Radio 3 to showcase Wilfred Owen's war poetry

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The Independent Online

They are some of the most poignant poems ever written, an emotional evocation of the First World War by Wilfred Owen, who died in one of its final battles.

Some, such as "Anthem for Doomed Youth", have become staples of the school curriculum, teaching new generations of the anguish of conflict. Others are less familiar. But this November, the entire body of Owen's war works will be read on Radio 3 starting on Remembrance Day. There are more than 40 in all.

The vast project is an extension of the station's recent "complete works" programmes where all the music written by composers such as Beethoven and Bach have been broadcast consecutively. Paul Farley, one of Britain's most acclaimed younger poets, will guide listeners through Owen's poems which will be included in parts of the schedule, such as In Tune and Morning on 3 which are normally dominated by classical music.

But conscious of current conflicts as well as the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, Radio 3 has asked a number of serving British soldiers to study editions of the poems. Some will be among those reading the works and making observations on them.

Abigail Appleton, head of speech programming for Radio 3, said: "Wilfred Owen is the greatest poet of the First World War and arguably one of the greatest poets of any war.

"Although Owen was a poet of his time, speaking about his own war, at a time when British soldiers are engaged in conflict in a number of parts of the world, there's a resonance."

Poetry had always been part of the Radio 3 schedule but Ms Appleton hoped more listeners would discover its speech output by scheduling the poems where they would not be normally found.

Owen was born in 1893 in Shropshire and began writing when he was 17. After failing to get into university, he was teaching English in France when war broke out but returned in 1915 to enlist. He first saw battle in 1917 but was eventually diagnosed with shellshock and evacuated to a war hospital near Edinburgh where he met Siegfried Sassoon, already an established poet. Sassoon encouraged Owen's writing and introduced him to literary figures such as Robert Graves and Arnold Bennett. By June 1918, he was fit enough to rejoin his regiment. He was killed on 4 November in one of the last battles of the war.

Radio 3 is also working with the poet Simon Armitage and two Cambodian writers on a drama-documentary about the genocide in Cambodia. Such are the sensitivities of the subject in Cambodia, where there has been heated debate about whether Khmer Rouge leaders should be put on trial by the UN, that the two Cambodian writers wish to remain anonymous.

And continuing the theme of conflict, it will broadcast The Thebans, a new production of Timberlake Wertenbaker's trilogy.

Following commissions from Anthony Minghella and Arnold Wesker, the playwright Howard Barker has written a new drama, Let It Me, for the station.

The roots of Radio 3 lie in the Third Programme, launched in September 1946. The station is celebrating its 60th birthday this autumn but will also mark the official 40th anniversary of the creation of Radio 3 next year.

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.

September - October 1917