(1893 - 1918)
Wilfred Owen was born in Oswestry, near Shrewsbury, the eldest son of a railway employee.
The family moved first to Shrewsbury, then Birkenhead, where he entered the preparatory department of the Birkenhead Institute in 1900 (7). His mother was strongly religious, and Wilfred had an intense attachment to her, evidenced by his voluminous correspondence with her throughout his life. His father achieved promotion in 1907 (14), and the family moved back to Shrewsbury, where Wilfred became a pupil teacher at Shrewsbury Technical.
In October 1911 (18) he moved to Dunsden Vicarage in Berkshire as assistant to the Reverend Herbert Wigan. By this time he had discovered Keats, and tried his hand at various pieces of poetry. He developed a close relationship with a local boy, Vivian Rampton, who was 12 years old at the time. By 1913 (20) he had begun to doubt his vocation in the church, and he resolved to leave the vicarage.
In September 1913 (20) he took employment with the Berlitz language school in Bordeaux, as a teacher of English, and later became tutor to Mme Leger, an attractive French woman who had been his pupil at the school. Through her he was introduced to and befriended by Laurent Tailhade, a French poet and homosexual in his sixties, who had been a friend of Verlaine, and was an admirer of Baudelaire.
In 1915 (22) he returned to England, and joined the Artist’s Rifles, becoming a second lieutenant. In early 1917 (24) he was sent to France with his regiment, but in May of that year he returned to a Casualty Clearing Centre suffering from shell shock (called ‘neurasthenia’ at the time).
Craiglockhart War Hospital : first mature poetry
He was sent back to the UK to be treated at Craiglockhart War Hospital for Neurasthenic Officers, on the western edge of the city of Edinburgh. Here he was under the care of Dr Arthur Brock, who encouraged him to re-engage with the world, a process he called ‘ergotherapy’. Part of the re-engagement Brock suggested was the writing of poetry, and it was at this time that Wilfred began composing his first mature verses, slowly gaining a measure of control over the turmoil of his inner visions.
He read and became enthusiastic about the verse of Siegfried Sassoon, who had written of his experiences at the front, and who arrived at Craiglockhart in July. He struck up an admiring friendship with the older poet, and Sassoon introduced him to London literary (and gay) society.
His most productive period began when he was posted to Ripon in March 1918 (25). He rented a room in a small cottage close to the camp, and it was here that he probably wrote (or finished) many of the poems for which he is now remembered, including Greater Love, Arms and the Boy, The Send-Off, Strange Meeting, Mental Cases and Futility.
Return to the front and death
He returned to France in October, and was killed in November (25), three days before the end of the war. Poems by Wilfred Owen was published in 1920.
Wilfred Owen Biography : Links
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