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a life in the arts—the life of Wilfred Owen
—Contributed by ETAF Staff

Wilfred Owen, perhaps the greatest English poet to come out of WW1, was born March 18, 1893, in Oswestry, Shropshire, England, and was killed in action in the First World War, on November 4, 1918, in France. He is noted for his anger at the cruelty and waste of war and his pity for its victims. He also is important for his technical experiments in poetic assonance, which were particularly influential in the 1930s.


Owen was educated at the Birkenhead Institute and matriculated at the University of London; after an illness in 1913 he lived in France. He had already begun to write and, while working as a tutor near Bordeaux, was preparing a book of “Minor Poems—in Minor Keys—by a Minor,” which was never published. These early poems are consciously modeled on those of John Keats. Often ambitious, they show enjoyment of poetry as a craft.

In 1915 Owen enlisted in the British army. The experience of trench warfare brought him to rapid maturity; the poems written after January 1917 are full of anger at war's brutality, an elegiac pity for “those who die as cattle,” and a rare descriptive power. In June 1917 he was wounded and sent home. While in a hospital near Edinburgh he met the poet Siegfried Sassoon, who shared his feelings about the war and who became interested in his work.

Reading Sassoon's poems and discussing his work with Sassoon revolutionized Owen's style and his conception of poetry.

Despite the plans of well-wishers to find him a safe staff job, he returned to France in August 1918 as a company commander. He was awarded the Military Cross in October and was tragically killed a week before Armistice Day.


Published posthumously by Sassoon, Owen's single volume of poems contains the most poignant English poetry of the war. His collected poems, edited by C. Day-Lewis, were published in 1964. His collected letters, edited by his younger brother Harold Owen and John Bell, were published in 1967.

Principal Works

Dulce Et Decorum Est, Owens' masterpiece, a 28-line poem, is one of the world's great antiwar poems. He wrote it intending it to be an answer to Homer's Iliad and Virgil's Aeneid.

  • Read Owens' poem, Dulce Et Decorum Est. Visit The Muse of Literature's page containing the poem, where you will also find an appreciation by The Muse Of Literature: click here.

Television Documentary

The Owen-Sassoon story is portrayed in a moving and informative documentary about their time together written for television by the BBC called Regeneration.

the Wilfred Owen Association

The Wilfred Owen Association is an organization dedicated to preserving the works and memory of Wilfred Owen.

First World War Poetry and Prose

For more about Wilfred Owen and other figures prominent in war poetry and prose, visit the poetry and prose section of FirstWorldWar.com, a web site covering many aspects of that war.

ETAF Recommends

See ETAF's recommendations: click here.


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