Wilfred Owen And His Early Editors Essay

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Not So Hidden Agendas: Wilfred Owen and His Early Editors

Wilfred Owen is considered by many to be possibly the best war poet in English, if non universe, literature. Yet, at the clip of his decease on November 4, 1918, merely five of his verse forms had been published. Therefore, due to his premature decease, it is clear that Wilfred Owen was non responsible for the development of his ain repute. Alternatively, it was through the attempts of his editors that Wilfred Owen and his poesy were non forgotten on the bloody Fieldss of France. Indeed, I would reason that the three earliest editions of Owen & # 8217 ; s verse forms ( Siegfried Sassoon and Edith Sitwell, 1920 ; Edmund Blunden, 1931 ; and C. Day Lewis, 1963 ) were responsible for set uping Owen & # 8217 ; s repute and that repute was reaffirmed by subsequent editions. This means that in order to understand Wilfred Owen & # 8217 ; s place in English literature, one must analyze the different editions of Owen=s verse forms and the dockets of each editor.

The first edition of his verse forms, co-edited by Sassoon and Sitwell, created jobs instantly, as Sitwell and Sassoon argued over control of the undertaking. After the war, Edith Sitwell had begun to fix the verse forms for publication ; she had even published seven of the verse forms in Wheels, the magazine she edited, and was fixing to print more. It was so that Sassoon became involved. Sitwell, in a missive dated 3 October 1919, wrote to Susan Owen ( Wilfred & # 8217 ; s female parent ) and told her,

I wrote to Captain Sassoon, to inquire him if he could

assist me about them. He came to see me ; and told me

it would hold been your boy & # 8217 ; s wish that ( Sassoon )

should see to the publication of the verse forms, because

they were such friends. In the fortunes I could make

nil but offer to manus them over to him ( Sitwell:

20 ) .

Then in a missive from late January 1920, Sitwell Tells

Susan Owen that Sassoon

has all of a sudden gone away to America, go forthing all you ( sic )

boy & # 8217 ; s manuscripts with me to acquire ready for the pressmans

by February 1st. Captain Sassoon has done nil in

the manner of fixing them. All he has done in the

affair is to set up with Chatto and Windus to print

them ( 23 ) .

Despite Sassoon & # 8217 ; s evident deficiency of work, he still received the recognition as editor. To understand to the full Sassoon & # 8217 ; s actions, it is necessary to discourse his motivations for desiring the verse form published.

Sassoon realised that Owen & # 8217 ; s work faced the possibility of being forgotten by the larger reading audience because of Owen & # 8217 ; s prematurely decease. This meant that an edition of Owen & # 8217 ; s verse forms had to be published really rapidly. Sassoon besides recognised that he, as a former soldier and Owen & # 8217 ; s friend, could non objectively see Owen & # 8217 ; s poesy, so he left all critical probe for future critics. He makes this clear in his debut to the edition:

The treatment of his experiments in vowel rhyme and

disagreement & # 8230 ; may be left to the professional

critics & # 8230 ; The importance of his part to the

literature of the War can non be decided by those who,

like myself, both admired him as a poet and valued him

as a friend. His decisions about War are so wholly

in conformity with my ain that I can non try to

justice his work with any critical withdrawal ( Sassoon

V ) .

This, so, was Sassoon & # 8217 ; s chief motive: to acquire Owen & # 8217 ; s verse forms in print before he was forgotten. He besides felt that the verse forms should be presented to the universe by a veteran of the First World War. Thus, in Sassoon & # 8217 ; s head, Sitwell could non present Wilfred Owen to the universe.

Edmund Blunden & # 8217 ; s 1931 edition was intended to add the critical and biographical setup that was absent from Sassoon & # 8217 ; s edition. In his debut, Blunden writes that the

sense of his ( Owen & # 8217 ; s ) promise and accomplishment has

deepened since 1920, and his former editor ( Sassoon )

has been conspicuous among those who have urged the

readying of a new and hypertrophied volume of Owen & # 8217 ; s

verse forms, with such biographical notice as can and

should be prefixed to them ( Blunden 3 ) .

Edmund Blunden was good cognizant of Sassoon & # 8217 ; s motivations when he published his ain edition:

Twelve old ages of uneasy peace have passed since the

War, among its concluding victims, took Wilfred Owen, and

10s since the pick edition of his verse form by his friend

Siegfried Sassoon revealed to lovers of poesy and the

humanistic disciplines how great a glorification had departed ( Blunden

3 ) .

Sassoon wanted to demo this & # 8220 ; glorification & # 8221 ; in its natural signifier, and like Sassoon, Blunden felt that the verse forms needed more critical attending. Unlike Sassoon, Blunden was non a friend of Owen ; therefore, he was able to distance himself from Owen the individual. However, Blunden had been a soldier on the Western forepart ; and, hence, he was non able to distance himself from Owen the & # 8220 ; war poet. & # 8221 ; Both Sassoon and Blunden wanted Owen & # 8217 ; s poesy to assist society understand the nature of the war ; they, like other returning

soldiers, believed that civilians in England would non, or even could non, comprehend the events that had taken topographic point in France during the war. While this is what Owen had hoped his war verse forms would make, the manner Sassoon and Blunden presented Owen caused subsequent critics to see Wilfred Owen the poet otherwise: as specifically a war poet. As a consequence, critics tend to see Owen’s poetry entirely in footings of the war and tend to pretermit Owen’s poesy in footings of poetic art and literary motions. This is apprehensible as Owen’s mature poesy was written during and concerned the war.

