On this date the soldier and iconic war poet WILFRED OWEN was born (died 1918). Regarded by many as the leading poet of the First World War, his shocking, realistic war poetry on the horrors of trench and gas warfare was heavily influenced by his friend Siegfried Sassoon and sat in stark contrast to both the public perception of war at the time, and to the confidently patriotic verse written earlier by war poets such as Rupert Brooke. Some of his best-known works—most of which were published posthumously—include “Dulce Et Decorum Est”, “Insensibility”, “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, “Futility” and “Strange Meeting”. His preface intended for a book of poems to be published in 1919 contains numerous well-known phrases, especially ‘War, and the pity of War’, and ‘the Poetry is in the pity’. He is perhaps just as well-known for having been killed in action at the Battle of the Sambre just a week before the war ended, causing news of his death to reach home as the town’s church bells declared peace.
Robert Graves and Sacheverell Sitwell (who also personally knew him) have stated Owen was homosexual, and homo-eroticism is a central element in much of Owen’s poetry. Through Sassoon, Owen was introduced to a sophisticated homosexual literary circle which included Oscar Wilde’s friend Robbie Ross, writer and poet Osbert Sitwell, and C. K. Scott-Moncrieff, the translator of Proust. This contact broadened Owen’s outlook, and increased his confidence in incorporating homoerotic elements into his work.
The account of Owen’s sexual development has been somewhat obscured because his brother, Harold Owen, removed what he considered discreditable passages in Owen’s letters and diaries after the death of their mother. Owen also requested that his mother burn a sack of his personal papers in the event of his death, which she faithfully did.