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Wilfred Edward Salter Owen, beloved son, accomplished poet, and soldier of The Great War, was born 128 years ago, on March 18, 1893 in Oswestry, a Welsh border town, in the county of Shropshire. Readers of Ellis Peters’s Brother Cadfael chronicles, or of her Welsh historical quartet (written under her real name of Edith Pargeter) will probably recognize the area. It’s beautiful country, not far from my own home stomping grounds, rich in history and mysteries of all sorts.
Although both his parents came from families that had been, at one point, comfortably off, both sides had fallen on hard times, and there’s a sense, in some of the writings about Owen’s youth, and in his biography, that Wilfred, the oldest of four children, felt the sting of that comedown, as the family moved around Shropshire trying to better their circumstances. In 1911, Owen applied for a scholarship position at the University of London, but although scoring well enough for entrance, he failed to hit the mark for financial assistance, and so worked for a few years as an assistant to a local vicar in order to pay for his keep and towards his studies. He took classes in Botany, and subsequently, at the urging of one of his professors, turned his attentions to poetry and English literature. His first attempts at poetry of his own occurred shortly after, when he took a job as a tutor in France, and wrote a small, unpublished, book of poems titled “Minor Poems–In Minor Keys–By a Minor.” (I’ve not seen any of those poems, but many references cite it as an homage to the poetry of one of Owen’s literary heroes, John Keats.)