Wilfred Owen enlisted in the army as a young man determined to make a difference and scared of what a German victory in World War I might entail. After training as an officer, he soon enjoyed the respect of his men as, although a budding poet, he was also a very good shot. His ability to translate his experiences can be seen in several of his poems. The Sentry traces the tragic circumstances of his time in a dugout with orders to hold out, and the effects on his men, especially the blinded sentry whose desperation is clear in the last lines of the poem when he says, "I see your lights! But ours had long died out."
Owen returned home and was treated for what would now be diagnosed as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He was encouraged by his doctor to write. Anthem for Doomed Youth was also written at this time and the title included a change by Sigfried Sassoon, who influenced Owen significantly. "Dead" in the title was changed to "doomed. Owen's personal feelings can be seen throughout his poetry as he wanted to show the horror of war, not the presumed glory.
After recovering, Owen returned to the Front. Awarded a Military Cross for bravery, Owen never lived to receive the honor, although he did know that he was to receive the accolade and was delighted because he felt it might expose some of the atrocities and halt the glorification of war that he witnessed. He was killed only days before the Armistice of 1918.
Although he is highly acclaimed, the anti-war sentiment expressed in his poetry has also received criticism for its negativity and Owen's apparent failure to highlight the bravery that he encountered and the friendships which resulted from the intense situations that these men found themselves in. In Anthem for Doomed Youth, he suggests that the men "die like cattle" and in Dulce et Decorum Est, he creates a visual image of "beggars ... coughing like hags..." He makes sure that there is no "high zest" and no mistaking the horror of "children ardent for some desperate glory," calling the title "The old lie ...." The title suggests that dying for one's country is sweet, "dulce," and Owen wants to create no such illusion.