Heroes of the Faith

October 2018: Wilfred Owen

By Brad Billings

October 4 2018 

Wilfred Owen’s poetry poignantly captures the heartbreaking tragedy and insanity of the First World War, and wrestles with its confronting theological questions. To mark the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, which occurs on 11 November, Bishop Brad Billings pays tribute to the greatest war poet of the 20th century.

Although the events of the First World War are now one hundred years in the past, the literature generated by the war continues to be widely read and known, to the extent that, when the term ‘war poets’ is used or heard, it is inevitably the First World War that comes to mind. The output of war-related literature that followed the Armistice of 1918 was immense, from the great novels such as All Quiet on the Western Front, to the memoirs of combatants, and collections of poems from all sides of the conflict.

The volume and richness of the poetry generated by the war is evidenced by the Penguin Book of First World War Poetry which runs to nearly four hundred pages and contains work by more than 100 authors. The generation who experienced the Great War effectively created a whole new literary genre, a genre of such stature and influence that it led to the custodians of Westminster Abbey setting aside a portion of ‘Poets’ corner’ in perpetual memory of the war poets.

Among the select group of poets commemorated in Westminster Abbey in this way, Wilfred Salter Owen is probably the most recognisable, and the most widely read, still today. Indeed, the verse selected for the commemorative tablet to the war poets in the Abbey is from Wilfred Owen’s introduction to his collected poems: ‘My subject is war and the pity of war, the poetry is in the pity.’

Brad Billings is a Bishop with the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne.

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