued by the the incongruity between Owen’s diminutive persona and the raw, visceral words he put down on the page.
Sassoon lived the life that matched his sarcastic, bitter poetry, nicknamed Mad Jack for his habit of going on solo patrols among the trenches to kill Germans–and his soldiers loved him for it.
Owen was a very different type of man, although the two became friends when they were both recovering during the war at a convalescent home for neurasthenics at Craiglockhart, and where Sassoon reportedly provided the advice and encouragement that led to Owen’s best work.
For a more detailed understanding of these two poets, you can’t do much better than Regeneration, the first book in Pat Barker’s stunning trilogy about World War I. I can’t think of many other books that had such on impact on me and my outlook on war, soldiering and masculinity.
Owen by some accounts came across as rather effete, though I’d argue he was more man than most of us can ever hope to be.