How did Wilfred Owen's personal life affect his poetry?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Wilfred Owen once wrote, "The poetry is in the pity," and he spent much of his life feeling sympathy for the oppressed. This sympathy is certainly evinced in his poetry.

When he was near the age of ten, his devoted mother took Wilfred on holiday to Broxton by the Hill, which is near Wales and has a lovely countryside. Owen declared in a poem it was there that his "poethood" was born. While he did go forward in his schooling, Owen was forced because of financial difficulties to leave the University of London and be a pupil and a lay assistant to the Vicar of Dunsden, Oxfordshire. It was thought, then, that Wilfred should take orders, but although he felt great sympathy for the suffering of others, he was not sufficiently convinced of the powers of faith and Christianity to relieve this suffering.

Owen left the religious life and went to teach at the Berlitz school in Bordeaux. The incipience of war made Owen impatient with his life, so he returned to England and enlisted. Owen was later sent to the western front in 1917; then, because it was so cold and the fighting was fierce, Owen became ill and was sent to a hospital where he met the poet Siegfried Sassoon. Sassoon encouraged Owen in his poetic efforts, and he assured Owen that his experiences at the front when he returned would help his poetry. Sadly, Owen returned to the front and died a week before the armistice.

Wilfred Owen once wrote to his mother that his life was composed of "bouts": bouts of religion, bouts of horrifying danger, and bouts of poetry. Always, however, Owen felt affection for his mother and sympathy for the oppressed. 

Indeed, there is a poignancy in the Romantic images of the poetry of Wilfred Owen. In his "Dulce et Decorum Est," Owen expresses his sympathy for the suffering of humanity as well as his bitterness at the senseless harm done to men for the selfish purposes of those in power. Likewise, in "Anthem for Doomed Youth," he expresses his anger and pity for the soldiers whose deaths are marked by no choirs or bells, but only "shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells." Other poems, such as "Disabled"--

To-night he noticed how the women's eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole
How cold and late it is! Why don't they come
And put him into bed? Why don't they come?--

and "Mental Cases," a haunting poem, comment with deep pathos upon the ruined lives of soldiers that he, unfortunately, viewed first-hand. Without doubt, his war experiences probably had the greatest influence upon Wilfred Owen's verse.