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Biography Out Loud

Considered to be the leading poet of World War I, he died a week before it ended. A telegram from the War Office in England notifying his mother of his death arrived as church bells were ringing, announcing the Armistice. He eventually became more famous than Sigfried Sassoon, the poet he most admired and emulated. When Sassoon returned from the war, this wounded soldier returned to the front in his place, hoping to continue to document the horrors of war. Who is this famous poet who died when only 25 years old? We’ll find out next on Biography Out Loud.

Wilford Owen is best known for his graphic World War I poetry, which told the story of gas warfare. In “Dulce Decorum Est” the famous line of “Gas! Gas! Quick boys!” is followed by a chilling description of a soldier dying from exposure to the deadly chemicals.

While once a critic of the other soldiers, who he called “expressionless lumps” in a letter to his mother, Owen went through two traumatic episodes which changed his opinion of his brave compatriots. A mortar once exploded beneath him, throwing him in the air. He landed on the remains of a fellow officer. He was also trapped for several days behind enemy lines. Diagnosed with shell shock, he was sent back to England to recuperate. In the hospital in Edinburgh he met the famous poet Siegfried Sassoon. Owen greatly admired Sassoon, declaring he was not worthy to light Sassoon’s pipe. But with encouragement from Sassoon, Owens began expressing his disgust with war in his own poetry, eventually eclipsing the fame of his friend.

When Sassoon returned from the front, Owen threatened to return to continue to document the savagery of war. Sassoon threatened to stab Owen in the leg to keep him from going. Owen notified his friend of his return to France after the fact.

When crossing a canal with his regiment, his superior officer was killed. Owen took command, manned a machine gun and inflicted many casualties. He was shot and killed almost exactly one week to the hour before the Armistice, and his mother received notice of his death as the local church bells announced the end of the war.

Because of his injuries, Owen could have remained in England but chose to return and fight. Though only 25 years old, his poetry reflects not only the reality of the terrors of war, but illustrate Owen’s dedication to the cause. Only five of his poems were published before his death. Others were later released in a book called “Poems”.

His poem “Dulce Decorum Est” is based on the writings of Horace. The phrase translates into “sweet and fitting it is to die for one’s country.” Unlike Horace, who once admitted to throwing down his shield and running away from battle, Wilfred Owen fought, was injured and returned to fight again, eventually giving his life in sacrifice for his country.


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Wilford Owen

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