By Guy Cuthbertson
In this new biography man Cuthbertson presents a clean account of Owen's lifestyles and formative impacts: the lower-middle-class early life that he attempted to flee; the areas he lived in, from Birkenhead to Bordeaux; his category anxieties and his spiritual doubts; his sexuality and friendships; his shut courting together with his mom and his childlike character. Cuthbertson chronicles an outstanding poet's progress to poetic adulthood, illuminates the social strata of the extreme Edwardian period, and provides wealthy context to how Owen's enduring verse may be understood.
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The Roman settlement of Uriconium was built in about ad 58 for the invasion of Wales, and later became a civilian city. In a poem about Uriconium, Owen describes the violence that has almost been forgotten – the Romans taking on the Welsh, and then the Saxons attacking and burning down the Roman city in about ad 400 – but he admires the arts and crafts of the violent past: Plasters with Roman finger-marks impressed; Bracelets, that from the warm Italian arm Might seem to be scarce cold; And spears – the same that pushed the Cymry west – Unblunted yet; with tools of forge and farm Abandoned, as a man in sudden fear Drops what he holds to help his swift career: For sudden was Rome’s flight, and wild the alarm.
15 Yet Shrewsbury does not play a very noticeable part in Owen’s extant poems. Even ‘Roundel’ and ‘Uriconium’ are minor poems. This was an age in which writers were seemingly keen to claim a corner of Britain as their own territory – Brontë Country in Yorkshire, Tennyson Country in Lincolnshire. Hardy Country was Dorset, D. H. Lawrence would claim Nottinghamshire, Wordsworthshire was the Lake District, Hilaire Belloc had Sussex, and so on. It was the time of the ‘Struggle for Africa’ and the ‘pole bagging’ adventures of explorers, and writers planted their flags too.
M. Forster and P. G. Wodehouse, Shropshire was a special place, Arcadian, the land of blue remembered hills and Blandings Castle, but, unlike these literary visitors, Owen, the bona fide Shropshire lad, would not delineate the county in his writing. Owenshire would not have been Shropshire but abroad – first France and then Italy, the East, elsewhere. The crest he used as a fourteenyear-old could have been a badge for life: it combined a globe with a cross, and underneath ran the motto ‘ To Observe the World’.
Wilfred Owen by Guy Cuthbertson