Bullets and bravery as war poet remembered
Is poetry the best way to understand war? One hundred years ago, celebrated war poet Wilfred Owen completed The Spring Offensive, which described the violence and terror of the First World War.
One hundred years ago, as the First World War entered its final autumn, young officer Wilfred Owen finished writing The Spring Offensive.
The poem, which describes a group of soldiers preparing to face German gunfire in France, is now one of Britain’s most famous war poems and some say Owen’s best.
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Owen was an English teacher before the war broke out in the summer of 1914. Over the next four years, he won a prize for bravery and was sent to hospital with shell shock.
Sadly, Owen did not live to see peace. He was killed in action on November 4, 1918, just a week before the war ended.
During wartime, many newspapers printed patriotic poems to boost morale among the British.
“Stand up and meet the war. The Hun is at the gate!” wrote Rudyard Kipling in one, calling soldiers to action.
Owen’s poetry, in contrast, vividly showed the horrors of life in the trenches. In The Spring Offensive, he compared the “the hot blast and fury” of the battlefield to hell and attacked the “immemorial shames” of war.
Is poetry the best way to understand war?
Poetry does not give us much information. History books are far better for teaching us about the causes, events and outcomes of war, which is truly useful knowledge. Besides, many poems use complicated or old-fashioned language that makes it harder to understand what is going on. Give me a war documentary any day.
Of course. Nothing else allows us to experience war so vividly. In The Spring Offensive, we can feel the soldiers’ fear as they wait to go over the top and see the carnage surrounding them during battle. You can read about battle plans and politics elsewhere, but poetry tells us how these grand plans affected real people. We can stand beside them.
- Would you like to fight for your country?
- Write your own war poem. Imagine you are a soldier and describe the things you see, hear and feel around you during battle.
Some People Say...
“All a poet can do today is warn.”Wilfred Owen
What do you think?
- The Spring Offensive
- In March 1918, the Germans launched a series of attacks as they tried to break through Allied soldiers in France.
- Shell shock
- A mental illness that was common in soldiers who had been through traumatic events in the war. It is now called post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Being devoted to your country.
- Confidence and enthusiasm to win the war.
- A word the British used for German soldiers during the war.
- Very old or ancient.