Thursday, November 04, 2010

Remembering... Wilfred Owen

The idea that war is somehow glamourous is not an opinion common among fighting men, no matter what the politicians who wage it at their expense would have us think; for striking a killing blow at the heart of such a misguided notion we have men like Wilfred Owen to thank.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketIn verses like Anthem for Doomed Youth, Owen decries the horrors of modern warfare in no uncertain terms. Thematically daring, Owen's works are also structurally innovative; although only five of his poems were published during his lifetime, he is now generally thought of as one of the foremost poets of the era. To a large extent, Owen used poetry to help him recover from the worst effects of war which, in addition to its value in disabusing society at large of the nationalistic and patriotic brainwashing behind every bullet and bomb, makes his a very great talent indeed.

Born in March 1893, and enlisting in October 1915, by January 1917 he was back in England, suffering from shell-shock; when his friend and hero Siegfried Sassoon returned from the Front with a head injury, Owen decided it was his duty to take his place, so as to continue cataloguing the inhumanity of humanity's oldest sport at close range.

Alas, he got a little too close; Wilfred Owen was killed in action on this day in 1918, at the crossing of the Sambre-Oise Canal - one of the last Allied victories of World War I - just a week before the Armistice was signed. He was 25. As the bells of peace were ringing, his parents were receiving the telegram that their elder son wouldn't be coming home; he is buried in the communal cemetery at Ors, in France, near where he fell.

After Owen's death his brother and literary executor Harold Owen tried to eradicate all evidence of Wilfred Owen's homosexuality, failing miserably as this post attests; in doing so, Harold Owen gave aid and comfort to the myth that a man who loves men cannot be noble. It is a testament to Wilfred Owen's friends Robbie Ross, Osbert Sitwell, and C. K. Scott-Moncrieff (not to mention Siegfried Sassoon himself) that, even half a century before there was a community to do so, there was a culture that would nurture his whole memory.
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