Book Review: “The Poems of Wilfred Owen” (ed. Jon Stallworthy, 1985) by Wilfred Owen


Wilfred Owen.


Here is what you need to know about Wilfred Owen: he died too soon.

Owen was twenty-five years old when he was killed in action, exactly one week before the signing of the Armistice would end the war. This means that all of his poems only fill up one 192-page collection (unfinished bits and pieces included) and it is not enough.

The first sixty pages or so are taken up by poems Owen wrote in his youth. Most of these are stylistic exercises, practice runs as he was trying to find his own voice. They are charming enough, but still very derivative (drink every time you see a Keats reference!). However, there is a tangible change in style and quality when Owen joins the army, especially after one particularly traumatic experience in 1916 that got him diagnosed with shell shock and sent to Edinburgh for treatment.

In the two years he spent at the Craiglockhart war hospital, Owen became acquainted with other poets and artists and began to bloom artistically. He was encouraged to write as part of his therapy and he befriended one of his heroes, Siegfried Sassoon, who had been “diagnosed” with “shell shock” as well after writing a controversial letter that condemned the war effort and the government’s motives. Their relationship was life-changing for Owen and his work shows an increase in motivation and confidence: the poems become more personal, more honest, and far more painful to read (in a good way). In the two years (!) leading up to his death he wrote some of the most powerful poetry you will ever read, stanzas that will leave you staring at the ceiling, contemplating history, “glory,” and human nature in general.

Two years of heart-wrenching poetry is not enough.

Not even close.

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One thought on “Book Review: “The Poems of Wilfred Owen” (ed. Jon Stallworthy, 1985) by Wilfred Owen

  • December 25, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    My favourite out of all your reviews so far. I think there’s just something so much more tragic about what could have been and what would have been if things had just gone better for Owen in his life cut so needlessly short.


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