The Historyof War Poetry and the works of Wilfred Owen

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 War Poetry


      A poet is generally a man who feels something and tries to express his ideas and emotions about this thing in a way far better than  that of the ordinary man. And the more effect of the subject, the better the poem. So when t comes to war we find that the poets express themselves in the most eloquent way. War, just hearing this word makes one think of many calshing ideas about it. Every single person on this earth has a clear idea about war and some of us already have a personal experience with the tragedies and suffering of war

    In this simple thesis we will talk about war poetry and its major poet, Wilfred Owen. The first part of these papers is concerned with war poetry in genera, it begins with a historical background of war poetry traced back to the time of Homer. Followed by the major characteristics of this school of poetry which has no standard criteria. After that, we shed light on the major poets of this school: Siegfried Sassoon , Rupert Chawner Brooke, and Isaac  Rosenberg.

   The Second part is concerned with the great war poet, Wilfred Owen. Talking about his importance as a poet and the disagreement of men of literature about him. Followed by a simple answer to the question: How does Owen represents his school. Finally, we will make a brief illustration of six of Owen's poems.

Historical Background

.... they are fortunate who fight

For gleaming landscapes swept and shafted

And crowned by cloud pavilons white.

                                                                                                                       , sassoon (1)

        Poems about war are as old as poetry itself, beginning with the greatest poem in European culture, Homer's Iliad composed in the 8th century bc telling the legendary tales of Troy and war between Greek and Trojan. The poem is clearly based on much older oral forms. Virgil's Aeneid, written in the 1st century bc, tells the story of the Trojan Prince Aeneas and his adventures after the fall of Troy. Other civilizations also recorded war in poetic form from the earliest times.(2) Even in our arabian culture, war poetry is as old as poetry itself; many great poets such as Antarah ibn Shaddad , Imru' al-Qais, and Al-Mutanabbi  talked about war and fights that they had witnessed.

       The term war poet, which is applied especially to those in military service during World War I(3) , was documented as early as 1848 in reference to German revolutionary poet, Georg Herwegh.(4) It is generally agreed that the First World War inspired poetry of the highest order, some of it ground-breaking in both treatment of subject and technique: combatants included W Owen, Sassoon, Rosenberg, R. Graves, E. Thomas, and R. Brooke, and memorable poems and elegies on the theme were contributed by Hardy, Binyon, Housman, and others.(5)

      Several poets writing in English were soldiers, and wrote about their experiences of war. A number of them died on active service, most famously Rupert Brooke, Edward Thomas, Isaac Rosenberg, Wilfred Owen, and Charles Sorley. Others including Ivor Gurney and Siegfried Sassoon survived, but many were scarred by their experiences, reflected in their poetry.


1) Philip R. Liebson, How Sweet It Is, The Chicago Liberary Club, 28  Fabruary 2000, p. 6.

2) Sami El-Shahed,  Impact of War on Language.

3) Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson, The Oxford Dictionary of English,  Oxford University Press, 2005, war poet noun.

4) The Times, Southern Germany, 29 September 1848.

5) Margaret  Drabble, The Oxford Companion to English Literature , 6th Ed, 2000, p. 1074.

Major Characteristics

I'd like to see a Tank come down the stalls,

Lurching to ragtime tunes, or "Home, sweet Home"

And there'd be no more jokes im Music-halls

To mock the riddled corpses around Bapaume

                                                        , Sassoon(1)

       There was no standard blueprint for a war poet – even if the common perception is that they were all officers from a privileged background. This was clearly not the case. The War Poets were from a variety of backgrounds. Some such as Brookes had a very comfortable upbringing. Others such as Lance-Corporal Ledwidge came from more humble stock. Some won medals for gallantry. Others did not. The whole variety of backgrounds gives a clear idea that the impact of war in the trenches hit everyone who served there. Forbidden from writing home with any degree of accuracy/truth about the life they led, some put their thoughts into a diary that could be kept in secret. Some of these diaries survive to this day. Others put their thoughts into poems. As many of these poems rely on interpretation as opposed to being clear facts, the poets bypassed any form of military censorship that certainly would have occurred if they had simply written out their thoughts as prose.(2) 

        It can be said that war poetry is not a school of poetry, it is just a group of poets who shared the experience of war. It is hard to find a common characteristic between war poets, but we all know that it has an unarguable common feature which is war itself, it is clear really that war poetry talks about war. Most poets of this school, or group, talked about war and the tragedies of war in order to show its real picture to the poeple who support the idea of war. They tried to change the favorable attitude of some people towards war by exploring in depth the spiritual hell that war brings into being, and by describing the physical and the emotional pain which humans have to endure during and after the war. Some poems of this era highlight the case in which a soldier survives war physically but remains obsessed with its bitter horrifying memories which drive him crazy. This takes us to a theme that can be considered a common one in war poetry, the theme of futility.(3)

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      The theme of futility is popular among the war poets probably because living in war conditions leads one to a kind of despair that renders everything around futile. They are different poets, but they are united in their shared sense of the futility of the world we live in, and their shared sense of the emptiness of our existence. The same of futility is considered a common theme in war poetry to the extent that Wilfred Owen, the great war poet, used the word "futility" as a tittle for one of his poems.  In ...

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