Wilfred Owen: Poems

Wilfred Owen: Poems WWI Poets

Wilfred Owen may be the most recognizable poet of the First World War, but he is certainly not the only individual to tackle the incomprehensible horrors of the global conflagration and the vexing problem of how to find meaning in such irrationality. Men like Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, and Edward Thomas, as well as the female poet May Wedderburn Cannan, wrote of the war in its complexity and the humanity of the young men ensnared by it.

Rupert Brooke has often been compared to Byron; both were handsome, intelligent, and witty. Brooke was educated at Cambridge and traveled throughout Europe after a doomed love affair. He was drafted as an officer in the Royal Naval Division. His famous "war sonnets" were written in December 1914 when he was on leave, but he died tragically of dysentery only five months after their completion. His most notable poem, "The Soldier", was read by the dean of St. Paul's in a sermon at the Cathedral, and Winston Churchill offered a valediction in the London Times in 1915, writing that the poet was, "joyous, fearless versatile, deeply instructed, with classical symmetry of mind and body." He was influenced by the Elizabethans and is often criticized for not being as critical of the war as other poets.

Siegfried Sassoon was a Jewish, Cambridge-educated Englishman that lived a comfortable and wealthy existence until he was sent to the Front in 1914. He fought at the Somme and Mametz Wood, and earned the Military Cross and the nickname "Mad Jack". After being injured at sent back to England in 1917, his views on war began to change, and he wrote a public statement and sent it to his commanding officer. Among other things, it expressed his belief that "the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it" and that it is "a war of aggression and conquest". Military authorities declared him suffering from shell shock and he was sent to an Edinburgh hospital where he met Owen. His poems are bitter, angry, and cutting. He lived past the war and died in 1967. Some of his most celebrated poems about WWI include "'They'", "The General", and "The Rear-Guard".

Edward Thomas, Oxford-educated and an impoverished book reviewer, editor, and critic in London, wrote a slew of war poems in December 1914 as he labored over whether or not to enlist. He finally decided to do so in 1915, and was filled with patriotism and love of country. His melancholy disposition resulted in many poems informed by an awareness of the natural world, impending doom, and the reality of death. He was killed by a shell on Easter Monday in 1917. Some of his most important works include "Tears", "Rain", and "As the Team's Head Brass".

May Wedderburn Cannan, one of the few known female writers to address the war, was not quite as enraged and satirical as her male contemporaries. While working in France at a soldiers' canteen, she explained, "I had much admired some of Sassoon's verse but I was not coming home with him [a response to the popular saying 'Went to the war with Rupert Brooke and came home with Siegfried Sassoon']. Someone must go on writing for those who were still convinced of the right of the cause for which they had taken up arms." Cannan joined the Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment when she was eighteen, three years before the war began, and continued on as war consumed Europe. She volunteered as a nurse and in a soldiers' canteen in Rouen, France. She later wrote novels and died in 1973. Her major poem, "Rouen" (1915), is an elegy for courageous soldiers.