"The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori."
World War I began with great fanfare with long columns of smiling soldiers parading off to war wearing dress uniforms with flowers sticking out of the muzzles of their rifles. Everyone expected it to be over quickly and the heroes returned soon with shiny new metals pinned to their chests. Unfortunately, it did not turn out this way. The war lasted year after year and millions and millions of combatants and non-combatants died. Men lived in rat-infested subterranean holes along muddy and trenches that stretched for miles and fought vicious battles that had little glory and much senseless death. Soldiers thought the war might never end and that their children would grow up to take their place in the carnage of the wreaking trenches. WWI marked the first use of chemical weapons, mass bombardments from the sky on civilian targets, the first genocide. WWI was the true beginning of this our 20th century of spectacular crimes.
But the war did produce some outstanding poets - none of them, in my opinion, any better than Wilfred Owen. A serious child with a literary religious upbringing, Owen was a shy, intense, and scholarly boy who read constantly and endured a domineering pious mother who urged him to become an Anglican priest. However, Owen did not go into religious life and instead left for Bordeaux, France, where he was teaching English in the Berlitz School when the war erupted. He subsequently visited hospitals and became acquainted with many of the war's wounded. Deeply affected by these visits, the 22 year-old young Owen returned to England and enlisted in the British Army. Owen described his decision in September, 1915: "I came out in order to help these boys--directly by leading them as well as an officer can; indirectly, by watching their sufferings that I may speak of them as well as a leader can. I have done the first." He joined the Artists' Rifles - he was surprised to find...