About the poet

Poet, Wilfred Owen in soldier uniform
Wilfred Owen is considered one of the greatest war poets

Often, a poem will reflect aspects of the writer’s life. However we can’t always assume a poem is autobiographical, even if it is written in the first person.

Biographical clues from a poem’s context can give you insights into its themes or message. Some questions you might ask include:

  • Are events or places from the poet’s life reflected in the poem?
  • Are people or relationships from the poet’s life reflected in the poem?
  • Are the poet’s ideas or beliefs reflected in the poem?

You can research the poet’s background to discover answers to these questions. Be careful to only include details you have discovered that reveal something about the poem.

Case study

Wilfred Owen is considered one of the greatest war poets. His poems contain vivid, horrific details of soldier’s experiences in World War One. These details were communicated to people back at home in Britain, who did not necessarily understand the miserable conditions soldiers were facing at the time.

Question

Which of these facts about Owen’s life might be useful when answering a question about his portrayal of war in his poems?

  • Owen was born in Oswestry in the Welsh borders
  • he spent time teaching in France
  • he fought as a soldier in World War One and suffered shell shock
  • he was awarded the military cross for bravery
  • he was killed in action in the final week of the war

The fact Owen served as a soldier, and that he died whilst out on service, are important to many readers of his poems. He saw the reality of the war for himself, and had first-hand experience of it. Details about his birth and earlier life may be interesting, but what is most relevant to understanding his poems is the context of his military service.

Explore the study guide for 'Exposure' by Wilfred Owen.