Wilfred Owen

Owen is regarded as England’s greatest war poet. He was influenced by John Keats and is associated with Georgian poetry, a school of writing to which Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, and Robert Graves, among others belonged. At the start of the war, Owen was working in France as a tutor, upon hearing of the war returned to England to enlist. He was commissioned as an officer in 1916. After serving on the Western Front for six months he was returned to England in June of 1917, and placed at Craiglockhart Hospital for treatment of Shell shock. It was there that he met Siegfried Sassoon, considered to be one of the finest poets of the Great War, and they quickly became friends. It is clear that they influenced each other’s work, sharing time editing the writing of the other. Sassoon also introduced Owen to his connections in the publishing world. While at Craiglockhart, Owen wrote a number of exceptional poems, among them “Anthem for Doomed Youth.”
Owen returned to active military service in September 1918 with a new sense of himself as a writer and as a soldier. In October of that same year he won the Military Cross for bravery, but sadly on November 4, 1918, he was killed while leading his men into battle. The Armistice came just seven days later. Owen is featured in the film, Voices in Wartime.

Fragment: A Farewell

I saw his round mouth's crimson deepen as it fell,
Like a Sun, in his last deep hour;
Watched the magnificent recession of farewell,
Clouding, half gleam, half glower,
And a last splendour burn the heavens of his cheek.
And in his eyes
The cold stars lighting, very old and bleak,
In different skies.  

Questions for Reflection: “Fragment: A Farewell” 

  1. How do you imagine it would be like to see someone die? What would you see? What would you feel? How would you describe what you experienced to another person?
  2. What imagery in the poem strikes you as being appropriately descriptive of the moments of death?
  3. What is meant by the title of the poem, “Fragment: A Farewell?”  


The Last Laugh

'Oh! Jesus Christ! I'm hit,' he said; and died.
Whether he vainly cursed or prayed indeed,
The Bullets chirped-In vain, vain, vain!
Machine-guns chuckled,-Tut-tut! Tut-tut!
And the Big Gun guffawed.

Another sighed,-'O Mother, - Mother, - Dad!'
Then smiled at nothing, childlike, being dead.
And the lofty Shrapnel-cloud
Leisurely gestured,-Fool!
And the splinters spat, and tittered.

'My Love!' one moaned. Love-languid seemed his mood,
Till slowly lowered, his whole face kissed the mud.
And the Bayonets' long teeth grinned;
Rabbles of Shells hooted and groaned;
And the Gas hissed. 

Questions for Reflection: “The Last Laugh” 

  1. How has Owen used personification in “The Last Laugh?”
  2. What are the feelings behind the last words of the soldiers in “The Last Laugh?”
  3. Who/What has “The Last Laugh” in the poem?
  4. Looking through the words of “The Last Laugh” how would you speak of the death of these three soldiers? What feelings would you experience?