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24 September 2014

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The Write Stuff Banner
September 2002
New biography shows the real Wilfred Owen
Wilfred Owen
Wilfred Owen
Based on over 30 years of wide-ranging research, drawing on new insights, letters and material that have become available during that time, Dominic Hibberd's authoritative and richly detailed biography of Wilfred Owen is the first to be published since 1974.
audio Listen to an interview with Dominic Hibberd. (28k)
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Wilfred Owen Association
Site dedicated to the life of the poet.

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At one point Wilfred Owen's platoon was engulfed by a green cloud of poison gas, later described in the poem Dulce et Decorum Est (Latin for It is Sweet and Glorious).

One man, too slow with his gas mask, chokes to death.

Owen wrote: "Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, / As under a green sea, I saw him drowning."

Wilfred Owen died aged 25 on 4th November 1918, a week before the end of the Great War.

He was completely unknown at the time of his death with only five of his poems having been published.

Yet he became one of the most popular poets of the 20th Century and is now the national poet of war.

For decades very little was known about Owen's life as his public image was firmly controlled by his family and friends, not least by his brother Harold, who was obsessed by class, personal failure and terror lest anyone should suspect Wilfred of having been gay.

Great Salopians: Wilfred Owen
Biography of Britain's greatest war poet

It's partly because of the myths surrounding him that Owen was seen as a typical soldier. In this new biography, the author, Dominic Hibberd makes it clear that Wilfred Owen was anything but typical.

Owen, born in 1893 in Oswestry, Shropshire, joined up in 1915 and was sent to the front in 1917 as an officer with the Manchester Regiment.

The horrors he endured whilst fighting near the Somme in bitter winter conditions inspired some of his greatest poems.

In a letter to his mother, he described his experience as "seventh hell".

Dominic Hibberd, an acknowledged authority on Wilfred Own, has discovered new information at virtually every point in Owen's life, refashioning and reinterpreting what is known about the First World War's greatest poet - the reality of his childhood and his work as a pupil-teacher; the Evangelical pressures on him from 1911 -13 when he worked as a parish assistant; his time in France where he was a tutor and began to develop as a poet; his joining-up in 1915; his terrible experiences at the Front in 1917 and the question over his shellshock and the accusation of cowardice; his time at Craiglockhart where he met Siegfried Sassoon who encouraged him directly to write about the war; his time at Scarborough (1917-1918) where he found his mature voice as a poet; his sexual orientation and gay friends in London; and his final months in France, a victory for him as a man and as a poet, as well as a tragedy.

Wilfred Owen
Dominic Hibberd's biography
Owen, whose work did not achieve widespread fame until the 1960s, was killed leading his men in an attempt to bridge the Oise-Sambre canal under heavy fire.

His family were given the news a week later, on 11th November 1918. the day the war ended.

"As the bells celebrating the armistice were ringing in Shrewsbury, the postman arrived to give his parents the telegram," said Peter Owen, Wilfred's nephew.
Great Salopians: Wilfred Owen
Read our biography of Britain's greatest war poet

Illustrated with over 50 photographs, eight maps and several drawings, this fascinating and compelling biography brings the reader much closer than ever before to the real Wilfred Owen, a complex, endearing and deeply impressive man.
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