Lesson 1: Owen’s Background

CHILDHOOD

  • Owen was the eldest of four children.
  • He adored his mother, and she held a lot of influence over his early religious beliefs. He wrote many letters to her while he was on the battlefield.
  • The family finally settled in Shrewsbury, and lived a comfortable life.

EDUCATION

  • Owen accepted a post as a lay assistant to the Vicar of Dunsden, Oxfordshire. His mother hoped he would enter the church, and he knew his parent could not afford university.

RELIGION

  • His mother was an Anglican of the evangelical school. A belief that man is not saved by the good he does, but by the faith he has in the redeeming power of Christ’s sacrafice on the cross. Faith had to be upheld by regular prayer and bible readings, or you would be cut off from God.
  • The language of Owen’s poetry reflects this – themes of sacrifice, use of biblical language and the reality of hell.
  • Owen later moved away from this belief. He found the Vicar was rigid and insensitive to the way of life for the poorer areas in Dunsden. This undermined his own faith.
  • He eventually broke free of the ‘dogma’ he saw in the church, and put his mind to writing poetry.
  • Owen moved to France, and became a teacher of English in the Bordeaux.

FRANCE

  • In 1914, he left teaching and became a private tutor with a family in the Pyrenees. Here he could have more time to focus on his writing.
  • War broke out, but was not greeted with enthusiasm in France, like it was in England. Owen was out of reach of the propaganda that was rife in England. He had no urge to join, or antipathy against Germany.
  • This is why his poetry differs greatly from that of Rupert Brooke.
  • Owen eventually enlisted in the war, with a hope that he could speak the truth to the world through his poetry.
  • This changed Owen dramatically – he entered pale and delicate, and became a brown, tough and efficient officer.

BATTLE

  • Owen was drafted in France in the worst of the winter.
  • His poetry was influenced by his experience on the front line in No Man’s Land and other areas – and covered a space of about four months.
  • Eventually, after being wounded in a shell attack, he suffered shell-shock and was sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh.

CRAIGLOCKHART

  • He spent four months here and wrote a lot of his poetry.
  • He witnessed the wounded, and was the victim of violent nightmares in this time. The ‘war dreams’ never left him.

SASSOON

  • In August 1917, Owen met Siegfried Sassoon, who was a well known poet and sent to the hospital under ‘shell-shock’ because he postested against the war.
  • Sassoon became a great influence in Owen’s writing, in this time Owen’s poetry matured and he became known in poetic circles.

BACK ON THE FRONT

  • In 1918 Owen eventually returned to the Front. He seemed to know he would not return, as seen in his letters home.
  • At this time soldiers were fighting for each other, more than for those at home. Propaganda war wearing thin at home, and civilians were demanding for total victory. This caused great revulsion at the Front. The soldiers felt a great gulf between the civilians at home, who did not understand the horrors of the war.

FRANCE

  • Owen earned the Military Cross for his devotion to duty.
  • Owen was in the trenches – one was only expected to survive a week or two.
  • He had exposed himself to the worst brutalities of war by choice, and died seven days before the war ended.
  • His mother received the telegram an hour after the Armistice was signed.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

STARTER:

Read the Propaganda Posters from this era. Imagine you are a young man of the time, and enlisting was a very real pressure.

Create a brainstorm around the word ‘WAR’ – get as many key words as possible. What do these posters manipulate you into feeling?

TASK:

Read The Soldier by Rupert Brooke

1. What is the poem saying?

2. How does it make you feel? (From a soldiers perspective)

3. How does this fit in with the idealistic notions of the time?

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