If there is one poet from the First World War who best manages to convey the feelings of duty which so many young men experienced, along with the horror, it is Wilfred Owen. And it is that sense of perspective which has added to his longevity.
The First World War has attained a place in our national memory and assimilated its way into our collective consciousness.
The degradation of battle, combined with the pathos of the human condition led to some of the greatest outpourings of emotion in the history of English poetry.
Owen saw the war in all its ‘desperate glory’. He chronicled its many stages. His early patriotism was replaced by a grotesque realism and then a quiet acceptance. He saw the horrors, was treated for them and then, when mentally adjusted to the traumas he had still to face, he returned to help see others through them. Owen came to see believe that there was no honour in war itself, but he did still feel an obligation to see it through to the end.
He died in November 1918, one week before the armistice and was awarded a posthumous Military Cross.
Dulce Et Decorum Est is a graphic description of a gas attack. The feeling of fear and revulsion brought on by witnessing such a horrific spectacle is placed perfectly in contrast with the translation of the Latin title, ‘It is sweet and meet to die for one’s country.’
Too much passion can lead to instant fame but an objective view can lead to lasting success. That is not to say that Owen did not excite passion but his clear recollection, though still a very personal account, speaks volumes.
No other war poet has ever come close, despite the shock tactics of 21st Century chroniclers, to conveying how it feels to know that all that is ahead of you is horror and death and oblivion.