Owen is arguably the most famous English war poet. Born at Oswestry in Shropshire of mixed English and Welsh ancestry, he was well-educated, and worked as a private tutor in France prior to the outbreak of the World War I. In 1915, he enlisted in the Artists' Rifles, but, after some traumatic experiences, was diagnosed as suffering from shell shock and sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh for treatment. There he met another poet, Siegfried Sassoon, who encouraged him and helped with stylistic problems, the result being that Owen's poetry would eventually be more widely acclaimed than that of his mentor.
Several incidents in Owen's life have led to the conclusion that he was a closet homosexual, and that he was attracted to Sassoon as a man as well as a more experienced poet. He was devastated by Sassoon's departure from Craiglockhart. After leaving the hospital himself, he associated with members of the artistic circle into which Sassoon had introduced him, including Robert Ross and Robert Graves.
In 1918, after a period of recuperation, Owen returned to active service in France. By a supreme irony, he was killed during the crossing of the Sambre-Oise Canal, only a week before the end of the war. His mother received the telegram informing her of his death on Armistice Day.
Only three of his poems had been published before his death. Sassoon, along with Edith Sitwell, later helped ensure that the whole collection was published.