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In an article published in 1977 titled “Wilfred Owen -- A Re-assessment,” A. Banerjee argued that Owen’s influence can be detected in the work of a number of other twentieth-century British writers. In particular, he contended that Owen could
claim to have influenced later poets (e.g. C. Day Lewis held Owen up as one of the literary ancestors of the poets of the thirties in his A Hope For Poetry (1934), and Philip Larkin has mentioned Owen as one of the poets he has, “enjoyed” and he has been “associated with”).
Later in the article, Bannerjee mentions in passing several other later English poets who praised Owen, including Roy Fuller and Stephen Spender. For the most part, however, Bannerjee considers Owen a significantly over-rated poet. His reasons for objecting to Owen’s verse include the following:
- People value his poetry mainly for its chief subject matter: “the suffering and waste of war.”
- People appreciate Owen’s “poignant and compassionate treatment” of that subject matter.
- Owen’s poetic achievement is “limited” and his “conception of poetry” is “narrow.”
- Owen’s chief tone is one of pity; without feelings of pity, he would have little to write about.
- His poetry is too much concerned with one topic: World War I; it has little timeless appeal.
- Owen and some other war poets have not achieved sufficient distance from their subject to do that subject permanent justice.
- Owen’s sense of tragedy was too limited.
- “It can hardly be seriously denied that the war made Owen a poet by giving him the subject-matter and material for his poetry, and Anthony Thwaite is right in surmising that once the war was over, Owen (had he survived) would have had nothing to write about. This point needs to be stressed because in the absence of war as the subject, his poetry was generally unremarkable.”
- In his later poems that do not deal with the war, Owen reverts, in the words of C. Day Lewis, to his earlier “immature manner.”
- Owen’s poetry is too rooted in his personal experiences to seem universal or generally relevant.
- Sometimes his poems are so concerned with relaying the facts of war that they seem almost journalistic.
- His emphasis on the bodies of soldiers may be rooted in his homosexual leanings.
- His poems are often propagandistic in the way they depict the horrors of war.
- The range of tones in his verse is too limited, and the emphasis on pain is excessive.
- Owen’s work seems particularly limited when it is compared with the work of another war poet, Isaac Rosenberg, which are far more imaginative than Owen’s.
- There is a sado-masochistic element in Owen’s work that causes him to emphasize physical suffering.
All in all, Banerjee makes a very lengthy case against the effectiveness of Owen’s poetry.
Banerjee, A. "Wilfred Owen-A Reassessment." The Literary Half-Yearly 18.2 (1977): 85-100.
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