Merely as the war affected Owen & # 8217 ; s coevals, the war besides affected the following coevals of authors who either grew up during the war or were born shortly after the war. It is non surprising that, given the turbulence and the societal and introspection caused by the war, Wilfred Owen, who so vividly portrayed the horrors of war, became one of the most read of the war poets. The demand for Owen & # 8217 ; s poesy was so great that between 1931 and 1963 Blunden & # 8217 ; s edition of Owen & # 8217 ; s verse forms was reprinted nine times. Sassoon and Blunden had succeeded in what they were seeking to make ; Owen became known and popular as a war poet.

C. Day Lewis & # 8217 ; edition, published in 1963, did for the coevals of World War II what Blunden & # 8217 ; s edition did for the old coevals: it showed the truth about war. With the perceptual experience that there was a deficiency of a great Second World War poet emerging from the most recent war, there was a demand for an updated edition of Owen & # 8217 ; s verse forms. There was besides a critical demand for a new edition ; after all, there had non been an updated version of Owen & # 8217 ; s verse forms in 32 old ages, merely reissues of Blunden & # 8217 ; s edition.

In his debut, Lewis discusses what Owen & # 8217 ; s poesy meant for the coevals of the thirtiess:

The topic made the poet: the poet made verse forms

which radically changed our attitude towards war.

The front-line poets who were Owen & # 8217 ; s

coevalss & # 8211 ; Sassoon, Rosenberg, Graves,

Blunden, Osbert Sitwell & # 8211 ; played a most honest

portion, excessively, in demoing us what modern war was

truly like ; but it is Owen, I believe, whose

poesy came home deepest to my ain coevals,

so that we could ne’er once more think of war as

anything but a vile, if necessary immorality ( Lewis 12 ) .

Two things are clear from this transition. The first thing is that Lewis believed that Owen saw war as a & # 8220 ; vile, if necessary evil. & # 8221 ; It was Lewis & # 8217 ; coevals who saw World War Two as a & # 8220 ; necessary immorality & # 8221 ; because of the importance of halting Hitler and National Socialism. Owen & # 8217 ; s war had no Hitler and no Nazi motion. This forced Lewis to animate Owen & # 8217 ; s thoughts in order to legalize the position of Lewis & # 8217 ; coevals that war is, at times, a & # 8220 ; necessary immorality & # 8221 ; . Nowhere in Owen & # 8217 ; s poesy does he province or imply that war is necessary. For Owen, war was the immorality that had to be stopped and was ne’er necessary.

Second, it is clear that Lewis saw Owen purely as a war poet. Lewis believed that the & # 8220 ; capable made the poet. & # 8221 ; For him the war was inextricably fused with Owen & # 8217 ; s poesy. Owen & # 8217 ; s accomplishment comes non from his proficient art or his usage of the half-rhyme but from his presentation of the war. Owen & # 8217 ; s poesy was by this clip so associated with the war that it was impossible for Lewis to see Owen & # 8217 ; s work in any manner divorced from the war.

What Lewis does in his edition is to reaffirm for a new coevals the position of Owen as a poet of the First World War. This position has persisted, restricting grasp of Owen & # 8217 ; s work. There have been efforts to alter this position. Jon Stallworthy has published an important edition of Owen & # 8217 ; s complete poesy, leting critics besides to see Owen & # 8217 ; s non-war poesy. Dominic Hibberd and Jennifer Breen position Owen & # 8217 ; s life more objectively. Breen is rather witting of what she is making in her edition of Owen & # 8217 ; s poesy and writes, & # 8220 ; My brief introductory study is an effort to demythologise the life of & # 8216 ; Owen the poet & # 8217 ; & # 8221 ; ( Breen 2 ) . Her statement is that non merely is the position of Owen & # 8217 ; s poesy limited by his accomplishment in the war, but his life has suffered the same destiny as good.

Sassoon and Blunden succeeded in what they set out to make. Sassoon succeeded in showing to the reading public, and Blunden added the necessary initial critical setup. Both used Owen to explicate the war to their coevalss. While this was appropriate and even necessary during the old ages instantly following the war, it is now clip to travel beyond this. Critics must take the lead from Hibberd and Breen. They must take a fresh position of Owen & # 8217 ; s work outside the myth of Wilfred Owen and reassess his poesy.

Blunden, Edmund. AIntroduction. @ The Poems of Wilfred Owen. London: Chatto and Windus, 1931.

Breen, Jennifer. AIntroduction. @ Wilfred Owen: Selected Poetry and Prose. Routledge English Texts. London: Routledge,


Lewis, C. Day. AIntroduction. @ The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen. London: Chatto and Windus, 1963.

Sassoon, Siegfried. AIntroduction. @ Wilfred Owen: Poems. London: Chatto and Windus, 1920.

Sitwell, Edith. Selected Letters. Eds. John Lehmann and Derek Parker. London: Macmillan, 1970.

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