Owen, Wilfred (1893–1918) By Beauchesne, Nicholas
Wilfred Edward Salter Owen (1893–1918) is among the most renowned British poets of the First World War (1914–1918). His style can best be described as elegiac or tragic, standing defiantly against the idealized or propagandistic depictions of the battlefield prevalent during the ‘Great War’s early stages. In opposition to the sentiments of Rupert Brooke (1887–1915) and Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936), and more akin to those of Isaac Rosenberg (1890–1918) and Siegfried Sassoon (1886–1967), Owen considered such reductive glorifications of mass slaughter ignorant, if not outright dishonest — a radical viewpoint at the time.
Owen’s influences range from Dante and Shakespeare to Thomas Gray, William Collins, Percy B. Shelley, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Burns, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and especially John Keats. Owen’s poetic signature and chief innovation was his subversion of traditional rhyme schemes. He experimented with consonantal end-rhyme (or ‘pararhyme’), a technique that, along with Edmund Blunden (1896–1974), he helped popularize. Critic Sasi Bhusan Das interprets Owen’s use of this technique, in conjunction with broken rhythms, as an effort to capture ‘the disharmony of the [Great] War’ (13).