Monday, April 10, 2017

Poetry Spotlight: Wilfred Owen (Happy National Poetry Month)

In my second year of college I took an Introduction to Poetry class and I fell in love with reading poetry. Before then, poetry was always a little intimidating and a medium that I didn't have much experience with. But after that class, I became addicted to reading poetry, and during the class I actually found myself thinking in and expressing myself in poetry- which I never would have guessed would happen in a million years. So, with this series I'm here to share some of my favorite poems in a way that I'm sure will turn out rambley and unorganized.


There's a lot of stuff going on this month. It's the 100th anniversary of the U.S.'s entry into the first World War, and it's national poetry month. So as a lover of history and poetry, naturally, I have combined them into today's post about one of my all time favorite poets Wilfred Owen. The poems I will be talking about today come out of Penguin's Little Black Classic collection of his works, which I highly recommend. This edition has all of the essential Owen's poems, in a small and affordable package.

Author Bio
What makes Owen such a remarkable poet and recorder of history is the fact that he served and died in WWI. Up until WWI, many of the poetic recordings regarding wars in America, the Civil War is a great example of this, were recorded by poets who were not fighting the wars and were only outside observers. During WWI, we see a shift in the attitudes regarding war in art. In the Civil War, for example, poetry highlights the honor, righteousness, and even beauty associated with war and defending one's country, but in WWI, the poetry highlights the horrors of war and even suggests it's lack of purpose. This has everything to do with the advanced technology of war that debuted in WWI including machine guns, trench warfare, mustard gas, and fighter planes. The death toll for this war was unlike anything the world had ever seen, and it left a whole generation of men missing, or "lost" as Gertrude Stein phrased it (hence the literary movement named The Lost Generation). Young men lined up to join the war, eager to earn the honor and respect that the older generations associated with war, but many felt that nothing had been gained from the conflict and all of the bloodshed was for naught after the war's conclusion. There was no clear winner or loser. This is also the first time we as a society come to recognize and try to treat PTSD or shell-shock as it was referred to.

Owen was from England, and wrote all of his poems in the just-over-a-year that he served in the British army before being killed in action at the age of twenty-five, one week before the Armistice. Owen met Siegfried Sassoon, another well-known and excellent WWI poet, in an army hospital while being treated for shell-shock, and the two became friends. Sassoon was responsible for publishing much of Owen's works after his death. 

You can read more about Owen at the Poetry Foundation
Spotlighted Poems 
Like I mentioned above, WWI poetry was revolutionary for the way it talked about war. In many poems, the divide between generations regarding the purpose of war and the honor associated with participating in it is visible. Poetry of this era is honest and brutal and even bitter and sarcastic. Owen is one of the best poets to come out of WWI, and his poems are breathtaking and so poignant. Many of these poems left me speechless after reading them for the first time. 

Poem titles link to poems 

Dulce et Decorum Est- If you read one poem from this post today, make it this one. This poem left me absolutely speechless after I translated the last line of the poem from Latin (It is sweet and proper to die for one's country.) If you have taken a literature course, you have probably read this poem, and rightfully so. This poem forces the reader to face the horrors of the trenches as a solider would, while also applying traditional poetic techniques such as rhyme and alliteration, causing quite the contrast. This poem has that bitter and sarcastic punch ending that many war poems have and also highlights the shifting attitudes towards war. 
Bonus: Hear it read by Christopher Eccleston here.

Anthem for Doomed Youth- This is another poem that illustrates the shifting attitude towards war by the young generation that is currently facing it. The "Doomed Youth" of this poem is of course the generation of soldiers fighting in the war. Again, Owen paints a clear and horrifying picture of life at war with traditional poetic devices. 
Bonus: Here it read by Sean Bean here.

The Parable Of the Old Man and the Young- This poem alludes to the biblical story of Abraham and his son Isaac, who God asks Abraham to sacrifice in order to prove his devotion. Owen uses this story to create a parallel between Isaac and the soldiers. Once again, we see the shift in thinking from the older generation to the younger. 

The Chances- This poem is interesting because it deals with all of the chances a man takes when he signs up to be a solider. Owen lists all of the bad things that can happen, including going "mad." This is an early poem to deal with the psychological and physical affects of war, and Owen does it in a very powerful way. 

As usual, leave me your favorite poems or poets below! 

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