The Poetry Manuscripts of Wilfred Owen

Manuscript notes

Description

English

In May 1917, the poet Wilfred Owen was diagnosed with neurasthenia (shell-shock) and sent to Craiglockhart hospital near Edinburgh to recover. Whilst receiving treatment at the hospital, Owen became the editor of the hospital magazine, The Hydra and met the poet, Siegfried Sassoon, who was to have a major impact upon his life and work, and to play a crucial role in the dissemination of Owen’s poetry following his untimely death in 1918 aged only 25.

Owen wrote a number of his most famous poems at Craiglockhart, including several drafts of both ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ and ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’. Owen’s poetry was markedly different from the patriotic verse which had previously been written about the war, as it sought to vividly describe the horrors of war rather than concentrating solely on the heroic and patriotic fervour that surrounded the early years of the conflict. Sassoon advised and encouraged Owen, and this is evident in a number of drafts which include Sassoon’s annotations.

‘Dulce et Decorum est’ is made up of harrowing images of trench warfare, including a gas attack that sees men ‘Bent double, like old beggars under sacks/Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge’. In the final lines the poet addresses the full horror of war as he attacks the patriotic fervour of ‘The gesturing lie: Dulce et decorum est/Pro patri mori’, a Latin motto meaning ‘it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country’. In ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ Sassoon added suggestions in pencil directly onto Owen’s draft.

Only five of Owen’s poems were published in his lifetime. However, after his death his heavily worked manuscript drafts were brought together and published in two different editions by Siegfried Sassoon with the assistance of Edith Sitwell (in 1920) and Edmund Blunden (in 1931). They are among some of the most visceral and heart-breaking poems about World War One. The drafts were subsequently acquired by the British Museum Library in 1934.

Full title
POEMS OF WILFRED OWEN. Vol. II (ff. 183). Versions of all but four of the remaining poems edited by Blunden.
Created
1911 - 1918
Format
Manuscript notes
Creator
Wilfred Owen , Siegfried Sassoon
Held by
British Library
Copyright: © 
The Wilfred Owen Literary Estate. This item can be used for your own private study and research. You may not use this work for commercial purposes.
Shelfmark
Add MS 43721

Related articles

Wounding in World War One

Article by
Julie Anderson
Themes: 
Life as a soldier, Race, empire and colonial troops

World War One created thousands of casualties from physical wounds, illness, and emotional trauma. Dr Julie Anderson reflects on the subsequent impact on the role of doctors and nurses, and the medical treatment, organisation and new technologies that they employed.

Reframing First World War poetry

Article by
Santanu Das
Theme: 
Representation and memory

Dr Santanu Das considers how the examination of war poetry has changed and looks beyond typical British trench lyric to explore the variety of poetic responses.

Related collection items