Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) was killed at the age of 25 on one of the last days of the First World War, having acted heroically as soldier and officer despite his famous misgivings about the war’s rationale and conduct. He left behind a body of poetry that sensitively captured the pity, rage, valour and futility of the conflict. In this video, Guy Cuthbertson, author of the biography ‘Wilfred Owen’, introduces the life of one of Britain’s best-known and most loved poets.
Cutherbertson travels to Shrewsbury, the county town of Shopshire, where a young and ambitous Wilfred Owen began to imagine himself as a poet, and explores some major landmarks of the fledgling writer’s early life. There the biographer tells of a conflicted young man, one unsure of his place in the world and the direction his life was taking. Indeed, the popular assessment of Owen’s life may have thus far failed to acknowledge the complixities of his personality. Wilfred Owen is often thought of as the greatest of the war poets, one of the individuals who gave one of humanity’s greatest horrors an unflinching stare. However, Cuthbertson reveals a character not only deeply affected by his military experiences, but also incredibly shy and deeply attached to his mother. A female guest who sat next to Owen at a dinner party in 1917 recalled that he was so hopelessly tongue-tied that he replied ‘oh rather’ and ‘I should just think so’ to everything she said, a far cry from the unswerving voice that readers find in poems such as ‘Dulce et Decorum est’.
In his fresh account of Owen’s life and formative experiences; class experiences and religious doubts, sexuality and friendships; the lower middle-class childhood he tried to escape, Guy Cuthbertson chronicles a great poet’s growth to poetic maturity, illuminates the social strata of the extraordinary Edwardian era, and adds rich context to how Owen’s enduring verse can be understood.