Wilfred Owen

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Wilfred Owen, (1893 - 1918) [1] was a British soldier and poet, noted for his works from World War I. He was killed at the Battle of the Sambre just a week before the end of the war and not long after an action that led to his being awarded the Military Cross for gallantry. Owen's work is noted for its stark depiction of the horrors of war, describing the horrors of German gas attacks and of trench warfare. His most famous poems are perhaps Dulce et Decorum Est and Anthem for Doomed Youth.

Much of his poetry was published after his death, but he had written a Preface to this unpublished volume which describes his feelings about war.

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.
Yet these elegies are to this generation in no sense consolatory. They may be to the next. All a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true Poets must be truthful.
If I thought the letter of this book would last, I might have used proper names; but if the spirit of it survives - survives Prussia - my ambition and those names will have achieved themselves fresher fields than Flanders. [2]

Owen's poetry was interspersed with parts of the traditional Requiem Mass for Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, written for - and first performed at - the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral in 1962. The original cathedral had been destroyed in a German air raid during World War II. Both in Britten's score and the liner notes for the first recording are the lines: My subject is War and the Pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity. All a poet can do today is warn.


  1. http://www.warpoetry.co.uk/owena.htm
  2. http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/education/tutorials/intro/owen/preface.html
Decca LP Cat SET252/3. 1963.