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Wilfred Owen: A New Biography – A Review

Posted on July 28th, 2014 by Anna in Books, Reviews - Staff

Wilfred Owen biogrpahy

Wilfred Owen: A New Biography by Dominic Hibberd

Read by: Anna/Central Teen Room

Wilfred Owen was a young poet who believed that ones personal experiences made for the best poetry. He was born in 1893 and spent a good portion of his teenage years teaching English in France. His mother was Evangelical in her religion and so was Wilfred for most of his life. He began to question the beliefs of the church after spending a year as a parish assistant, eventually cutting the job short and moving to France. In a new country, he learned a good deal more about the ways of life, however, the Great War was just starting up and he began to feel guilty for not serving his country. In October 1915, he joined the British Army in a regiment known as The Artists’ Rifles, which had begun life  as a Volunteer Corps for actual artists. There, they trained him to become an officer. In joining the Army, he met other poets who were able to put him in touch with bookstores and publishers. He began to write more and more poetry, basing it on his new experiences in the army and on some of the work by his new friends. His work grew steadily better and everyone was talking about the new promising poet. A few of his poems were published in magazines. He also spent a good deal of time with suspected homosexuals such as Oscar Wilde and Scott Moncrieff, the latter being attracted to Wilfred enough to write him poems. And though Wilfred doesn’t seem to return the affection toward Scott Moncrieff, he does send his affection and hero-worship toward another male poet and soldier, Siegfried Sassoon. Yet, there is nothing to suggest that any of his relationships were of a sexual nature. Wilfred was in and out of action during the war, suffering from shell shock, or what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. His poetry reflects what he has seen and cuts no corners. They are as truthfully written as ever they could be. However, in 1918, in the middle of the very last battle, when Wilfred had finally made up his mind to be a full-time poet after the war, the unthinkable happened. Wilfred was helping his men cross a canal when he was shot and killed. He was only 25.  He may have died an early death, but his poetry still lives on, and is still just as relevant nearly 100 years later, as it was when he first put it down on paper.

There are many things we will never know about Wilfred. When he went into the Army, he gave his mother a sack of papers, presumably letters to friends and family and drafts of poems too private to show anyone. He told her to burn the sack should anything happen to him and she did. Also, his younger brother, Harold, held many grudges against Wilfred and went through the surviving letters and other papers, editing them to suit his needs. Never-the-less, this biography is the most complete biography of Wilfred Owen, to date, though Hibberd does acknowledge that there may be other papers of Wilfred’s in an attic or two between England and France, waiting to be discovered. Before this book was published there were several others, though Hibberd notes that they were distinctly lacking in many facts, mostly due to family interference. (There appears to be a new biography published in March 2014, though how it compares to this one, I cannot say, as I have not read it yet.)

I enjoyed this biography a lot. It’s very long and detailed, going over every inch of Wilfred’s life. But by the end, I felt as if I had met him and had time to chat with him awhile over a cup of tea. Finishing the book felt like leaving a good friend. I did my best to read this one chapter a day, so yes, it took me awhile to get through it. But it was totally worth it in my opinion. The only thing I would have liked the author to do, was to have given translations to the French. There were several lines copied from French poems that were not translated into English, so what they said, I do not know. Otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed this biography, especially as it included many pictures of Wilfred, his family and friends, and others mentioned within the text. It also included several maps of the battles Wilfred was involved with to help the reader orient themselves while reading the details of what was going on. All in all, this was a very well researched and well written book. If you have need to read a biography and have the time to get through this one, I highly recommend it.

I also recommend getting a copy of Wilfred’s poems, so that you can read them as they are mentioned in the biography. One should not read the biography without having some knowledge of his poetry. I recommend The Poems of Wilfred Owen edited by Jon Stallworthy, as it contains most of the poems mentioned in the biography. Below, I have included one of his most popular poems that speaks on the horror of war.

Anthem for Doomed Youth

By Wilfred Owen

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
      — Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
      Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
      Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
      And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
      Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
      The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

 

Source: The Poems of Wilfred Owen, edited by Jon Stallworthy (W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1986)

My Summer Reading List for 2014!

