Tell all the Truth
The Legacy of the World War One Poets
When Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon famously met at Craiglockhart Hospital, both supposedly suffering from shell shock, they bonded over their love of poetry. But whilst Owen, a great admirer of the Romantic poets Keats and Shelley, had previously avoided writing about war, Sassoon wrote about it constantly, believing there was ‘no truth unfitting' to make the subject of poetry. Under Sassoon’s guidance, Owen turned away from the richly sensual poems he had previously written and started to reflect the horrific reality of war. Anthem For Doomed Youth and Dulce et Decorum Est were written at this time and we can see Sassoon’s written suggestions in the poems’ margins in copies of the poems on the British Library website. Were it not for this meeting, and Sassoon persuading Owen to reflect truthfully what he encountered on the battlefield, we would not have had some of the most powerful, compassionate poems of World War One and contemporary readers might not have learnt the grim truth of the war to end all wars.
Owen died on 4th November 2018, a week before the war ended. One hundred years later, that legacy of truth telling, so memorably championed by Sassoon, Owen and others, changed the shape of poetry for all time.
So as we commemorate the centenary of the end of the war, let’s celebrate a group of poets who showed the way for writing to be the raw, honest, and life-changing medium it has become.