Wilfred Owen

Illustration of Wilfred with book before the war

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During the war, poets such as Jessie Pope and Rupert Brooke wrote patriotic poems saying that it was good to die for your country. Wilfred Owen disagreed. He thought it was important to tell people what war was really like.

While he was in hospital recovering from shell shock, Wilfred met another poet. His name was Siegfried Sassoon, and he also became famous for his war poetry.

They became friends and Siegfried helped Wilfred with his poetry. They both thought that the reality of war was horrible and did not agree with other war poets who wrote about bravery and patriotism.

Siegfried introduced Wilfred to the war poems of Robert Graves, one of the first poets of the war to write realistic poems about his experiences on the front line. Throughout the war the three men kept in touch.

Wilfred also felt that there was nothing good about dying for your country. He started to write poems to show this. He wrote in one of his poetry collections: "My subject is war and the pity of war".

He wanted to write with the same level of detail as his hero, the poet Keats, to describe the horrors of war. Wilfred wanted to help people see what it was like on the front line and feel just how much soldiers got hurt.

He created lots of images of blood. In one of his poems, 'Inspection', he wrote that "blood is dirt". He thought the Government made soldiers bleed for no reason. He believed they should feel guilty for sending innocent men to fight in a war where so many soldiers were injured and killed.

Poems

Wilfred Owen described the sound of shooting as "the monstrous anger of the guns" in his poem, 'Anthem for Doomed Youth'.

British Army recruitment poster during WW1

British Army recruitment poster during WW1

He said war was like a "disease" in another poem, called 'À Terre'. In it, he wrote about how the war made people lose their eyesight, shiver and even die, just like a very bad illness.

'Dulce et Decorum est'

One of Wilfred's most famous poems was called 'Dulce et Decorum est'.

In this poem, he criticises the government and the poets who supported the war. 'Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori' is Latin for 'It is sweet and right to die for your country'. Wilfred described this as 'that old lie' because he did not agree with the propaganda that told people it was true.

He described the way soldiers suffered during mustard gas attacks, how the gas blinded and choked them. He described them as 'like old beggars', deafened by shelling, coughing and limping along barefoot after a battle.

He wanted the readers to ask themselves if this could really be a good thing.

Wilfred's handwritten poem 'Dulce et Decorum est' Wilfred's handwritten poem 'Dulce et Decorum est', seen with corrections. Written while he was getting better in hospital in Scotland.

Teachers' notes

Teachers' notes and classroom ideas for Wilfred Owen.

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