Posted on May 31st, 2014 by Anna in Books, Reviews - Staff

anna[1] avatar

Hi! For those who don’t know me, my name is Anna, and I’m one of the two Teen Librarians at the Central Library here at the BPL. Every summer I select eight books I’d like to read between the months of June and August to be my personal Summer Reading List. Most high school students in the Boston area have a summer reading list, so I thought, why shouldn’t I have one too? Usually the books I choose are titles I’ve been meaning to read for awhile but haven’t managed to get to yet, so this is a good way to catch up on my reading. Sometimes these books do come from a school summer reading list, either from a past list or a current one, but all of them are teen books or have teen appeal. Look out for my book reviews here throughout the summer!

And here is my 2014 list:

FICTION

The Wind In The Willows

The Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Meet little Mole, willful Ratty, Badger the perennial bachelor, and petulant Toad. In the almost one hundred years since their first appearance in 1908, they’ve become emblematic archetypes of eccentricity, folly, and friendship. And their misadventures-in gypsy caravans, stolen sports cars, and their Wild Wood-continue to capture readers’ imaginations and warm their hearts long after they grow up. Begun as a series of letters from Kenneth Grahame to his son, The Wind in the Willows is a timeless tale of animal cunning and human camaraderie.

 

 

 

 

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

A masterpiece of modern Gothic literature, Something Wicked This Way Comes is the memorable story of two boys, James Nightshade and William Halloway, and the evil that grips their small Midwestern town with the arrival of a “dark carnival” one Autumn midnight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Eyre Affair

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Welcome to a surreal version of Great Britain, circa 1985, where time travel is routine, cloning is a reality (dodos are the resurrected pet of choice), and literature is taken very, very seriously. England is a virtual police state where an aunt can get lost (literally) in a Wordsworth poem, militant Baconians heckle performances of Hamlet, and forging Byronic verse is a punishable offense. All this is business as usual for Thursday Next, renowned Special Operative in literary detection, until someone begins kidnapping characters from works of literature. When Jane Eyre is plucked from the pages of Brontë’s novel, Thursday must track down the villain and enter the novel herself to avert a heinous act of literary homicide.

 

The Crystal Cave

The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart

Fifth century Britain is a country of chaos and division after the Roman withdrawal. Born the bastard son of a Welsh princess who will not reveal to her son his father’s true identity, Myridden Emrys — or as he would later be known, Merlin — leads a perilous childhood, haunted by portents and visions. But destiny has great plans for this no-man’s-son, taking him from prophesying before the High King Vortigern to the crowning of Uther Pendragon … and the conception of Arthur — king for once and always.

 

 

 

 

The Face Of Fear

The Face Of Fear by Dean Koontz

DON’T LOOK DOWN
Because you’re trapped. With a beautiful, terrified woman. On the 40th floor of a deserted office building. By the psyshopath they call “The Butcher.”
DON’T LOOK DOWN
Because you’re an ex-mountain climber. Because a fall from Everest left you with a bad leg… and a paralyzing fear of heights.
DON’T LOOK DOWN
Because he has slaughtered the guards and short-circuited the elevators. Because the stairways are blocked, and for you and the woman with you, there’s only one escape route.
DON’T LOOK DOWN
Because 600 feet of empty space are looking back at you.

 

 

NON-FICTION

Man O War

Man O’ War: A Legend Like Lightening by Dorothy Ours

Born in 1917, Man o’ War grew from a rebellious youngster into perhaps the greatest racehorse of all time. His trainer said that managing him was like holding a tiger by the tail. His owner compared him to “chain lightning.” His jockeys found their lives transformed by him, in triumphant and distressing ways. All of them became caught in a battle for honesty.

 

 

 

 

 

The Odyssey

The Odyssey by Homer, Translated by Robert Fagles

The Odyssey is literature’s grandest evocation of everyman’s journey through life. In the myths and legends that are retold here, renowned translator Robert Fagles has captured the energy and poetry of Homer’s original in a bold, contemporary idiom and given us an Odyssey to read aloud, to savor, and to treasure for its sheer lyrical mastery. This is an Odyssey to delight both the classicist and the general reader, and to captivate a new generation of Homer’s students.

NOTE: I have also acquired an audio cassette edition of this translation read by the famed actor, Ian McKellen. It is my hope, to listen to him read aloud as I follow along with the book in print.

 

 

 

Wilfred Owen biogrpahy

Wilfred Owen: A New Biography by: Dominic Hibberd

Mr. Hibberd’s new biography of the Great War’s greatest poet, based on more than thirty years of wide-ranging research, brings new information and reinterpretation to virtually every phase of Owen’s life carefully guarded by family and friends after his death.