Review – The Poetry of Wilfred Owen

Poetry of Wilfred Owen
Portrait of Wilfred Owen, found in a collection of his poems from 1920. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I came across a poem by Wilfred Owen, Dulce et Decorum Est, and was so impressed by it that I looked up the author. I found he’d written many poems about the First World War – a war in which sadly he was killed just before its end. That led me to read this collection of his poetry.

To be honest, I found some of his poems confusing or difficult to follow. However, others were powerful presentations of the horrors of war. More than a book of poetry, this is an historical record of the experiences of the young men of England in “The Great War”. It’s a view of the War you don’t find in history books, which tend to focus on campaigns and battles and strategy without much insight into the personal lives and thoughts of those who experienced the War on the ground.

Owen’s poems are sobering reminders that behind the glory and weapons and strategies of war are individuals suffering and dying. One of the most powerful is Disabled about a young man who lies about his age to enlist in order to impress a girl and comes home legless and missing an arm. As with many of his poems, the enthusiasm and bravado of the enlistee is contrasted with the ‘reality check’ he receives when war is experienced. Real war, it turns out, is not what’s portrayed on the enlistment poster.

Another of the best is The Parable Of The Old Man and The Young. Here Owen takes the story of Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac from Genesis chapter 22 and casts Abraham as the “Old Man” of Europe’s leaders and Isaac as the “Young man” of her youth. Given the opportunity to stop the sacrifice of the young with a substitute of, not a ram, but their pride, they refuse to sacrifice their pride and stop the slaughter.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of the First World War or poetry in general. I warn you it’s not an uplifting inspirational read but it is also not depressing and somber just to be so. It’s an important historical record and carries within it an important reminder for all of us living this side of the “War to end all wars.”