d. 4 November 1918
One of the leading English poets of the First World War, Wilfred Owen combined the homoeroticism latent in the elegy tradition with precise observation of the horror of trench warfare. Much of Owen's earliest poetry is in the homoerotic tradition that includes Shelley's "Adonais," Tennyson's In Memoriam, and A. E. Housman's A Shropshire Lad: poems that simultaneously celebrate and mourn the beauty of a dead young man.
Owen is regarded by historians as the leading poet of the First World War, known for his war poetry on the horrors of trench and gas warfare. He had been writing poetry for some years before the war, himself dating his poetic beginnings to a stay at Broxton by the Hill, when he was ten years old.The Romantic poets Keats and Shelley influenced much of Owen's early writing and poetry. His great friend, the poet Siegfried Sassoon, later had a profound effect on Owen's poetic voice, and Owen's most famous poems ("Dulce et Decorum Est" and "Anthem for Doomed Youth") show direct results of Sassoon's influence. The novel Regeneration by Pat Barker shows this relationship closely. Manuscript copies of the poems survive, annotated in Sassoon's handwriting. Owen's poetry would eventually be more widely acclaimed than that of his mentor. While his use of pararhyme, with its heavy reliance on assonance, was innovative, he was not the only poet at the time to use these particular techniques. He was, however, one of the first to experiment with it extensively.
Owen held Sassoon in an esteem not far from hero-worship, remarking to his mother that he was "not worthy to light [Sassoon's] pipe." On being discharged from Craiglockhart, Owen was stationed on home-duty in Scarborough for several months, during which time he associated with members of the artistic circle into which Sassoon had introduced him, which included Robert Ross and Robert Graves. He also met H.G. Wells and Arnold Bennett, and it was during this period he developed the stylistic voice for which he is now recognised. Many of his early poems were penned while stationed at the Clarence Garden Hotel, now the Clifton Hotel in Scarborough's North Bay. A blue tourist plaque on the hotel marks its association with Owen.
Robert Graves and Sacheverell Sitwell(who also personally knew him) have stated Owen was a homosexual, and homoeroticism 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 Scottish writer 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 did. Andrew Motion wrote of Owen's relationship with Sassoon: "On the one hand, Sassoon's wealth, posh connections and aristocratic manner appealed to the snob in Owen: on the other, Sassoon's homosexuality admitted Owen to a style of living and thinking that he found naturally sympathetic.
In his early poems, Owen attempted to incorporate the religiosity of his youth. As he grew older, Owen cared less and less for organized religion. "Maundy Thursday" describes churchgoers kissing the cross during a service; the narrator kisses the hands of the boy who holds the cross.
Between the brown hands of a server-ladThe silver cross was offered to be kissed.The men came up, lugubrious, but not sad,And knelt reluctantly, half-prejudiced.(And kissing, kissed the emblem of a creed.)Then mourning women knelt; meek mouths they had,(And kissed the Body of the Christ indeed.)Young children came, with eager lips and glad.(These kissed a silver doll, immensely bright.)Then I, too, knelt before that acolyte.Above the crucifix I bent my head:The Christ was thin, and cold, and very dead:And yet I bowed, yea, kissed - my lips did cling.(I kissed the warm live hand that held the thing.)