I don't suppose there's a thoughtful student in the land who is unaware of Wilfred Owen's best-known poem, "Dulce et Decorum Est".Read the whole story here.
Indeed, it tells us something about our pervading cynicism that Horace's words are now taken more readily as sarcasm than at face value.
It is often assumed – as a student, I made the mistake myself – that the poem's author was some sort of bitter, jaundiced pacifist. But the enigma of Wilfred Owen is that he was anything but that. The fascination of his life is his embodiment of contradictions.
It is true that he was not among the first to answer the call to bash the Boche. Indeed, he seems to have been a rather fey and precious young man, first as a vicar's assistant in Berkshire, and then as an English teacher in France.
When he finally decided to join the Army (through the Artists' Rifles, to fit with his own idea of himself as a poet, despite the fact that he was unpublished, and, frankly, not very good, either) he was repulsed by the coarseness of the men among whom he found himself.
But his letters to his mother – our main source of information about his life – show how much he changed. Initial distaste at the vulgarity of the sweaty, noisy men among whom he was obliged to live became a genuine love.
Sunday, 4 November 2007
Wilfred Owen profiled in the Telegraph, just in time for Remembrance Day
Jeremy Paxon on Wilfred Owen's life, achievements, and death: