Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
Wilfred Edward Salter Owen was born in Oswestry, Shropshire, England, on March 18, 1893, the first child of Tom and Susan Owen. Owen’s mother was a devout and cautious woman; his father was an active, rough-hewn, hardworking sort who was nostalgically attracted to the sea and those who sailed it. The early years of their marriage and Owen’s childhood were sometimes difficult, characterized by several moves, frequent if not severe financial difficulties, and tensions produced by his parents’ conflicting characters. Their union produced four children. Owen’s younger brother Harold became a successful artist and devoted much of his adult life to chronicling the life of his more famous war-poet brother.
Owen was sent to Birkenhead Institute for his first years of schooling; his father approved of the discipline for which the school was noted, but Owen probably profited most from an adoring teacher and early exposure to the pleasures of literature. He also showed a great interest in religious matters, much to the delight of his mother. In 1907, the family moved to Shrewsbury, where Owen enrolled in the technical school. There he read diligently and began to compose serious essays (some on politics, some on art theory) and put down his first attempts at verse.
Somewhat confused about his future after his matriculation examination at London University in 1911, Owen accepted an opportunity to become a lay assistant to the Vicar of Dunsden. His activities were many-faceted, from the intellectual (extensive reading and attending lectures) to the practical affairs of the parish (playing with children and assisting the poor). His poetry began to mature, not so much in its subject matter as in its increasing flexibility of language. For reasons that remain unclear, Owen became disenchanted with his commitment to the vicarage and left Dunsden. After a period of contemplation, during which he struggled with his health, he was offered, and he accepted, a post to teach English at the Berlitz School in Bordeaux. He enjoyed the experience and the climate was beneficial, even as the clouds of war gathered over Europe.
Because Owen was in France during the “exhilarating” first part of the war, a time when nationalism and enthusiasm for...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Wilfred Edward Salter Owen was born in Oswestry, England, on March 18, 1893, the son of Thomas and Susan Owen. A man who loved sports and male companionship, Owen’s father often had trouble understanding his son’s introspective nature and his love of books. Owen was much closer to his mother, Susan, who seemed to approve and encourage his interest in art and nature. When Owen was ten, his mother took him on a holiday excursion to Brixton by the Hill, a nature trip that Owen would later describe as his birth as a poet. Although Owen’s experiences in World War I would cause him to lose faith in his mother’s more orthodox Christianity, he still retained his love for her, writing in a letter that it was his mother and not his motherland (England) that gave him the strength to carry on during the heavy fighting.
At age eighteen, Owen found that he did not have enough money to attend the University of London. His mother, who had always wanted him to become a cleric, urged him to discover whether he might have a religious calling, and so Owen went to work as an unpaid lay assistant to a vicar in Dunsden, Oxfordshire. There, he helped with the care of the poor and sick in the parish, further developing the sympathetic nature that would speak so strongly in his later poetry. It was also as a parish worker that Owen began to believe that the Church of England did not do enough to help those in need. After leaving the parish and spending two years in France teaching languages, Owen returned to England in 1915. Believing that it was his duty to fight since his country was at war, Owen enlisted. The next time Owen journeyed to France, in January, 1917, he went as a commissioned officer to the Western Front in order to serve his country in World War I.
Like many young men of his generation, Owen went to war imagining that it would be a glorious adventure. Politicians had said that it was noble and heroic to die for one’s country; religious leaders had described the battle as a holy war and the men as Christian soldiers fighting in a just cause; poets through the ages had written war poems that made fighting sound like a romantic adventure, a chance for individuals to prove their strength in combat. Owen’s first letters from the front praised his company’s “fine heroic spirit” and...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
The British poet C. Day Lewis believed that Wilfred Owen’s poems were “certainly the finest written by any English poet of the First War.” Owen’s warning remains as valid today as it was when he wrote it. He depicted the horrors of war with sometimes shocking realism. The pity that he felt for people who knew no better than to kill one another comes through strongly in his poems. What also comes through, in the fact that he wrote such passionate antiwar poetry, is his hope that the war—and all war—would end soon.
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Wilfred Owen was born and raised in the Shropshire countryside made famous by another poet, A. E. Housman. After Owen was born in Oswestry, his family moved to Shrewsbury for a year and then to Birkenhead, near Liverpool, where in 1900 he entered school. In 1911 he matriculated at London University. According to his friend Edmund Blunden, whose The Poems of Wilfred Owen (1931) contains an affectionate and detailed account of the poet’s short life, Owen was a quiet, imaginative boy not given to sports, whose greatest pleasure was to be read to by his mother. One of his important early influences came from his family’s Anglican evangelicalism.
Owen, deep in his earliest love, John Keats, was writing verse by the time he reached London University. Serving in the military in World War I, he was awarded the Military Cross on October 1, 1918, and killed in action on November 4. His life and his poems reveal a highly sensitive, idealistic young man given to aestheticism, who was transformed by the horrors of trench warfare into a quietly courageous leader of men, a biting social critic, and a poet of tough truthfulness and humanity. He is generally regarded as the greatest English war-poet.
As a boy Owen read widely, not only Keats but also Charles Dickens, Sir Walter Scott, George Eliot, and John Ruskin, for whose work he had great...
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