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Poems by Wilfred Owen first edition 1920

Poems by Wilfred Owen first edition 1920


London: Chatto & Windus, 1920


4to., red publisher’s cloth, printed paper label to spine; [iv], v-ix, [iii], 33, [iii]; with photogravure frontis portrait behind mounted tissue-guard; a very good copy of a work seldom found in such condition; spine sunned, with a little pushing to corners and spine tips; a couple of other small marks to boards; frontis offset to title, as ever; final page browned; unusual thus. Provenance: Blackwells sticker and Ex Libris of Nigel Ronald to front paste-down.


First edition of a purported print run of just 1000 copies. 


Born in Shropshire, Wilfred Owen first started writing poetry in 1904 during a family holiday in Cheshire, and was particularly influenced by the romantics such as Wordsworth and Keats. From 1913 he worked as a teacher in France, and when war broke out considered joining the French army, before returning to the UK and enlisting in the Artists Rifles. 


In May 1917, and after a series of traumatic experiences, the poet was diagnosed with shell shock and sent to the Craiglockhart hospital in Edinburgh to recover. It was there that he began to publish the hospital magazine, The Hydra, and met Siegfried Sassoon, who encouraged him with his poetry, even making copious annotations and notes on the early drafts of his work. Despite Sassoon’s insistence that he would "stab [Owen] in the leg" if he returned to active service, Owen returned to the front line in the Summer of 1918. In one of the last letters to his mother, he wrote “I came out again in order to help these boys; directly, by leading them as well as an officer can; and indirectly, by watching their sufferings that I may speak of them as well as a pleader can”. 


Wilfred Owen died on the 4th November 1918, just one week before the end of the war, and at the young age of just 25. Following his death, it was Sassoon who gathered together his heavily worked manuscript drafts for publication. The present volume of poetry was issued, by Sassoon’s insistence, just a few months later. The collection here includes some of the finest poems produced during WWI, including Strange Meeting, Anthem for Doomed Youth, and Dulce et Decorum est, a title taken from the Roman Poet Horce “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country”: 


My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.


In his introduction, Sassoon writes of Owen: “His conclusions about the War are so entirely in accordance with my own that I cannot attempt to judge his work with any critical detachment. He never wrote his poems…to make the effect of a personal gesture. He pitied others; he did not pity himself.” 


One of the smartest copies seen in recent years.

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